mascarello.0LU0amdHuReS.jpgA Barolo/Barbaresco tasting anywhere close to home is sure to attract me like a magnet. Is there anything more elusive than great nebbiolo? Outstanding examples of pinot and cabernet from around the world have long ago proven themselves, but nebbiolo from the Langhe Hills of Piemonte remains unchallenged.

The turf wars of traditionalist vs. modernist have calmed in recent times. The new wave has backed off on all the new oak and over-extraction (not yet far enough in my opinion), while the old guard is producing wines with softer tannins due to better vineyard management.

The St. Helena Wine Center hosted the following tasting last week. It was a bargain at only $20. I am always amazed more people don’t come to take advantage of such opportunities. The tasting:

Sottimano, Langhe Nebbiolo, 2006 ($24) - I bought three bottles and should have bought more. Perhaps the greatest value in nebbiolo anywhere, the Sottimano family could call this wine Barbaresco and sell it for four times as much. However as the vines are “only” fifteen years or so old they’ve decided to just sell it as Lange Nebbiolo. High toned, concentrated and still closed, this wine needs three for four more years to show itself. Sottimano is the most intelligent and light-handed of the modernists in the Langhe today. Simply great wines across the board.

Mauro Molino, Barolo Gallinotto, 2004 ($48) - The Molino wines are less over-the-top oaky these days and much better for it. Not my favorite style, but very well made and their wines show more nebbiolo varietal character than they did in the past. A very good wine at a very fair price.

Moccagatta Barbaresco Basarin, 2004 ($65) - I just could not find much to like here. Just not to my taste, but they’re a serious winery that deserves respect.

La Spinetta Barbaresco, Vigneto Gallina Vursu, 2004 ($120) - Ever see the huckster selling sham wows on late night TV? He must be the marketing director of La Spinetta. This is an almost silly wine at a price that would be silly too - except that some people actually pay it. A rip off. Why would anyone pay $120 for this wine when you can buy a great Zinfandel (which this wine tastes more-or-less like) for a quarter of the price. Anyone who drops $120 on this wine is a fool. The wine version of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Paolo Scavino Barolo, Bricco Ambrogio, 2003 ($62) - I have never really liked these wines, but respect Paolo Scavino for his passion and dedication to making great wine - that is just not to my taste. Unlike the cynical La Spinetta, which just went out to create wines that would get big points and big bucks, Scavino really believed in his vision. Happily he too has throttled back and is making more graceful wines. This wine is very good - very modern, but still tasting of nebbiolo and the Langhe Hills. If you like the modern style, this wine is for you, not the over-everythinged La Spinetta and it’s half the price to boot.

Mascarello Barolo Monprivato, 2003 ($88) - The nose just blew me away on this wine. Could this lifted, elegant and expansively delicate nose really be from the hot, hot, hot 2003 vintage? This is just a glorious wine and easily the best 2003 Barolo I’ve tasted. Sure their 04 is better, but this wine is nothing short of outstanding and a great accomplishment in such a hot year. This wine should really not be touched until 2013.

Rinaldi Barolo Brunate, 2004 ($150) - Well if you’re going to drop $150 on a wine you might as well get perfection and this wine is about as close to perfect nebbiolo as you’ll find. From a very, very great vintage, Rinaldi took the extraordinary fruit they got from the “Grand Cru” Brunate vineyard and got everything they could out of it. A true classic that should be aged for fifteen or more years before drinking. Today it’s all closed, tannic and promise, but this wine will deliver big time.

Oddero Barolo, 1996 ($70) - If a wine can cost $70 and be a bargain this is it. The 1996 vintage has proven itself to be among the very greatest vintages in Barolo and Barbaresco. However, if you think this wine is ready to drink you’re wrong as it’s still closed and young and needs many more years to reach its peak. Yes, it’s wonderful to drink now, but in five or six more years it should be astounding. If you think about the price of this wine in the context of how good it is and that it is already thirteen years old, I think you’ll agree this is a bargain. That a famous critic rated the flabby 1997’s higher than the regal 1996 vintage is a cruel joke on consumers.