Gianluca Grasso says the family estate sacrificed 60% of the crop in 2002 by doing two green harvests plus a third selection in the cellar in quest of riper fruit, yet will only make a single Barolo. "The vineyard designations should be reserved for the best expressions of our parcels," he explained. The scorching summer of 2003 brought virtually the opposite problems as 2002. "If I could have stuck leaves on the vines to protect the grapes from sun, I would have," Grasso told me. "It was a big mistake to de-leaf in 2003. "Grasso is high on his 2001 Barolos. "It was a fantastic summer for nebbiolo, with great harvest weather; the fruit was ripe but not overripe," he explained, adding that his other recent favorites are '98 and '96. The wines here have grown in aromatic purity and complexity in recent vintages. Grasso told me that, beginning in 2000, with each racking he scrapes a bit of wet wood from the barrels (and also uses sulfur); this technique he says, has eliminated most of the animal and leather tastes in the wines and facilitated better oxygenation during elevage. (Importers include Sussex Wine Merchants, Moorestown, NJ; Martin-Scott Wines, Ltd. , Lake Success, NY; Langdon-Shiverick, Cleveland, OH; and Oliver McCrum Wines, Oakland, CA)
($13) Good deep red-ruby. Clean aromas of black cherry, violet and licorice. Lush and supple, with notes of chocolate and menthol. Big for this bottling, owing to the high alcohol of the vintage. (Grasso normally aims for a light style of dolcetto for drinking young, using micro-oxygenation in stainless steel tanks to fix color and ensure better integration of tannins). Distinctly chocolatey on the aftertaste.
($19; this cuvee, too, gets micro-oxygenation in stainless steel) Medium red. Seems almost fruitier today than the dolcetto, with notes of strawberry and raspberry lifted by a floral element. Shows lovely suave fruit and a fine-grained texture. Not a sweet style of nebbiolo but offers considerable early appeal. Finishes with very fine, dusty tannins. (The fermentation lasts a week, as compared to 15 to 18 days for the estate's Barolos.)
(aging in 50% new and 50% once-used Allier barriques Bright ruby-red. Aromas of dark berries, licorice, bitter chocolate and nutty oak. Dense, lush and sweet. On the soft side for barbera but with excellent fruit thanks to the ripeness of the year. Finishes impressively long, with cassis and licorice notes. Offers terrific potential.
($23; this got a shorter fermentation and spent only eight months in 30% new barriques Good deep ruby-red. Aromas of bitter chocolate, licorice, truffle and leather. Juicy and reasonably pure, but showing only moderate flavor development. Could use more sweetness and give. Finishes a bit dry and short.
(the estate's only Barolo in this vintage, aging in larger barrels) Good deep red-ruby. Fresh aromas of black and red berries, tobacco, licorice and spices. Rather lush and soft, with subtle sweetness and modest nuance. Kept fresh by an edge of acidity. Offers more fat and density than the barbera, and finishes a bit broader and riper. Not bad for the vintage.
(from minerally sand-and-chalk soil) Good medium red. Pure, highly aromatic nose combines strawberry, dried flowers, mocha and underbrush. Sweet, broad and rich, with good density of texture leavened by harmonious acidity. Serious, floral, minerally Barolo that's still youthfully tight. Finishes quite long, with substantial but sweet tannins.
(aged 26 months in used Slavonian barrels; from 75% clay and 25% sand, according to Grasso) Good medium red. Complex, expressive aromas of redcurrant, cherry, tobacco, mocha, chocolate and underbrush. A step up in sweetness from the Chiniera, with a lusher, fatter texture and less minerality currently showing. Finishes very long and pliant, with the fine tannins nicely buffered by the wine's strong material. Today I find this less floral than the 2000 version, but it's hard to believe that this won't be the better wine in the long run.
(from a mix of clay and chalk; also from the Gavarini vineyard) Nuanced nose of cherry, coffee, smoke and underbrush, with a sexy note of coconutty oak. Very suave and deep; sweetened by its wood element but comes across as quite juicy, with firm mineral grip. Ultimately quite different in shape from the family's other two 2001 Barolos: more clenched and tightly wound but at the same time conveying an even stronger impression of energy. Finishes very long and richly tannic, with some obvious wood tannins that will need six or seven years of cellaring. Grasso's Runcot, which is aged for 28 to 30 months in all new barriques, is made, says Gianluca, from "powerful grapes and lower crop levels, and can support the oak."
($60) Bright, deep red. Pungent red berries and minerals on the vibrant nose. Dense, thick and sweet, but with brisk acids giving lift to the red berry and mineral flavors. A vibrant 2000 Barolo, if not quite as floral or complex as the Casa Mate.
($60) Full red. Superripe aromas of red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, menthol and white truffle. Highly aromatic and rather powerful in the mouth, with bright, nuanced flavors of strawberry, brown spices and flowers. Conveys a strong impression of soil tones. The perfumed finish is long and gripping, and gained in complexity with aeration. Classic Barolo: I would never have guessed the vintage. In recent vintages, I have generally preferred the Vigna Chiniera to this, but not in 2000.
Aromas of raspberry, dried flowers and cedary, spicy oak. Sweet, pliant and deep, with a floral element contributing to an impression of vinosity. Lively flavors of cherry, flowers and cedar. Quite complex on the back end, finishing with big, broad, dusty tannins and lingering notes of truffle and underbrush. I would not have picked this blind as having aged in 100% new barriques