Bruno Giacosa Dinner at Legacy Records


This Bruno Giacosa retrospective and dinner, part of our ten-year anniversary celebration, was a great opportunity to go back and visit a wide range of benchmark wines from one of Piedmont’s most illustrious producers. To be honest, I had a hard time narrowing the selection down to a reasonable number of wines for a single evening. I chose to focus on vintages from Giacosa’s prime, wines that remain the reference points for the estate.

I have written extensively about Bruno Giacosa and his extraordinary career. Readers may wish to revisit those articles, listed below, for greater context. Suffice it to say that Giacosa was one of the pioneers of quality wines in Piedmont. I have said it many times, but it bears repeating – Bruno Giacosa was the first truly modern producer in Piedmont. He helped usher in the era of single-vineyard wines and paid more attention to cleanliness in the cellar and precision winemaking than many of his contemporaries. Tastings with Giacosa were always among the highlights of my trips to Piedmont. He never said much, preferring to jot down notes on the butcher paper laid out on his tasting room table. But every word was precious and full of insight. In those days, the wines were often simply mind-blowing in their beauty, scale and profound intensity.

A deep survey of wines from Bruno Giacosa’s prime years.

The team at Legacy Records, led by Delicious Hospitality Group Wine Director Celia Erickson and Legacy Records’ Beverage Director Theo Lieberman, did a terrific job with the wines. We opened all the bottles a few hours ahead of service, discarded any that did not meet my standards and then double-decanted to remove sediment. The menu was delicious and complementary to the wines.

My favorite flight was the 2004s. The 2005s aren’t on the same level, but they are still gorgeous wines in a more nervy style that I personally find quite appealing. The 2000s and 2001s are still fabulous, if they have been stored properly and if the corks have held, which they have not in all cases. Once into the 1990s, provenance becomes a real issue, as these wines were not considered collectibles when they were released and therefore were often not treated appropriately. I remember the first bottles of 1989 Santo Stefano Riserva that I bought at retail before I fully appreciated how important storage is. They were sitting in a rack, fully exposed to light and warm temperatures. Of course, the bottles were shot when I opened them.

To Start...the Vibrant 2005s

2005 Barbaresco Asili & 2005 Barbaresco Rabajà

Farro Salad; Honeynut Squash, Parmigiano & Pistacchio

This pair of Barbarescos shows all the energy and nuance of 2005, an insiders’ vintage in Piedmont.

The 2005 Barbaresco Asili is classic Asili. Silky, aromatic and light on its feet, the 2005 is a terrific opening wine for this dinner. Crushed red berry fruit, rose petals and a touch of blood orange are all beautifully lifted. The 2005 is all grace and all class. It will drink well for another 10-15 years, if not more. The 2005 Barbaresco Rabajà emerges from a parcel that was subsequently classified within Asili, but it shows all the Rabajà signatures, namely dark fruit, plenty of structure and a good bit of tannin, too. Black cherry, graphite, spice, lavender and leather give the 2005 tons of character. It’s a gorgeous wine in every way.

Comparing the 2000s & 2001s

2000 Barbaresco Riserva Asili, 2000 Barolo Riserva Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga, 2001 Barbaresco Asili & 2001 Barolo Riserva Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga

Cavatelli Verdi; Sausage Ragu, Pecorino & Mint

Vintages 2000 and 2001 were the subject of much debate when the wines were released. There is no question The Wine Spectator’s 100 point rating for the 2000 vintage brought much attention to the region. Most Piedmont fans preferred 2001. At Giacosa, the two years, while quite different in style, both have a ton to offer.

The 2000 Barbaresco Riserva Asili is in fine shape. It shows all the raciness of the year in its forward fruit and soft, silky tannins. Still very bright and fresh, the 2000 is so classy. Readers lucky enough to own the 2000 are in for a treat, as it is every bit as refined and seductive as it has always been. Magnificent. I have never been a huge fan of the 2000 Barolo Riserva Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga. These are especially fine bottles. However, they are among the best I have ever tasted. Once again, I am blown away by the wine’s freshness. Crushed red berry fruit, kirsch, rose petal, mint and cinnamon give this fragrant Riserva so much allure. This is one of the great surprises of the evening.

As we move into the 2001s, the pedigree and quality of the year vis-à-vis the 2000s is evident. Both wines offer far greater depth, complexity and substance. The 2001 Barbaresco Asili is a Red Label in everything but name. It shows all the classic Asili signatures but with more darkness, breath and overall power than the 2000 tasted alongside it. Black cherry, plum, spice, leather, tobacco, menthol and licorice build in a substantial Barbaresco that hits all the right notes. The 2001 Barolo Riserva Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga is without question one of the wines of the night. Deep, resonant and exquisite, the 2001 marries elegance with power. Huge tannins wrap around a core of dark fruit, spice, leather, gravel, cured meats, melted road tar, rose petals and licorice. Phenomenal in its balance and ravishing intensity, the 2001 Riserva is off the charts. Aside from possibly the 2004, the Giacosa family has not equaled the 2001 since.

Plating the Tortelli di Zucca with Wood Roasted Pumpkin & Hazelnut, one of the many highlights on our menu.

The Epic 2004s

2004 Barbaresco Santo Stefano, 2004 Barbaresco Rabajà, 2004 Barbaresco Riserva Asili & 2004 Barolo Riserva Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga

Tortelli di Zucca; Wood Roasted Pumpkin & Hazelnut

The 2004s in this flight are all tremendous. That’s not much of a surprise, as 2004 is in my view one of the greatest all-time vintages here. Giacosa made so many phenomenal wines in 2004, a performance matched only in years such as 1978, 1989, 1990 and 2001. The late 1990s and early 2000s also mark the most fertile period of collaboration between Giacosa and long-time oenologist Dante Scaglione. All these years later, Scaglione still cuts a very understated profile, much like Giacosa himself, but he has quietly played a critical role in elevating quality at many important estates in Piedmont. As for the 2004s, I am delighted to see how vibrant all the wines are.

