Tag Archives: Aldo Conterno

What can you learn from tasting 14 x 1988 1989 1990 Baroli from the best producers?

21 Apr

1988 1989 1990 Barolo Dinner by Paul Kaan


1988, 1989 & 1990 are referred to by many as the years that made Barolo, starting it’s astronomic rise to celebrity status amongst the greatest wines of the world. Once again Anthony D’Anna has scoured the cellars of Barolo to source 14 of the most celebrated Crus from these three vintages. Rare does not even begin to describe “drinkings” like these. You don’t taste these wines, you devour them, they are meant to be enjoyed with delicious food and good friends. When I first found out that I had a ticket to this event I had goosebumps and the very thought of the pleasure that awaited me!

1988 1989 1990 Barolo Dinner by Paul Kaan

Themes have started to come together over the last few “Il Vino da Tavola” dinners. Bottle condition, corks, old world vs new, oak, acid, restraint, oppulence, the hand of the maker, drinking windows.

What’s the difference between Great wine & Mind-Blowing wine, wines that scream DRINK ME?

Perhaps the most important question to answer from the night. I sought to assess these wines at the extreme level of excellence and differentiate between stunning and mind blowing. There were a couple of wines that I’d happily devour every night of the week and twice on Sunday, yet, amongst this company they were lost.

So what, was the difference between those wines that shone and those that whilst excellent didn’t make the cut on the night? I was looking for an edge more, that extra layer of complexity, harmony, seamlessness, wines that screamed DRINK ME! That rare ability to caress your tongue with a divine texture. The wine version of the renaissance man! I saw it in the Cicala, Mofortino, Voerzio’s and Grasso, hidden under some Brett in the Gigi Rosso. So very close to being there in the Vietti’s. I’ve seen it in the past in the wines of Bartolo Mascarello.  A core of incredible fruit wrapped in so many layers of yumminess and intrigue, that you can’t help but go back for more!

At a purist level, I just wanted the extra nuances that take it to the ultimate level. It felt like the wines that didn’t quite get there had seen some overt intervention, holding them back from being a true expression of site.

To address the elephant in the room … Where does the line between being too technical in your assessment of wine and just calling a spade a spade rest?

If it’s bretty enough to detract from the aroma and give the wine a hard finish it’s bretty. If the fruit has been dulled through oxidation, well, you guessed it, it’s oxidized! I’ll call the spade a spade. If a fault stops a site expressing it’s true personality then it hasn’t enhanced the wine, it’s detracted from it.

Tonight, there we wines that had faults that detracted from their expression. It’s a shame that wines of such great quality haven’t reach their potential. They weren’t terminal, but, they weren’t the best examples.

How old is too old?

The ultimate rule for wine applies here … call the wine, not the maker, not the region, not the vintage. The Gaja’s had years left in them, as did the Voerzio. The Vietti’s, Monfortino, Grasso, Gigi, Aldo Contertno’s good to go now. Fantana, Borgogno over the hill. As a generalisation, increasingly I’m getting the sense that 15-20 years is a good window with the caveat that you still need to play the wine, try a bottle after 5 years and give yourself a feel for when to try it next. This leads to the next question …

How much difference does provenance make?

Provenance is the cellaring history of the wine. Has it been stored under optimal conditions or not? The sense around the table was that a few of the wines hadn’t been stored well. The Monfortino and the Grasso were the two wines that stood out as perhaps not showing as well as they might have, potentially due to storage. The Monfortino, at close to $1,000 a bottle looked like it had seen some heat, now that hurts! Finding these wines, putting a collection like this together alone is a challenge guaranteeing provenance without source direct from the winery is near impossible.

Rusty tap water! Does colour really matter?

Simply stated … NO! As far as I’m concerned blind fold me. I just don’t care! Give me bags of aroma, flavour, texture and personality and I’m a happy fella! The Nerello Mascalese from Etna and the Barbaresco and Barolo from Piedmont are often pale, they can look insipid, at the same time they are some of the most intriguing wines with incredible personalities.

The Wines on the night.

GIACOMO CONTERNO – Monforte Monfortino 1988 Barolo Riserva

Incredibly rich, ripe, complex wine with layers of flavour and bags of aroma. A little VA lift, great savouriness. Soft and supple. This bottle wasn’t in the greatest condition, appeared a little heat affected. Will have to try another to confirm!

PODERI ALDO CONTERNO – Monforte Bussia Cicala 1988 Barolo

Loved the acid drive of Cicala, beautifully structured with fine tannin. A stunning perfume, incredibly elegant feminine Barolo, layered with savoury goodness.

