Chez Parker....Italian Style

These fabulous wines were the centerpiece of an incredible day of food and wine at the home of Bob and Pat Parker. For lunch Pat prepared a fabulous tomato and cucumber salad followed by an outrageous moussaka. Bob took the reigns at dinner, and served a delicious grilled whole Pacific wild salmon, followed by marinated pork and beef, both from Brian Flannery. The wines were opened in the late morning and we tasted them throughout the day and well into the evening. In addition to the wines below, we also enjoyed a few young bottles, including Aubert’s 2004 Chardonnay Lauren and the 2003 Clos des Papes and Usseglio Mon Aïeul, from magnum As wonderful as those wines were, they were a bit jarring to the palate in the presence of mature Barolos and Barbarescos, most of which were in their peak drinking windows.

Two Monfortinos from Giacomo Conterno were monumental. The 1970 offered up sweet scents of tobacco, spices, flowers and ripe red fruit in a sensual style. The 1970 is one of my favorite Monfortinos for current drinking, and on this day it was special. The 1978 was even better though! Deep, dark and brooding, the wine emerged from the glass with masses of ripe dark fruit supported by a wall of firm, sturdy tannins. The wine developed over the course of the afternoon, showing off endless layers of complexity and sheer class. This eternal, towering Barolo remains arguably one of the greatest wines ever made in Italy, or in any region for that matter.

Bruno Giacosa’s 1978 Barolo Riserva Bussia di Monforte is the most precocious of his wines from that legendary harvest, and on this afternoon it was splendid, with plenty of Bussia character in its spiced, balsamic fruit. The Bussia di Monforte is the only of Giacosa’s 1978 Red Label Riservas that is ready to drink and that offers limited upside potential at this stage. The 1978 Barolo Valentino from Rocche dei Manzoni confirms its status as one of the most glorious yet curiously overlooked wines of this magical vintage. The 1978 Barolo Valentino was one of the first wines in Piedmont to be aged in French oak, which was only partially used in this vintage. The wine showed exceptional purity, depth and elegance in its vibrant core of perfumed, sweet dark fruit, menthol and spices.

A grouping of 1982s – from one of my favorite Piedmontese vintages – was fascinating. The 1982s don’t have the sheer stuffing of the 1978s, but the finest examples possess a touch more aromatic complexity and length. The wine that captured those qualities to the fullest was Bruno Giacosa’s 1982 Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano, which was utterly spellbinding in its purity, length and class. What an exceptional, utterly moving bottle of wine! Still deep and powerful, the 1982 Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano has moved into its first years of early maturity. I was also positively surprised by Ratti’s 1982 Barolo Marcenasco Rocche, which has never been one of Piedmont’s longest-lived wines. Still, the 1982 Rocche showed gorgeous polish and inner perfume in a soft, fully mature style.

One of the great surprises here was Pertimali’s 1982 Brunello di Montalcino. It was truly exceptional. Dark cherries, flowers, grilled herbs, tar and smoke were just some of the notes that this pedigreed, classy Brunello hit. I was blown away by the wine, and so was everyone else. I don’t have a ton of experience with Ferrero’s Barolos from the early 1980s, but the 1982 Riserva San Rocco showed lovely balance in its slightly rustic but pleasing red cherries, leather, spices and beef bouillon. I have yet to have a bottle of Sobrero’s 1982 Barolo that has not been totally marred by volatile acidity, while Domenico Clerico’s 1982 Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra seemed off.

It was with great excitement that I approached the next set of wines. Despite many tries, this was the first satisfactory bottle of Giacosa’s 1988 Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano I have ever had. A sweet, ethereal and fully mature wine, the 1988 Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano flowed onto the palate with subtle, perfumed fruit. For reasons I don’t fully understand, this wine has never showed the pedigree that is customary for a Giacosa Riserva. The 1989 Barolo Riserva Collina Rionda, on the other hand, is quite possibly the finest wine Giacosa has ever made. Irresistibly sweet, sensual and perfumed, the wine emerged from the glass with endless layers of fruit framed by firm, yet silky tannins, showing the profound heights Barolo is capable of achieving. The 1989 Barolo Riserva Collina Rionda remains one of the benchmarks among the world’s great wines. The 1990 Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano was seductive in its fragrant, soft fruit. The 1990 is decidedly more opulent and round than the ethereal, high-toned 1982, and it is perhaps just a touch more rewarding at this stage. The wine’s purity, depth of expression and silkiness were simply remarkable.

Angelo Gaja enjoyed a stellar vintage in 1990 as his Barbaresco attests. The wine was gorgeous for its freshness and the integrity of its dark, opulent fruit. It was elegant, utterly seductive juice. One of the undisputed stars of the day was Giuseppe Mascarello’s 1990 Barolo Monprivato. Though made in a rigorously traditional style, the wine left everyone at the table speechless for its balance and harmony. The fruit was soft, seamless and exuberant. The 1990 Monprivato offered incredible appeal even for those who had little familiarity with Barolo and Old World wines in general. Such is the greatness of the world’s most pedigreed wines; they transcend genre. That was certainly the case here. I have had the 1990 Monprivato on multiple occasions within the last 12 months or so and it has never failed to leave me with goose bumps. What a gorgeous, regal Barolo!

Luciano Sandrone was still working full-time at Marchesi di Barolo when he crafted his 1990 Barolo Cannubi Boschis, long considered a reference-point for this then-emerging property and Italian wines in general. While well-stored bottles can occasionally approach perfection, I am increasingly convinced the estate is making even better wines today. Still, readers lucky enough to have access to the 1990 Cannubi Boschis are in for a treat!

The evening ended with a dramatic display of fireworks I won’t soon forget. Many thanks to Bob and Pat Parker, and their friends and family for a truly unforgettable day of fine eating, drinking and friendship.

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