Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Parusso: A Barolo Pioneer

It’s funny how things change, especially in the wine world. When I first started tasting Barolo, the vanilla sheen of French oak was all the craze in Piedmont. Producers were trading in long macerations for roto fermenters that would extract deep colors from the skins within a matter of days without adding the hard tannins of extended skin contact. I would read reviews from critics that were enamored with “modern-styled” wines. The idea was to take Barolo, a wine that typically requires ten to twenty years for it’s tannins to soften, and make it more approachable earlier in its life. No one really knew how these wines would age or if they would be at all interesting down the road.

At the same time, many consumers were looking down upon “traditional” producers of Barolo. Pure Nebbiolo with its aggressive tannins, light color and lean youthful fruit was considered too painful to drink young. Also, It would be unfair of me to leave out that many producers that were lumped into the traditional camp had gotten lazy. In many cases their practices had become dirty, with lack of proper management in the vineyard and winery. In the end, the modernist approach looked to be the way of the future.

But it wasn’t. Over the course of the last decade, the “traditional” producers began to realize that there were many practices being used by the “modernists” that wouldn’t hurt the integrity of their wines. Better vineyard management, reduced yields and temperature-controlled fermentations were brought to the traditional houses, and quality rose quickly. At the same time, many modern wines were becoming flabby with age or dull with once rich fruit flavors that now fell flat with the ever-present sheen of oak lingering in the aftermath. So what happened? The lines between modern and traditional began to blur.

What’s important to remember is that a wine’s style has more to do with what the producer or the consumer wants than it does with what’s right. This brings me to Marco Parusso of Armando Parusso.

Parusso wines have been labeled modern, mainly due to his use of French oak. However, to just call these wines modern does not do them justice. If the goal of the modernists was to create a Barolo that is enjoyable in it’s youth but can also age, then Marco Parusso may have succeeded.

I recently had a chance to speak briefly with Marco about his techniques, and I must say that some of them are quite unique. The obvious is his intention to use the ripest fruit possible with vigorous attention paid to the vines. However, what was truly amazing to me is that Marco leaves his grapes to rest in a chilled room for 7 – 10 days before fermentation. The reason for this is to allow the stalks or stems to dry, hence allowing the tannins to ripen further. This process is followed by whole cluster fermentation, a practice that is seldom seen in Barolo. Maturation up to 24 months in small barrels follows, yet somehow, these wines do not reek of new oak.

After tasting verticals of his Barolo Mariondino and Bussia, I must say that these are truly seductive wines. They exhibit an exotic spice profile and underlying structure that is but a whisper behind all of the rich (yet focused) fruit. This makes them, not just approachable in their youth, but sensational with masses of depth. You may ask if they can age gracefully. One taste of the 2001 Bussia proves it to me absolutely.

Whether you love Traditional or Modern styled Barolo, Armando Parusso is making wines that should be tasted, if for no other reason than just for the experience.

On to the Notes:

2001 Parusso Barolo Bussia – The nose on the ’01 Parusso Bussia was gorgeous, showing ripe cherry, cola, tobacco, potpourri and cedar spice box. On the palate it was rich yet firm, with black raspberry and hints of wood spice. The finish was remarkably long, showing refined structure and a lingering note of pure cherry. (95 points)

2003 Parusso Barolo Bussia – The nose was dark, sweet and brooding, showing brown sugar, plum, berry tartlet, a hint of herbs and tangerine. On the palate, I found crushed berries and dark chocolate displayed against a broad, almost chewy structure. Tart berry notes lingered on the finish yet dried out quickly, leaving behind hints of rough tannin. (88 points)

2007 Parusso Barolo Bussia – The nose showed beautiful floral notes, sweet spice, nutmeg and cherry jam with a hint of vanilla. On the palate, it was full-bodied and velvety with notes of black cherry, cinnamon and cedar, which lasted through the long finish. (94 points)

2008 Parusso Barolo Bussia – The nose was massive, showing dark red fruits, mint, sweet spices and a note of orange peel. On the palate, it was velvety and rich with notes of cherry, sweet spice and minerals. The finish was long, showing hints of this wine’s otherwise hidden structure. (92 points)

1998 Parusso Barolo Mariondino – The nose showed dark red berries, spice box, dark chocolate and a hint of vanilla. On the palate, it was soft with a diluted feel, showing tart red fruit, cedar and angular tannins. The finish showed fading red berries. (86 points)

2006 Parusso Barolo Mariondino – The nose was highly expressive with cherry and earthy woodland notes up front, backed by hints of spice, mint and brown sugar. On the palate, it was full-bodied and velvety, showing pure red fruits and earthy notes, which nearly masked this wine’s fine structure. Tannin was only perceptible on the finish as dried red fruits clung to the palate. (93 points)

2007 Parusso Barolo Mariondino – The nose showed crushed red berries, sometimes tart and sometimes sweet, with floral notes and mint. On the palate it was rich with dark, almost black fruits and spice notes. The tannins were barely perceptible against its masses of dark fruits. The finish lingered long with hints of pepper adding an interesting layer to this dark beauty. (92 points)

2008 Parusso Barolo Mariondino – The nose was elegant and floral with cherry and strawberry fruits, herbs, and cedar box. On the palate an exotic mix of ginger, spice and orange rind mixed with its red fruits and hints of vanilla to create a truly unique experience. The finish was long, filled with spicy ginger and sweet floral notes. (94 points)

2008 Parusso Barolo – On the nose I found tart red berries, orange peel, cinnamon, cedar and herbs. On the palate it was full-bodied with a zing of acidity, showing raspberry and sweet spice. A hint heat fleshed out on the finish with moderate tannins clinging to the palate along with dried red fruits. (91 points)



Although many of these bottles can be found through Wine-Searcher, I highly recommend visiting the website for Grapes: The Wine Company, the hosts of this amazing tasting. Many of these wines can be found through Grapes and if you’re not familiar with the company already, you’re in for a treat.

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