1988 Giacomo Conterno Monfotino 1988 Aldo Conterno Cicala Barolo by Paul Kaan

ANGELO GAJA -Barbaresco- Sperss 1989 Barolo

The Sperss showed the balance of oak and oak tannin, fruit and acid that I was looking for in the younger of the 5 Decades of Gaja Barbaresco we drank a month ago, but, did not find until we reached 2011. Incredible perfume, core of fruit. The Gaja’s were some of the most youthful wines on the night. Great, clarity, freshness and a colour that suggest a little more than Nebbiolo was in the mix. I’d have loved just an extra bit of restraint in the oak handling to allow the site to shine a little more, rather than the hand of the maker. Now classified as a Langhe, not a Barolo, due to incorporation of around 3% of Barbera.

ROBERTO VOERZIO -La Morra- La Serra 1989 Barolo

Voerzio’s La Serra was one of the wines of the night. Complete, full and round, harmony, complexity balance. An expression of a special site.

1989 Angelo Gaja Sperss Barolo 1989 Roberto Voerzio La Serra Barolo by Paul Kaan

ANGELO GAJA -Barbaresco- Sperss 1990 Barolo

Just like the ’89, incredibly youthful. True to the Sperss style of the ’89 with that slightly overt oak. It was pulling short initially, openned to show a lovely perfume.

ETTORE FONTANA Castiglione F. Barolo 1990

Dried out and thin. Well past it’s prime. The colour of this wine was like a pale Rosé.

GIGI ROSSO -Castiglione F.- Sori Ulivo 1990 Barolo Ris. Baj

This could have been wine of the night bar the Brettanomyces! Incredible core of fruit, masked, by a little to much Brett. You could see what was underneath it. So much potential lost!

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ROBERTO VOERZIO -La Morra- La serra 1990 Barolo

As with the ’89, this was look fresh, opulent, refined and elegant. Oak structure was there, yet, not over the top. Like the Conterno’s it had a great acid drive and a beautifully even structure. There was incredible pleasure to be derived from this wine.

ELIO GRASSO -Monforte- Ginestra Casa Mate’ 1990 Barolo

Brooding, opened up beautifully. Would have loved an edge more acid, a personal thing really. Rich wine with incredible complexity. The 2004 was my Wine of Night at a Monforte dinner a year ago. Stunning wine. Would have loved to see it 5 years ago.

PODERI ALDO CONTERNO Monforte Bussia 1990 Barolo

An edge corked, looking flatter and less vibrant than expected. Would still drink it every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Again and again Aldo Conterno comes up with the goods! His wines are refined, sophisticated creatures, with so many layers of yumminess.

1990 Aldo Conterno Barolo 1990 Elio Grasso Ginestra Casa Mate' 1990 Roberto Voerzio La Serra by Paul Kaan

PIO CESARE -Alba- Ornato 1990 Barolo

Massive oak, with huge mid-palate structure and fruit with a silvery line of bitterness that worked well with food. Drunk by itself I’d probably have rated this wine higher. In comparison with the better wines on the night it lacked the layers and complexity.

GIACOMO BORGOGNO E F. -Barolo- Barolo 1990

Wild wine! Out of control, oxidised and hard. True to the Borgogno style it was an animal, savoury and rough around the edges, blood like saltiness, almost vegemite.

1990 Pio Cesare Ornato Barolo 1990 Giacomo Borgogno Barolo by Paul Kaan

VIETTI -Castiglione F.- Lazzarito 1990 Barolo

Finishing with two Vietti’s was a conflicting moment for me. I visited the winery back in 2005 and have a soft spot for the people and their wines. The following comments need to be put in context. Both wines were sensational examples of Baroli. On this night I sought to assess wines at the extreme level of excellence and differentiate between stunning and mind blowing. If I’d happily rave about the Pio Cesare Ornato on it’s own, I’d by rolling around the floor drink these bad boys. Vietti have exceptional sites and great fruit. I was looking for an edge more, that extra layer of complexity I saw in the Cicala, Mofortino and Voerzio. I felt that these wines had seen some intervention, holding them back from being a true expression of site. The Lazzarito appeared rounder, slightly broader. I feel like a bit of a hard ass. This was a great wine, again at a purist level, I just wanted the extra nuances that take it to the ultimate level.

