Vinous in London: Cappellano 1971-2012
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | OCTOBER 20, 2020
This retrospective of Cappellano back to 1971, held in London for a small group of Vinous readers, was a fabulous opportunity to revisit a number of wines during what was a very different time in the world. The Cappellano Barolos remain some of the most idiosyncratic and deeply personal wines in the world. This vertical took place in May 2018. We had published an extensive Cappellano vertical a year earlier, so I wanted to wait a bit before publishing this one to balance coverage, and, with the blink of an eye, two years passed.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know Baldo Cappellano while he was still alive. Visits lasted many hours and were always a mixture of wine and philosophy. The Barolos, known only to a few insiders, were inexpensive and easy to find. Cappellano did not send his wines out for review, so information on the domaine was so scant that I received numerous emails when I published my first tasting notes on the wines back in the Piedmont Report days. Baldo Cappellano did not care for scores much because he thought they created divisiveness amongst growers and asked that his wines not be given numerical ratings, which is why all the Cappellano wines in our database appear with tasting notes but no scores.
An extraordinary collection of ex-cellar bottles back to 1971.
This tasting was special for a number of reasons. Baldo Cappellano is no longer with us, although his son, Augusto, is a chip off the old block, as the saying goes. Clearly, the wines have become both expensive and very hard to find over the last decade. We don’t do many events at Vinous because they are not our core activity and organizing them to our standards requires an extraordinary amount of time. No detail is overlooked. All of the bottles in this vertical were purchased from the estate either on release or specifically for this tasting, which I don’t imagine will happen anytime soon given the extreme rarity of the wines, especially the older vintages.
Choosing a venue in London that can handle our service requirements and deal with my obsession over temperature of the wines is not easy. The team at 67 Pall Mall, at the time led by Head Sommelier Terry Kandylis, did a phenomenal job. Over the years, I had heard some less than flattering comments about the food at 67, but our meal was, frankly delicious.
Each wine is served in its own glass so guests can easily revisit wines over the course of the evening.
I arrived a few hours before the event began and tasted every bottle. That’s always a nerve-wracking moment because I want the wines to be great for our guests. We have backups, just in case, but on this night they were not needed, as every wine was absolutely brilliant. As is my custom for tastings like this, the wines were arranged in thematic flights rather than served in chronological order. For this night I chose to do two flights each of the two Barolos, first the Rupestris which is made from vines planted on American rootstock, and the Piè Franco, which emerges from a parcel of own-rooted vines, something that is very rare in Piedmont. The last flight featured three older wines and was purposely served without food so we could really savor the wines.
Cappellano remains one of the reference points in Barolo. Readers who want to learn more might enjoy revisiting some of my previous articles. I cover the domaine’s history extensively in my piece Cappellano: The 2010 Barolos (March 2015) and detail the extraordinary vertical mentioned above in Eight Decades of Cappellano Barolo: 1935-2011 (May 2017)
NV (2013) Ulysse Collin Extra Brut Blanc de Blanc Les Pierrières
I always like to serve a great Champagne to start. Olivier Collin’s NV (2013) Blanc de Blanc Les Pierrières is all that, and more. Precise and sculpted, the 2013-based Pierrières is bursting with energy. The bottles seem to disappear in an instant.
Cappellano’s 1999 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Rupestris – Nebioli
Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Rupestris – Nebioli 2009, 2000 & 1999
Filet of Beef Carpaccio; Wild Rocket, Capers & Croutons
Our first flight of wines, three vintages of the Piè Rupestris, is magnificent. From the start, it is obvious this is going to be a great night.
The 2009 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Rupestris – Nebioli is a fabulous start to this evening, as it is in such a beautiful spot right now. Open-knit and sensual, the 2009 envelops the palate with rich, pliant fruit, all wrapped into a silky, mid-weight frame. I have never been crazy about the 2009 Barolos, but there is no question the wines are drinking very well at the moment. What a gorgeous Barolo. We are lucky to have a superb bottle of the 2000 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Rupestris – Nebioli. The 2000 is rich, powerful and explosive. It is also quite fresh for its age, something that is not possible to say for some 2000s. The blend of the warm year and the classicism of Cappellano results in a captivating Barolo that is superb tonight. This is such an impressive wine. Wow! A more rustic expression of the house style emerges with the 1999 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Rupestris. Dark fruit and slightly funky aromatics make me feel like I am in the winery tasting the 1999 from cask with Baldo Cappellano. The 1999 has never been especially elegant, but it is a decidedly old-school Barolo that will thrill classicists who can look past some of the small imperfections.
Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Franco - Michet 2007, 2001, 1997; 1996 Barolo Gabutti Otin Fiorin Franco
Risotto Primavera with Pecorino Rosso
Risotto Primavera with Pecorino Rosso is exquisite.
Cappellano’s Barolo Piè Franco, from a parcel of own-rooted vines, is one of the rarest wines in Piedmont. Production is just one small cask. That’s it. Next to the Rupestris, the Franco is always more aromatic and ethereal in style.
