Some rarities from my cellar were the game plan for another enjoyable, relaxing, casual meal at Vito’s Café. My stock of Piedmont’s great traditionalist, Bruno Giacosa’s Barbarescos and Barolos, is dwindling to a precious few bottles. We started with the 1978 Giacosa White Label Barbaresco Gallina di Neive, which has long been fully mature and still had a great fill for a 34-year-old wine. However, the cork broke when I removed it, which is one reason why I should always travel with a so-called ah-so, a two-pronged corkscrew that is ideal for removing old or broken corks. The wine revealed a classic Nebbiolo perfume of rosewater, licorice, tobacco leaf, dried strawberries, sweet cherries and underbrush, medium to full body and silky tannins. Its medium garnet color with considerable orange at the edge suggests it is unlikely to improve, but it may hold on for another 4-5 years. Owners of this Barbaresco are advised to act quickly. The 1978 Giacosa Red Label Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano dei Neive (Giacosa became famous as the finest craftsperson of grapes from this large vineyard – at least large by Piedmontese standards) was exquisite. It possesses much of the same Nebbiolo perfume as the Gallina, but the color is a darker ruby with no orange or amber. Moreover, the aromas and flavors are ratcheted up in both intensity and persistence. As I have said many times, I will withhold my feelings about whether 1989 or 1990, not to mention more recent vintages, will achieve the greatness of 1978. Bottom line, 1978 is a very special vintage, possibly the greatest Bruno Giacosa ever produced during his celebrated career. The 1978 Santo Stefano is fully mature, but owners are in no danger of seeing it fall off a cliff within the next 5-10 years. However, what’s the point of waiting? We had two other Barbaresco Red Label Santo Stefanos, the 1982 and the 1985. I’m down to my last bottle or two of these wines, and I have enjoyed every one of them. Both vintages, especially the 1982, have always seemed fully mature when opened, even in their early days. Both now exhibit considerable amber and orange at the edge, with the 1982 a slightly lighter garnet color than the 1985. Both possess explosive aromas of rose petals, tobacco leaf, sweet kirsch, licorice, forest floor, underbrush and Chinese black tea. The 1985 seems marginally more intense, but the two wines are more similar than dissimilar. Both merit immediate consumption given their mature state.
The other Barbaresco, the 1982 Gaja Barbaresco Sori Tilden, is a brilliant effort. The youngest of the Barbarescos we had, it is full-bodied with classic Nebbiolo hallmarks (no oak is noticeable whatsoever), a deeper plum/ruby color than the Bruno Giacosa offerings, and extraordinary length as well as richness. From a noble site owned by the Gaja family, this fully mature 1982 is still fresh, vigorous and lively. It has at least another ten years of aging potential.
The Barolos included two essentially first-growth offerings, the 1978 Giacosa Collina Rionda di Serralunga, which has always been a legendary wine, and the younger 1989 Giacosa Barolo Collina Rionda di Serralunga, also a prodigious effort. Both wines are Red Label Riservas and they demonstrate the extraordinary difference between Barolo and Barbaresco. The Barolos are bigger, more masculine wines that need more time to reach full maturity. The 1978 Barolo Collina Rionda di Serralunga, still a relatively young wine, possesses the densest color and most vitality of any wine we had that evening. An incredible bouquet of road tar, rose petals, sweet currants, black cherries, earth and spice soared from the glass. Extremely full, powerful and rich, this muscular, still tannic 1978 is a massive Barolo that seems ageless. It is just coming into its plateau of full maturity, where it can easily last another 25+ years. The 1989 Giacosa Barolo Riserva Collina Rionda di Serralunga (Red Label) is much more open-knit, flamboyant and sexy. It gives one an idea of what perfection looks, smells and tastes like. Somewhat silkier and more opulent than the 1978 as well as lighter in color, this wine is still in its adolescence, but what extraordinary aromatics and richness it possesses. (By the way, a video of this wine, with Antonio Galloni at the Marea restaurant in New York, is on this site in the video archive section.)
As for the food, Vito’s consistently offers high quality food made in a rustic, simple style from quality ingredients. Once again, everything was top-flight.
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