VIETTI -Castiglione F.- Rocche 1990 Barolo

The Rocche stepped it up, the structure, acid and refinement, gave it a level of finesse that appeals. The restraint it showed was impressive, with such a core of fruit. Again I’d happily drink both wines every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I’d like to see them both as wines direct from the cellar. Perhaps they would have showed better a few years ago. That said as with many of the great wines of the world, I feel that they would have only declined slightly after their peak and would continuing drinking well for some time. I need to look at more young Vietti to see the direction Luca is heading in … Technical vs Expression of Site vs Restraint!

1990 Vietti Rocche Barolo 1990 Vietti Lazzarito Barolo by Paul Kaan

Filthy Good Vino, Marketing Hype, Both, Neither? Is Penfolds Bin 620 worth $1000 a bottle or is it just BS?

8 Jan


Interesting to see Penfolds choosing to launch, or relaunch a wine at $1,000 a bottle. More, interesting, was that they chose China to launch the wine.

I happened to have just 1 bottle of the original 1966 Bin 620 sitting in a safe place.



My bottle of the Original Bin 620 – Yes, it was $8.95 back in the day.

A debate has been raging about this wine sinces it’s auspicious launch in Shanghai in November of 2011. The challenge is to look at such a release from all perspectives, which could probably be broken down to three groups: 1. Winemakers  2. Consumer & 3. Marketers.

THE DISCLAIMER: I have not tasted the 2008 Bin 620 and will not make any assertions regarding its quality.

The Winemaker

Having made vino for 13 vintages, I can justifiably say I can look at it from a Winemakers’ perspective. I can definitely say that I am a lover of Authetic, Genuine wine that is representative of both the place from which the grapes came and the time or vintage when they were grown. I spent my time as a winemaker chasing excellence. Making super premium to icon wine and looking to push the boundaries. Working hard in the vineyards, being solely a custodian for the yumminess expressed by the land in the form of grapes. Making wines of a non-interventionalist style, just giving them a nudge here and there as they developed into what I hoped would be a vinous pleasure shared at the table, with a plate and a conversation.  Wines that are fresh, balanced, layered with complexity, texturally awesome, definitely not boring, wines that say DRINK ME and go beautifully with a lamb chop.

What this did require was incredible attention to detail, looking at everything we did to see if we could do it better, even in some miniscuale way. Some times ending up with only a single barrel or about 20 cases of a wine.

I think that is why, I felt, somewhat incredulous and then bored as, during the proceedings of the 1998 Victorian Cool Climate Winemaking and Viticulture Conference, I listened to a young Penfolds’ Winemaker describing the challenges of making the very first vintage of Yattarna, Penfolds’ so called White Grange.  I recall comments around the challenges of barrel selection and attention to detail and how difficult it was.  I think the presenter forgot to switch from Marketing Spin to Making Spin, for the audience of largely Grapegrowers and Winemakers.  The clincher was the fact that a considerable portion of the wine was from a Great Western vineyard that had yielded 5T/acre. And, yep, back in ’98 they were asking $100 a bottle, when the rest of us were pushing to get $35 for some pretty Filthy Good Vino and putting in just us much effort with fruit from vines yielding more like 2.5T/acres or less. Yes, I have tasted the wine, and no it didn’t set my world on fire.

I hope that the Bin 620 is an Authentic wine, that hasn’t simply been trumped up as a marketing ploy.  It’s comforting to read James Halliday’s reflection upon tasting the wine “When I say this is one of the greatest red wines Penfolds has made in the last 50 years …”. You can read the full article here http://www.winecompanion.com.au/sitecore/content/wine-companion/articles/news-articles/2011/november/penfolds-releases-bin-620-coonawarra-cabernet-shiraz-2008

How does this differ from Guigal releasing the super cuvee 2001 Ex-Voto Hermitage in 2005 to compliment it’s suite of Cote Rotie’s: La Ladone, La Mouline and La Turque? All retail for around $600 a bottle with the Guigal’s standard Hermitage retailing for about $150 a bottle.  Hopefully it doesn’t, hopefully the hard yards have been done in both Guigal’s and Penfolds’ vineyards, with careful selection from old vines grown on established terroirs, yielding exceptional quality fruit and the resultant wine.


Guigal’s Super Cuvees from Cote Rotie: La Ladone, La Mouline and La Turque – That was a great day!