The 2007 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Franco - Michet is a great example of the year. Sexy, pliant and racy to the core, the 2007 is a pure joy to taste and drink. It is not as complex as some of other vintages in this portion of the tasting, but it is supremely delicious and in the zone to offer maximum drinking pleasure. What a thrill it is to taste Cappellano’s 2001 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Franco - Michet. The 2001 is one of the first vintages I bought heavily on release, so I can’t say I am surprised by how strong it is tonight, but I am delighted to see it have such a strong showing in this setting. The 2001 is deep, explosive and full of character, with enough structure to age for years to come. What a wine! The 1997 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Franco - Michet is a potent, racy wine. I have to say, the wine’s density and structure are surprising, almost shocking, for a wine of its age and the year. The 1997 is rustic and compelling at the same time. It’s so fascinating to taste the 1996 Barolo Gabutti Otin Fiorin Franco next to the 1997. Hints of iron, smoke, tar and rose petal infuse the 1996 with all of the classicism readers would expect to see from a traditionally-minded, old-school estate in a cold year.
Four vintages of the super-rare Barolo Piè Franco, made from the Michet clone on own rooted vines.
Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Rupestris - Nebioli 2012, 2011 & 2010
Fillet of Beef Wellington with Beef Dripping Roasties
Our next two flights showcase the estate’s more recent wines, including both 2010s, which are off the charts.
The 2012 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Rupestris - Nebioli has really gained in weight and stature since I last tasted it. On this night, the 2012 impresses with its substance and stature, qualities that emerge full with a bit of time in the glass. The 2012 continues to come together during this early part of its life. It is one of the positive surprises of the evening. The 2011 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Rupestris - Nebioli shows all of the richness of the year in its bold, racy personality. I remember buying the 2011 on release and drinking a bottle that very same day. It’s that kind of wine. Pliant dark fruit and silky tannins make for an extremely accessible Barolo. This third flight comes to a rousing finish with the 2010 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Rupestris - Nebioli. A towering, statuesque Barolo, the 2010 dazzles from the very first taste. It is, of course, too young, but is a wine I very much wanted in this tasting because I wanted Vinous readers to have a chance to experience it. When all is said and done, 2010 is the greatest young vintage I have tasted at Cappellano.
Fillet of Beef Wellington with Beef Dripping Roasties is an appropriately British main.
Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Franco 2012, 2011 & 2010
Now we move into the same three vintages of Piè Franco, which allows for some fascinating comparisons. As for the wines, they are utterly mesmerizing.
The 2012 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Franco is so beautiful, so sensual. Red fruit and floral notes soar out of the glass in a perfumed, ethereal Barolo that dazzles. The 2012 are so expressive of their relative styles – the Rupestris offers more volume, while the Franco is all about subtle shadings of Nebbiolo fruit and aromatics. They are both among the most captivating wines of the vintage. The 2011 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Franco has handled the rigors of the growing season better than the Rupestris, or stated another way, its personality is less shaped by the style of the year. Although quite expressive when first opened, the 2011 really gains with a few hours of aeration, which seems to bring out a good deal of freshness for the year. What a beautiful wine. Cappellano’s 2010 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Franco is an epic, legendary wine. My notes say “to die for.” That pretty much sums it up. Silky, floral and translucent, the 2010 captivates all the senses with its extraordinary beauty. Barolo is rarely this elegant, this refined. On this night it is utterly breathtaking. The sort of wine that halts conversation.
The 2012, 2011 and 2010 Barolo Otin Fiorin Piè Franco with the retro label Augusto Cappellano introduced beginning with the 2010 vintage.
Barolo 1990, 1989 & 1971
I served these last three wines alone, without food, so that our guests could focus on them without distraction. I thought the wines merited that, and based on how they showed, that seems to have been a good choice.
We start with the 1990 Barolo, a wine from a historically significant vintage, as 1990 is the vintage with which Barolo made significant inroads in the mind of the consumer. My parents sold these wines, and I remember from the period when they were released is how approachable the 1990s were right out of the gate. Cappellano’s 1990 Barolo is tremendous. It captures all of the fruit intensity of the warm growing season but remains rigorously old-school in build. Readers luck enough to own it can look forward to several decades of exceptional drinking. In 1990, Cappellano made two Barolos, as this was the period during which the winery transitioned from buying fruit to working with estate-owned parcels in Gabutti. This is the Barolo made from purchased fruit, while the estate wine is labeled Barolo Otin Fiorin Collina Gabutti. I have had the 1990s side by side only once. On that night they were very close in quality. The 1989 Barolo is the only wine in this tasting where I can say I have had better bottles, but only by a touch. Sensual, silky and alluring, the 1989 impresses for its magnificent aromatic intensity and sweetness. It is such a striking counterpoint to the 1990. Of all the wines in this tasting, if I could own any vintage again 1989 would be at the top, second only to the 1990. Speaking of epic wines, the 1971 Barolo is nothing less than majestic. What a thrill it is to drink it. Subtle, delicate and ethereal, the 1971 is everything Barolo should be at this stage in its life. Crushed flowers, mint and sweet dried cherry are some of the many nuances that grace the 1971. There is nothing to be gained by cellaring bottles further.
Three spectacular older Cappellano Barolos are magnificent on this night.
The evening winds down as guests finish their remaining wines at a relaxed pace. A round of obligatory photos of the bottles follows, and no one really wants to leave. It’s understandable. All of the wines were superb. I am very much looking forward to a time when these gatherings are once again possible. Who knows, the next London theme might be all the ‘leftovers’ from our previous events…
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Eight Decades of Cappellano Barolo: 1935-2011, Antonio Galloni, May 2017
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Bartolo Mascarello Retrospective: 1958-2010, Antonio Galloni, November 2016
Cappellano: The 2010 Barolos, Antonio Galloni, March 2015