Luciano Sandrone: Barolo Cannubi Boschis 1985-2001

From his first vintage in 1978 Luciano Sandrone set out to make a more approachable and drinkable Barolo.  No one has managed to bridge tradition and innovation as brilliantly as Sandrone, rendering pointless any of the typical arguments in favor of one winemaking philosophy versus the other.  Over the years Sandrone has turned out a stunning group of wines, often reaching stratospheric heights.  Although Sandrone’s wines are accessible when young, they also age beautifully as is demonstrated by the wines from the 1980s.  Yet as magical as the older wines can be, Sandrone believes his recent releases are even better, saying “today we know so much more about how to work in the vineyards and in the cellar.”   I consider Luciano Sandrone’s Cannubi Boschis to be one of a handful of benchmark wines for the region, well worth the effort of finding and cellaring.

Sandrone is one the most meticulous producers I have ever met.  He tends to his vineyards and winery with extraordinary passion and precision.  Sandrone’s plots are in the Cannubi Boschis (also known as Monghisolfo) vineyard, a seven hectare stretch which lies on the same hillside as Cannubi.  As I wrote in Issue 2, the estate’s holdings are divided into three sub-plots that have slightly different characteristics, and are therefore harvested and vinified separately.  The mostly south-facing plots and this producer’s preference for very low yields result in rich, concentrated wines that represent contemporary Barolo at its very best.

In hot vintages, Sandrone’s Barolo drinks well upon release, while in fresher vintages this Barolo seems to start hitting its stride around age 10.  In general, I find the wines from the more classic vintages show greater complexity in both the aromas and flavors, as well as possessing more length, freshness, and better overall balance.  One of the interesting aspects of doing a vertical like this is observing which wines keep the attention of tasters more than others.  While wines like the 1997 and 2000 are no doubt beautiful, they are also wines of less complexity that can be understood immediately, with a minimum of fuss.  The 1996, 1999, and 2001 are great wines because they show much more precision and delineation in the flavors, along with significant evolution in the glass, which invites you to come back to the wines time and again.   Sandrone adds “I tend to prefer the fresher, classic vintages because the wines have much more typicity of Nebbiolo, although I do prefer my 1990 to the 1989.”

1985 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – Dark ruby.  Sandrone’s Cannubi Boschis is spiced on the nose, with suggestions of toasted oak, vanilla, and menthol.  It is utterly irresistible, showing tremendous purity and vibrancy in its ripe sweet fruit, with superb length and a clean, fresh finish.   A wine that marries modern tastes with classic structure, Sandrone’s 1985 is a superb Barolo which has aged gracefully, but still has much prime drinking ahead of it.  Stylistically this is somewhere in between the softer 1989 and richer, more fruit-driven 1990.  96 points/drink now-, tasted 10/05

1988 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – Medium translucent ruby with orange tones.   The medium-bodied 1988 explodes from the glass with a potent, brooding nose of smoke, tar, leather, cocoa and tobacco.  It is soft on the palate, with ethereal, perfumed notes of stewed prunes and dried cherries with softened, dryish tannins that recall a traditionally styled wine, and excellent length.  Although the 1988 doesn’t have the delicateness of the 1989 or the sheer concentration of the 1990, it is fully mature, and a superb choice for drinking now and over the next 3-5 years.  94 points/drink now-, tasted 09/05

1989 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – Medium translucent ruby with orange tones.  From the moment this bottle is opened it is clear that this is very special wine.   The 1989 is delicate, elegant and beautiful, with an aromatic nose of spices, flowers, and minerals, and soft, ethereally perfumed sweet fruit that coats the palate with incredible expansiveness, closing with an unbelievably long finish.   A breathtaking wine that captures all of the classic aged-Barolo notes in an updated, contemporary style, Sandrone’s 1989 is a reference-point wine for the region.  This is drinking beautifully right now and I would choose to drink my remaining bottles within the next five or so years, while the fruit is still fresh.  97 points/drink now-, tasted 06/05

1990 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – Lively medium ruby.  I was simply floored by the 1990, which announces itself with an unbelievably fresh nose of roses, spices and minerals belying its 15 years of age.  Though medium in body, the 1990 offers tremendous opulence, concentration and length on the palate, with waves of ripe, sweet red/black fruit, menthol, and mineral flavors, and a soft, generous texture.   This youthful Barolo must be tasted to be believed. Well-stored bottles should drink well for at least another 10 years.  It is a real privilege to drink the 1990 from an impeccably stored bottle.  98 points/drink now-, tasted 09/05

1995 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – The 1995 displays notes of flowers and minerals, along with more evolved fruit and leather flavors, with modest depth and complexity, and a short-ish finish that is clipped by fairly hard tannins.  The vineyard was hit by hail in 1995, and this wine has always had this harder edge, which I think it always will.  89 points/drink now- tasted 05/05

1996 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – The 1996, one of the estate’s best, takes things to another level.  It shows an outrageous, well-delineated nose of fresh roses, minerals and menthol followed waves of dark fruit and licorice flavors that are just beginning to show the signs of early maturity, with exceptional freshness, length, and harmony.  This opens beautifully in the glass, taking on an almost Burgundian elegance.  A wine to marvel over.  It is hard to resist this now, but it will be even better in another 3-5 years, and age gracefully for another decade, and probably more.  96+ points/drink after 2008, tasted 05/05

1997 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – The 1997 is rich and alcoholic on the nose, displaying aromas of very sweet fruit with a slightly evolved character.  It is super-rich and concentrated on the palate, offering intense sweet fruit and mineral flavors, but with notable balance for the vintage, closing with a final lingering note of sweetness.  This is drinking well now and should last at least another ten years.  93 points/drink now-, tasted 05/05

1998 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – An impressive effort, the 1998’s only misfortune is being surrounded by so many other exceptional wines.  It is a rich, concentrated Barolo, similar in style to the 1997, but more complex, giving the impression of being much more youthful in its toasted oak, spice, mineral and dark, ripe fruit flavors.  With some air this is approachable now, but I would hold off for a few more years.  94 points/drink after 2008, tasted 05/05

1999 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – The 1999 is easily one of the best wines in the series.  It offers rich sensations of spices, flowers, toasted oak and minerals along with well-delineated layers of ripe dark fruit, menthol, and eucalyptus flavors, finishing with exceptional structure, length and freshness.  I didn’t taste the superb 1989 (see above) at age six, but when I tasted this 1999 on a later occasion, the first thing that came into my mind was a young version of that wine.  The 1999 will require at least a few years of bottle age and will start to be at its best around 2009, after which it should last another decade.  95+ points/drink after 2009, tasted 05/05

2000 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – The 2000 is characteristic of the vintage, with a huge nose of over-ripe, almost stewed fruits.  It is richer, rounder and softer than either the 1999 or 2001, displaying generous amounts of sweet, dark fruit with a lingering balsamic note on the finish.  This doesn’t quite have the freshness or complexity of the very best vintages, but it will offer irresistible drinking today and for at least another 15 years.  93 points/drink now-, tasted 05/05

2001 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis – The 2001 is one of the standouts of the vintage.  Utterly convincing, it shows a very spiced nose, with nuances of menthol and flowers with terrific length on the palate.  Layered flavors of rich dark cherry fruit, tar and licorice gradually emerge from the glass and complete this magnificent effort.    This should start to drink well around age 8-10 and last for at least another decade.  95+ points/drink now-, tasted 05/05

—Antonio Galloni