Bruno Giacosa Revisited: 1986-1988

When people talk about the great Piedmont vintages of the 1980s, you are most likely to hear a discussion centered around 1982, 1985 (see above) and 1989, the relative merits of which are still debated with much passion and enthusiasm today.  Until fairly recently, most of my own experience with the wines of Bruno Giacosa had also been limited to the better known labels from the more famous vintages.  Nothing, then, could have prepared me for what I was about to experience in this impromptu, surprise tasting organized by two of my closest friends.  These wines are from vintages long-forgotten by all but the most diehard of Piedmont aficionados-1986, 1987, and to a lesser extent, 1988. 

1986 is a vintage remembered for the severe hail that damaged many important vineyards in Barolo, and upon release the vintage was rated average by most observers.  Interestingly, authors Sheldon and Pauline Wasserman were quite accurate in their appraisal of Giacosa’s Villero and Riserva Falletto, both of which they cited as being among the best wines of the vintage.  The weakest of the three vintages is without question 1987, which as whole the was rated below average by most critics.  The wines are often described as early maturing.

By far the most important of these three vintages is 1988, which featured much more normal weather conditions than the two previous vintages.  Producers often describe the 1988 as offering much Nebbiolo typicity, although ranking the vintage behind 1982, 1985 and 1989.  As fate would have it, 1988 ultimately had the misfortune of being followed by the mythical 1989 and 1990 vintages, the wines that really catapulted Barolo into the ranks of world-class wines among a much broader audience than had been the case previously.  Regardless, most critics viewed the vintage very favorably when the wines were released, and today the wines have held up well.   On a closing note, let me say that all four of these wines provided the kind of immense drinking pleasure that only few wines are capable of delivering. Readers who are fortunate enough to own these wines should be very, very pleased.

1986 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Villero—Medium translucent red.  Villero, last produced in by Giacosa in 1996, has typically played second fiddle to Giacosa’s Barolos from Collina Rionda and Falletto, but it is a vineyard I have always been fond of.   Villero is often described as a vineyard whose wines reach maturity sooner rather than later, so the comparison with the Falletto that would follow was quite illuminating.  The Villero shows a mature nose of spices, leather, tobacco, and menthol.  It is soft and delicate on the palate, its tannins fully resolved, offering tremendous purity and elegance of expression in its red cherry fruit and stewed prune flavors.  This 1986 is a great bottle for near-term drinking and I would choose to consume my remaining bottles within the next few years, while the fruit is still present. Absolutely beautiful.    94 points/drink now-, tasted 09/05

1986 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Falletto—Lively medium red.  The stunning Falletto Riserva takes things to another level, with a gorgeous, enthralling nose that opens to reveal layers of truffle, spice, and mineral aromas.  It shows plenty of sweet fruit on a tightly wound, youthful frame with superb length and a lingering, ethereal finish.  Today this Barolo is expressing just a hint of its ultimate potential and it promises to be even better in a few years after which it should provide good drinking for another decade, and probably more. 1986 certainly looks like a sleeper vintage for Giacosa.  97 points/drink after 2006, tasted 09/05

1987 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano—Light translucent red.  The 1987 Santo Stefano is a soft, pretty Barbaresco with a perfumed, spiced nose.  With some time in the glass, notes of stewed fruits, tobacco, menthol and underbrush gradually appear on a light to medium-bodied frame, with great length and terrific freshness on the finish.  Although it is a Barbaresco of modest depth, Giacosa’s 1987 Santo Stefano is a wine whose whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.   The revelation of the afternoon for the sheer drinking pleasure it afforded, it was not surprisingly the first bottle to be finished.  Another great wine for drinking today and over the next five or so years.   93 points/drink now-, tasted 09/05

1988 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Villero—Medium translucent red.  Classic aromas of roses and tar appear out of the glass. The 1988, from a much more important vintage, is noticeably more youthful than its 1986 counterpart. It displays a riper, more structured personality defined by a heady mix of macerated cherries, menthol, smoke, and underbrush flavors, closing with a penetrating, warm, alcoholic finish. This comes across as youthful and in need of at least a few years'; additional cellaring, with a long life ahead. A wine of exquisite elegance, and a great bottle. 95 points/drink after 2008, tasted 09/05

—Antonio Galloni