The other day I had dinner with Mariacristina Oddero - the owner of the Oddero winery, one of the top producers of Barolo, well respected for their dependable quality, and notable for being run by a female in traditionally a male-dominated business. Mariacristina took over from her father Giacomo Oddero in the mid 1990's, making subtle improvements upon his methods, and according to her, coaxing more complexity from the grapes. Now at 82, Giacomo cannot deny her success, but back then he was not at all supportive.
They've been making wine for 6 generations. The first ever Oddero Barolo was bottled in 1878. A traditionalist, maintaining age-old techniques as exemplified in the modest use of oak (big Slavonian oak barrels) and long maceration times, combined with modern-day equipment and cleanliness, Oddero's perfume and fruit manage to shine through strong tannic structure at a relatively young age (5 years+).
At the dinner hosted at Donato Enoteca, we sampled an array in the most perfect setting imaginable, with great food and good company, without being overwhelmed by multitude of wines or time pressure and fatigue of a trade tasting. A flawless custom-crafted Piedmontese 6-course meal by Donato accompanied 6 wines - a Chardonnay/Riesling blend Langhe Bianco Collaretto 2008, Barbera d'Asti Vinchio 2006, basic Barolo 2005, single-vineyard Barolo Rocche di Castiglione 2005, single-vineyard Barolo Bussia Soprana Vigna Mondoca 2004, finishing off with Moscato d'Asti Cascina Fiori 2008. After the official meal was over, Eric the wine director pulled out Barbaresco Gallina 2005 and Oddero Villero 2005. Under the spell of food and company, the wines served at perfect temperature in perfect glassware to a crowd in damn good mood showed very well indeed, reaffirming the appeal of the 2005 vintage (see my notes from Tre Bicchieri tasting earlier this year). The lowly Barbera and Moscato d'Asti were very very good too. As for the Barolos, the wines were solid. The basic 2005 had a fascinating hint of salami on the nose - on special that night for $34 (6-pack pricing), I thought it was the best value. The Rocche was promising, but quite tannic at this point. The Bussia Soprana Vigna Mondoca was a year older (2004), more intense, more open and dark-fruity, while the impressively deep-flavored Villero displayed hints of coffee. I was told that the 2000 Vigna Rionda available for sale ($110) was amazing - supposedly a significant step up from the mid-tier and worth the high price tag, but alas it was not tasted that night.
The next day as I attended the Wine Warehouse trade event in San Francisco's Fort Mason focusing on the new (2006) releases of Barolos, I ran into Mariacristina again. This time I drank her array of 2006's - the basic Barolo, then Rocche di Castiglione, and finally the Villero. I also re-tasted the 2004 Vigna Mondoca. Oddero's 2006's were noticeably more open and less bitter-tannic than all other 2006 Barolos I'd tasted all year, including those from Parusso, Canterno Fantino, Einaudi, and Marcarini. Across the board they have been tough for me to judge due to incredible, hard-as-nails, gum-drying tannins in these young Nebbiolos, although talking to a number of experienced tasters and winemakers themselves, the message has been that 2006 is significantly better vintage than 2005 and more classic than 2004 (2004 shows more fruit while 2006 has more acid, earth, spice and tannin for even longer development). Considering how good the 2004 was, it's a bold statement for 2006, but at this point I will just have to take their word for it - I could not tell, and will stay away from 2006's for at least another year until they mellow out somewhat.
Interestingly, the 2004 Vigna Mondoca was not as tasty as the day before. Blame it on the setting, on palate fatigue, on the bottle temperature, or lack of decanting, or the glassware.... whatever the reason, this was a telling lesson of how one should be circumspect of the hurried trade tasting impressions. Be mindful of the circumstances in which critics' scores are given, remember how important the context and setting in which are you consuming wine is, and don't jump to conclusions too quickly.