What does confuse me is how a few existing blocks have gone from being good one year to great the next, vintage variation accounted for, and have all of a sudden become capable of making a wine selling for $1,000 a bottle.  With a production of 1,000 cases or 40 barrels from, I’m guessing, 16 tonnes of fruit and perhaps 8 acres of vineyard, they have, in the past, either been, knowingly, blending away some exceptional fruit, have only just got the vineyard to the quality required for the Bin 620 project, have after 60 years+ only just identified some unique parcels of high quality fruit, or have thrown an extravagent price tag on a wine that is simple not worth that much.  Time will tell. I’d love to know more about the vineyards and how they are tended.

The Consumer … The Punter

I haven’t tasted the 2008 Bin 620, it may well be an exceptional wine, but, from a winemakers’ perspective, I know as a certainty, that there are a bounty of wines for less than a 10th of the price that will be right up there in quality and have had just as much blood sweat and tears poured into nurturing them from the vine into a bottle.

From a consumer perspective, I say this: First, if you can afford it, you can prize it from the cellars of collectors, where it’s probably gathering dust,and, more importantly, you like it, well then what the hey drink it … let me know when to drop around.  Second, don’t get lost in the hype, there is so much AWESOME wine on the market and for the price of one bottle of Bin 620 you could get half a case of exceptional yummy vino from Australia and around the World or even a couple of bottles of extraordinary wine.

You’ve heard the old saying “I’ll try anything once” I prefer twice personally.  Tastes change and wines definitely change over time. That’s why we cellar them. I bought a heap of wine earlier in my own wine journey, which I have since sold. My tastes have changed and I just didn’t enjoy drinking it.  But seriously, look for things you’ve never tried before, be guided by one of the great wine merchants or sommeliers and have some fun.  When I was a kid I hated prawns and oysters, I’m sure white truffles would have done my head in, now I can’t get enough.  Even the dreaded brussel sprout is a favourite now, all be it caramelised in butter with lardons, roast chestnuts, salt pepper and little sour cream.

The Marketer

It was no accident that the 2008 Bin 620 was launched in Shanghai.  Clearly the launch was showing a commitment to the Asian Market, particularly the new rich in China. The Chinese have been drinking increasing volumes of wine and are known as collectors and culturally love to show off .. or maintain face with broadly recognised luxury brands. The drink of choice used to be XO Cognac. I once served a customer, who bought 3 bottles of Remy Martin XO and 8L of Coke to go with it. He resufed my suggestion of buying VSOP at less than 1/3 the price is he was simply going to mix it. He would have lost face if he had done so.  If Penfolds have their way the new drink of choice, and, best way to demonstrate status, will be Grange, underpinned by the 2008 Bin 620.

The promo video for Bin 620 seems to have been inspired by a Jerry Brukheimer movie, maybe, “The Rock”.  The language is so over the top I thought maybe they were selling insurance or some sort of abdominal exerciser . The line at 1:45 “Already Hailed a Classic” beats the Champenois claiming every vintage as the vintage of the decade and every third to be vintage of the century.  Surely, we need to see how the wine performs over at least a few years before such a bold claim can be made.

Watch on Posterous


When Dr  Bailley Carrodus, of Yarra Yering fame, released a 100% Merlot wine at $100 a bottle in the early ‘90’s, with a production of 240 bottles, people were forced to take note. At the time it cost as much as Grange. With a price tag of $1,000 for the Bin 620, people have again been force to take note, no matter what the quality of the wine.

From a purely business perspective, targeting the Chinese market makes sense.  You get, numbers, money and volume. I just hope that the relationship between Maker & Consumer is genuine and that the wine proves itself worthy of the price tag.  Just as much as the Chinese love to show off, demonstrate status and save face, they hate being ripped-off and have long memories. In a world where the punters BS Meters are getting more a more finely tuned, it would be a shame for the Australian Wine Industry to be tarnished, should this be the case. Particularly, at a time when there are so many Aussie wineries pushing to make wines that show real identity, with personalities to match, that are an expression of unique terroirs and represent great value for money.

I hope that, one day, Bin 620 is included in a blind tasting of the worlds, including Australia’s, most exceptional wines, THAT I AM THERE, and we can truly see if the Bin 620 hold its head high in such esteemed company.

Until I get an invite to such a tasting, I’ll be playing a game of “Would you rather”, starting with “Would you rather by a bottler of 2008 Bin 620 or a 6 pack of Clonakilla Shiraz Vigonier , maybe a 6 pack of Wendouree Shiraz Mataro, to be drunk with half a dozen mates and a big hunk of cow.”


Maybe the Tasting could Kick-Off with these little numbers from Aldo Conterno, Clonakilla,Guigal, Rousseau and Wendouree.