Roberto Conterno rates 1999 tops among recent vintages, followed by 2001 and then 2000. "Nineteen ninety-nine is the most complex wine," he told me, "while the 2000 is a very elegant Barolo for earlier drinking. Two thousand one was an excellent vintage with a tendency toward overproduction," he went on, adding that by cutting a lot of grapes in August he was able to limit production to about 30 hectoliters per hectare. "The young 2001s are currently sterner than the relatively open 2000s," he noted. As I reported in Issue 105, the estate replaced its freisa and dolcetto with barbera and nebbiolo after the 2000 vintage, and now ages its barbera for 21 months in large casks (prior to the 2001 vintage, the barbera was bottled the summer after the harvest). But with that exception, Conterno pointed out, "nothing has changed in the vinification here, and there is never any clarification of the wines prior to bottling. "(Douglas Polaner Selections, New York, NY; and The Rare Wine Company, Sonoma, CA)
($32) Good deep ruby-red. Aromas of red fruits, tobacco and earth. Vinous, spicy and pungent, with strong but ripe acidity giving the black fruit, mineral and licorice flavors excellent cut. Austere, serious barbera with plenty of body and richness.
($32) Good dark red. Red and black fruits, with a leathery nuance; more rustic than the 2001. Then a real shock to the palate, with a strong impression of acidity and distinctly dry flavors of blackberry and flowers. This is actually lower in acidity than the 2001 version (6.5 grams, vs. 7) but with much less buffering flesh and depth shows a distinctly tart edge without being particularly fruity.
($90; bottled in July 2004) Medium red with an amber edge. Aromas of baked strawberry, dried rose and marzipan. Sweet, lush and rather soft for a Conterno Barolo, but lifted by a floral perfume and sappy acidity. Densely packed, vinous and long, with a fragrant tobacco note on the aftertaste.
($100) Good full red. Sappy, floral aromas of rose petal and underbrush. Juicy, bright and pure, with outstanding precision of flavor and floral lift. Dense, powerful and penetrating-and more vibrant than the 2000. Finishes with very suave, broad tannins.
Medium red. Sappy aromas of redcurrant liqueur and dried rose. Round, fat, lush and seamless; not at all a fruit-dominated style, with intriguing notes of herbs, spices, earth and flowers complicating the plum and strawberry flavors. Doesn't quite match the 1999 for sheer thrust but the wine's sweetness is compelling.
Good medium red. Quintessential floral perfume on the nose; a bit less extravagant than the Cascina Francia but still very ripe. Then less fat and lush and more vinous in the mouth. Less evolved and showing more obvious spine. Still, does this have the sheer verve of the greatest Monfortino vintages? Builds impressively toward the back end, finishing with full, molar-coating tannins and a suggestion of resiny oak.
Good deep red. Youthful aromas of black fruits and licorice. Sweet and lush but also penetrating and solidly structured. But this is a bit less perfumed and nuanced than the young 2001. Finishes firm and long, but with less complex tannins than the 2001.
Good full red. Very deep, sappy, complex nose combines black fruits, violet, rose and minerals. Then sweet, dense and lush, with terrific clarity of flavor and inner-mouth perfume. This has all the elements of great Barolo. Finishes with compelling aromatic complexity, noble tannins and great length.
Medium red-brick color. Enticing aromas of strawberry and underbrush. Sweet, lush and perfumed, with sappy flavors of red berries, flowers and marzipan. Offers a compelling buttery, creamy tex ture and finishes very long, with fine, suave tannins. More elegant and easier to taste today than the 2000.
($275) Good medium red. Very ripe, ineffable nose combines raspberry, licorice, dried herbs and minerals, with a hint of reduction. Sweet, sappy and aromatic in the mouth, with flavors of candied raspberry, musky strawberry, licorice and rose petal. Shows a more roasted quality than vintages like 1999 and 2001, but this has lovely fruit, superb richness and unusual early appeal.