Piemonte’s Langhe region is famed for the great winemakers it has produced over the past century. Yet, few can rival Bruno Giacosa for not only the stature of his work, but the dizzying number of famous wines he has made—and continues to make—over the course of a career that began in 1961.
And while other men have made great wines in either Barolo or Barbaresco, only Giacosa has, for nearly a half century, produced a steady stream of heroic wines from both zones. In fact, so remarkable have been his accomplishments that his legend transcends not only Piemonte, but Italy. He is, in short, one of the profoundly great winemakers of our time.
For many, a Giacosa red label riserva Barolo or Barbaresco is the equal of any red wine made in the world. Made only a few times a decade, his red labels are not only fantastically complex, rich, powerful wines capable of decades of development; they are also endowed with that rare and magical sense of extra dimension found only in the greatest wines.
So high are Bruno Giacosa’s standards that, over the decades, he has deemed relatively few wines worthy of wearing the red label. As a consequence, his more typical white label releases often offer such soaring quality that we find ourselves asking why they aren’t red labels. In such cases, the difference in quality may be known only to Giacosa himself.
Giacosa is nearly as famous for his modesty as he is for the surreal character of his wines. As his legend has grown over time, many writers have made the pilgrimage to the Giacosa cantina in Neive eager to learn the details behind his wines, only to receive the simple response that he is a traditionalist. Giacosa has always preferred to let his wines do the talking. “Winemaking involves a great many small decisions, each affecting the next. One can only hope to get them right, to capture what there was in the grapes to begin with” is what he told Gerald Asher in the early ’90s; this was about as far as he would go at the time in articulating his methods.
Giacosa has been somewhat more detailed in describing his approach in recent years, yet what he reveals is not substantially different from what other producers do. The key elements in his work are a two to three-week fermentation in stainless steel at moderate temperatures followed by three to four years aging in French oak botti. Surely, as with an Henri Jayer or Gerard Chave the answer to what makes a Bruno Giacosa wine so extraordinary is contained within the man himself.
Born in Neive in 1929, Bruno has spent virtually his entire life in wine, beginning to work in the cellar with his father Mario and grandfather Carlo at the age of thirteen and becoming fully employed in the family business two years later. Bruno therefore learned how to make great Barolo and Barbaresco—and fine Barbera and Dolcetto as well—from his father and grandfather, rather than in enology school. He learned important lessons from them, not the least of which was how to select fruit. This particular talent has always been of paramount importance to him, but never more so than in the early days, as he didn’t buy his first vineyard until 1982.
Historically, the most famous Giacosa cru bottling has been his extraordinary Barbaresco “Santo Stefano di Neive,” first made in 1964 from grapes purchased from the vineyard’s sole owner, the Castello di Neive. The commune of Neive’s soils have a high proportion of clay and produce powerful and structured Barbaresco; Giacosa’s Santo Stefano—whether a white label normale or a riserva from a great year—is the quintessential Neive Barbaresco.
From the late 1960s until the early 1990s, Giacosa made several other excellent cru Barbarescos from purchased fruit: Montefico, Rio Sordo, Albesani, San Cristoforo and Asili. But only one of these bottlings, Asili, has enjoyed this distinction just a handful of times since 1967 when Giacosa began bottling single vineyard crus.
With the rise, however, of estate-bottling in the 1990s—and thus facing the loss of his traditional grape sources—Giacosa decided to purchase his own vineyards in Barbaresco, choosing what are arguably the two finest crus of all, Asili and Rabajà. As would be expected, the Giacosa wines from these sites have been profound, whether red or white label, and have added immeasurably to the Giacosa legend. Today, the only cru Barbaresco he makes from purchased fruit is Gallina, which he has made since 1978.
As in Barbaresco, Giacosa bottled a stunning series of Barolos from purchased fruit in the 1960s and 1970s, including wines from Rocche di Castiglione Falletto, Villero, Ginestra, Pugnane, Bussia and Collina Rionda. But then in 1982 he acquired the majestic Falletto di Serralunga d’Alba vineyard, and it became the source of his greatest Barolos—rivaled only by the heroic Collina Rionda red and white label Barolos he made between 1967 and 1993. The wines are divided into two bottlings: “Falletto” (so far always white label) and “Rocche del Falletto,” which can be red or white label and comes from four south-facing parcels on the vineyard’s upper slope.
Though Bruno Giacosa is in his eighties now, he remains at the helm of his legendary firm, after a period of upheaval surrounding his illness in 2006. Giacosa devotees breathed a sigh of relief with the news that the great man’s longtime enologist and protegé, Dante Scaglione, returned to his side after departing in 2008. Today, one thing is certain, Bruno Giacosa’s mythic status is the result of a stable of Nebbiolo masterpieces that stand alone as perhaps the greatest of all Piemontese wines.
|2008||2008 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili||ST93||12||$119.95||add|
|1990||1990 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Gallina||AG95||2||$435.00||add|
|1988||1988 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva||WS95 /
|1990||1990 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva||RP96 /
|1990||1990 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva 1.5 L||1.5 L||RP96 /
|1989||1989 Bruno Giacosa Barolo||1||$425.00||add|
|1993||1993 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Collina Rionda||AG94||1||$495.00||add|
|1988||1988 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto 3 L||3 L||CT94||1||$1,100.00||add|
|1986||1986 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto Riserva||AG97||4||$975.00||add|
|1990||1990 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto Riserva||AG98||1||$995.00||add|
|2001||2001 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Rocche del Falletto Riserva 3 L||3 L||AG97||1||$2,300.00||add|
|2007||2007 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Rocche del Falletto Riserva 3 L||3 L||AG98||1||$2,450.00||add|
|2008||2008 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Rocche del Falletto Riserva 1.5 L||1.5 L||ST95+ /
|1985||1985 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Villero||JG94||2||$545.00||add|
|1978||1978 Donato Giacosa Barbaresco||1||$145.00||add|
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