2006 Elio Grasso Barolo Runcot Riserva
Expert Rating
RP 96+ points
(Read the full review below)
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Elio Grasso 96+ points -- and Why RP Should Have Chosen the Law

It's the most intriguing winegrowing drama of the year. On just a few steep slopes in the southeastern quadrant of Italy's most prized appellation, a handful of families toil on the rugged, calcareous hillside of Barolo. The varietal -- Nebbiolo -- is the planet's most capricious, punishing lazy viticulturalists, just as it rewards the elite growers of Serralunga and Monforte with the most ethereal of winegrowing challenges.

The story of a great vintage Barolo is rarely told in a single scene. The script tends to be carved up in a series of hair-raising chapters, replete with plot twists that would make Raymond Chandler proud. Such would be the case in 2006, a growing season that began uneventfully, only to take white-knuckle turns, featuring heat spikes and cooling rain. But as we've told you so often, the most exemplary bottles are made in the last weeks before harvest, never more so than in the last weeks of September during the Indian summer of 2006.

The top names of Serralunga and Monforte would turn out dizzying riservas, each having spent up to four years in barrel, without losing a shred of their youthful, primary-fruit juiciness. These top 2006 Baroli would feature lavish wild-berry concentration and silken texture, a most Burgundian take on the Piemonte's calcaire, and in a few cases, the logical marriage of Piemontese aromatic complexity with the supple elegance of La Tache.

Giacomo Conterno, Vietti, Angelo Gaja, and the greatest father and son winemaking team Barolo's ever known -- Gianluca and Elio Grasso -- released their long-awaited 2006 single-vineyard bottlings to much fanfare. In one of the greatest vintages in decades, Conterno's Cascina Francia would be staggering, as was Vietti's Lazzarito, also drawn from the white limestone soils of Serralunga. Gaja's Sperss, also from Serralunga, would be one of the master winegrower's greatest. But on our scorecard, it would be the mere 600-case production of the Grassos' rare 2006 "Runcot" that would not only be the finest Barolo of the year -- but perhaps the greatest Nebbiolo we've ever tasted.

Today's offer is bittersweet. Since 2005, each summer, we've made our annual trip to Barolo. We stay at Corte Gondina -- as good as a bargain hotel gets on Italy's wine trails. We book a couple dinners at Veglio, a short walk down the hill from the hotel. Then, for three or four days, we cellar hop from La Morra to Monforte.

In August 2007, Gianluca Grasso led us through his labyrinthine cellar, tunneling into the rocky hillside behind the house. The cellar is Coppola-esque, cool and humid, though squeaky clean. It's also completely wired, classical music softly echoing in limestone cacophony. Gianluca joked that those 25 barrels of 2006 "Runcot" are partial to Mozart. It wouldn't be too tough to figure out why.

From barrel, the 2006 Barolo "Runcot" was brilliant ruby in color. Ethereally aromatic -- pine needles and sweet herbs infused with red raspberry preserves -- the attack was both brilliantly sweet, concentrated and marvelously precise. The tannins seemed somehow perfectly resolved -- unusual for Barolo in its youth -- even as the wine remained wonderfully persistent and firm.

In 2008, we went back. Again in 2009. The 2006 "Runcot" was still in barrel, aging incrementally, fending off oxygen, locked in suspended animation. No review had been published. Gently, we applied the pressure, asking Gianluca for our allocation. A barrel? Maybe two? The ingenious, if self-effacing winemaker just smiled, deftly changing the subject.

By July 2010, we returned to Monforte. A month before bottling, we thought we'd finally broken Gianluca down, securing 300 bottles of the finest Barolo we've tasted in 25 years for WineAccess. We left Monforte smiling, and full of hope. Dinner at Veglio began with Champagne. But those bubbles proved premature.

You have to appreciate everything that Robert Parker has done for the wine business. Almost singlehandedly, the critic has pushed growers to farm for maturity, practice better cellar hygiene, driving global demand to cover increased production costs. But every so often, we wish RP had pursued his legal education, focusing on torts in lieu of Barolo.

In what would be one of the most extravagant Barolo reviews in the history of the publication, Parker's Wine Advocate called OUR 2006 Runcot Riserva "a dazzling effort," suggesting that the finest Barolo ever to come out of this Monforte stronghold would reach its peak sometime in 2031. All that was fine. But the 96+ point addendum proved problematic.

Funny how 96+ points draws importers out of the woodwork. Our 300 bottle allocation was trimmed to 108 -- barely enough to warrant a salvo. But how to say 'no' to Barolo's best answer to La Tache?

Tasting Notes

2006 Elio Grasso Barolo Runcot Riserva
"The 2006 Barolo Riserva Runcot is a huge, structured wine bursting at the seams with fruit. The French oak (100% new) is beautifully integrated. Today the wine is understandably quite reticent but its pedigree is hard to miss. Flowers, licorice and minerals linger on the finish. The 2006 Runcot needs time, most likely lots of it. Let me just say I can't wait to taste this powerhouse once it has had more time in bottle. It is a dazzling effort. Anticipated maturity: 2016-2031."
96+ points -- Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate

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