The 2004 Barbaresco Santo Stefano is exquisite. Sensual and perfumed, the 2004 offers up a beguiling mix of sweet aromatics and notable freshness, with deceptive intensity and tons of class. Crushed rose petals, mint, dried herbs and red berry fruit all grace this captivating Barbaresco from Bruno Giacosa. The 2004 Barbaresco Rabajà is powerful and expansive in the glass. Dark cherry, plum, gravel, spice and leather infuse the 2004 with tons of character. There’s real breadth to the 2004, along with a good bit of elegance to play off its natural virile intensity. What a wine.

The 2004 Barbaresco Riserva Asili is another stunning wine on a night full of glorious Barolos and Barbarescos. That said, the 2004 is incredibly young. Its precision, however, is impossible to miss. Sweet dark red fruit, spice, blood orange, mint and red flowers flesh out effortlessly. This is so impressive. The 2004 Barolo Riserva Le Rocche del Falletto di Serralunga rounds out this flight in grand style. What a wine! Rich, textured and expansive, the 2004 Riserva offers up a compelling mélange of dark fruit, tar, rose petals, gravel and licorice, with huge building tannins that wrap it all together. The Riserva is a majestic wine, but it needs at least a few years in bottle to be at its most glorious best.

Four 2004s from Bruno Giacosa. It doesn’t get much better than that in my view.

Stepping Back in Time: The 1996s

1996 Barbaresco Riserva Asili, 1996 Barolo Villero, 1996 Barolo Riserva Falletto di Serralunga & 2003 Barbera d’Alba Falletto (magnum)

Farm Chicken; Heirloom Carrot & Ginger

With the 1996s, we move into one of the great all-time Giacosa vintages. But this was also a different era in Piedmont, a time when there was less overall attention to detail than there was in subsequent years. Moreover, provenance starts to become a greater issue at the 20–25-year mark, as evidenced by these bottles, which were not as consistent as those in our other flights.

The 1996 Barbaresco Riserva Asili is just starting to show the first signs of aromatic development. It is both elegant, but also quite powerful, in the style of the year. Spice, leather, tobacco and incense lend notable aromatic presence. As good as the 1996 is, and it is terrific, it also doesn’t have the purity of wines like the 2000, 2001 and 2004. The 1996 Barolo Villero is very good, but these aren’t the best bottles I have tasted. There’s plenty of Villero spice and floral notes, but in this tasting, the 1996 comes across as a delicious Barolo that is ten years older than it should be. The 1996 Barolo Riserva Falletto di Serralunga is frustrating. One bottle is excellent, while a second shows a bit of TCA, which is especially evident in the bouquet. Even so, both bottles offer plenty of Falletto depth and structure. For my money, though, the 2000, 2001 and 2004 are all superior.

A last-minute addition, the 2003 Barbera d’Alba Falletto was served blind. It was my last magnum of a three-bottle OWC I bought, serial numbers 0001-0003.  A few attendees pegged the wine as not being Nebbiolo. All things considered, the 2003 has aged beautifully, with gorgeous red cherry/plum fruit and plenty of the tertiary notes typical of aged Barbera. No, the 2003 Barbera is not going to make anyone forget the great Barbarescos and Barolos in this program, but it is a very fine wine on its own.

A trio of 1996s, wines that clearly speak to a different era than the wines of the early 2000s.

Classic Giacosa

1990 Barolo Riserva Falletto di Serralunga, 1989 Barolo Riserva Falletto di Serralunga, 1979 Barolo Riserva Bussia & 1990 Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano (magnum)

Cheese Plate; Robiola, Comté, Taleggio, Concord Grape Jam & Locally Sourced Honeycomb

If there were some disappointments with the 1996s, they were quickly forgotten with the final flight of the evening, to which we added the 1990 Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano at the last minute. All four wines were magnificent. In this case, we were extremely fortunate with provenance, although I did discard one bottle each of the 1990 and 1989 Riserva Falletto that did not meet my expectations.

The 1990 Barolo Riserva Falletto di Serralunga is such a classic. Rich, deep and radiant, the 1990 is such a great example of the year. It offers up an exotic mélange of dried red cherry, leather, camphor, mint and earthiness. I would prefer to start drinking the 1990, as it won’t last forever. The 1989 Barolo Riserva Falletto di Serralunga is packed with dark fruit, leather, incense, tobacco, licorice and a whole range of deeply spiced balsamic notes that develop in the glass. Readers lucky enough to own it are in for a treat.

A rare bird, the 1979 Barolo Riserva Bussia is one of four wines Bruno Giacosa made from Pianpolvere Soprana, the vineyard he told me several times was the best in Piedmont. Delicate, sensual and nuanced, the 1979 is all class. Hints of rose petals, mint, dried herbs, crushed flowers and sweet dried cherry all grace this exquisite, beautifully perfumed Barolo. These are perfect bottles. The 1990 Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano (magnum) is a last-minute addition to the lineup and also one of the most breathtaking wines of the night. Of course, the magnum format helps, but the 1990 is captivating from the moment I taste it. Crushed flowers, sweet red berry fruit, spice and mint are some of the many nuances that develop in the glass, but it is the wine’s mind-blowing balance that steals the day.

A magical closing flight showcases the ethereal beauty of these wines acquired with cellaring.

Bruno Giacosa crafted some of the most riveting, unforgettable wines ever made in Piedmont over the course of his long, storied career,  As profound as these wines are, the conversation and conviviality they inspire are every bit as meaningful. It’s always a pleasure to get together with Vinous readers and share these very special wines.

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