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Sep 6, 2010 05:41 PM

The strange case of a case of 1999 Domenico Clerico Barolo Per Cristina

I got a case of 1999 Domenico Clerico Barolo Per Cristina back in 2005, from irreproachable provenance. Case always kept in professional temperature & humidity controlled storage.
I never had had it before, but ratings at the time convinced me to go ahead with the purchase.

Duemilavini 2005, which gave it 5 stars /5 said about it ( my translation):"This is a temperamental wine, made for the long haul. Best after 2010".

Every year or so I'd go ahead and pop a cork, just to check the status of the pacient.

For the first couple years, I'd say the product matched closely Daniel Thomases'opinion from Aug. 2005( who btw rated it 94 pts): "...Very ripe on the nose, but with a freshness and vigor which make it seem like a very young wine ... strong and long with firm and caressing tannins ... It should be good for over 15 years of additional pleasure"

Later on, something weird started to happen.
Around 2007~2008, a French friend characterized it very graphically as "poudreux".
"Powdery", I must say, matched it to perfection.

By 2009 it had entered a kind of terminal phase. It looked and tasted old.
Cellartracker poster "dream" rated it 88, saying "...Somewhat port-like and a bit out of focus..."

I opened bottle # 10 a few days ago, and Wow! I was in for a surprise.
A nice bouquet, but tannins so strong that I almost couldn't swallow it. Totally disjointed.
I followed my custom: leave the bottle (minus 1 glass) rest 24 hrs & retry.
This time the tannins were even stronger. Plain undrinkable, it went down the drain.

First time I experience something like this.
Can tannins become stronger with age?
Could the "new school" barolo winemaking techniques have anything to do with this?
Is this a new case of the Picture of Dorian Gray?
Did Clerico sell his soul?

P.S.: 2 bottles left, which I'll be more than happy to donate at this point.

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  1. First, this is still a very, very young Barolo, and finding it to be tight, tannic, even harsh at this stage is not unusual. But, as you note, finding the tannic qualities to be increasing does seem a bit unusual.

    Unfortunately, I've never tried Clerico's wines, but I found this interesting:

    "[L]ike many of the modernist persuasion, Clerico began in traditional mode, utilizing the hallmark vessels of the traditionalists—Slavonian oak casks—as they were readily available to him. The debut vintage of Barolo Pajanà (1990) represented Clerico’s first expression of a 100-percent barrique-aged Barolo. ... While he did transition to 100% barrique aging for his Barolos in vintages subsequent to 1990, he was motivated to do so for pragmatic rather than stylistic reasons. In essence, one of the middle grounds between cask and barrique—tonneaux —proved to be too high-maintenance. While his initial barrique regimen for Barolos featured equal proportions of new and used French barrels, for a brief period of time, Clerico employed new barrique exclusively for all of his Barolos. He soon moderated these absolute tendencies, with new barrels constituting between 35 and 40 percent of his cooperage. At present, Arte—Piemonte’s second Nebbiolo-Barbera blend— is the only wine in Clerico’s portfolio that is aged exclusively in new barrique."

    It appears that the 1999 may well have fallen in that period where 100% new French barrique were used. Tannins from oak are far more coarse, astringent and harsh than tannins from grape skins. They also seem to be more persistent in a young wine.

    It might be that the wine has simply fallen out of balance, with certain elements fading or temporarily locking up at this point in the wine's evolution, leaving those harsh oak tannins as the most prominent characteristic.

    In another 10 or 20 years, this wine may be gorgeous. On the other hand, I'm doubtful that the usage of new oak barrique aging regimens - even with a light hand - are good for wines meant for longterm aging, and may well result in a highly unbalanced wine that simply does not age well. And I would consider this to be a primary suspect here, given that this wine was likely aged in 100% new oak barrique.

    That said, this Barolo lover would definitely accept a donation... and will return here in 10 years to tell you how it's coming along!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

      Given the history and current facts ( brick/orangy, really tired color ), I'd say ( as my father used to ) "the only future for this guy is the cemetery".

      Please email me your address ( as long as it's within the US, no problem sending you a btl ).

      1. re: RicRios

        This is very generous of you, even assuming that wine has gone over the hill!

        I'll probably let the bottle rest for a few weeks at least before opening, but I'll be sure to post my thoughts here. I'm certain this will be an instructive experience, even if not a tasty one!

    2. I think it's destined for the cemetery as well...

      I've never had the Percristina 99, but I can say this:

      1. I've had Clericos all the way back to the 93 Ciabot Mentin Ginestra. The wines made in the 90's all tend to be heavy-handed with oak. The 93 Ginestra that I had experienced the same thing your Percristina did: pretty bouquet out of the glass, but the tannins dominated; we then decanted, but instead of improving, the fruit simply dissipated further, while the tannins remained.

      2. The 99 Barolos from the "modernists" I have had have me a little perplexed as being disappointing. Not that one bottle confirms it, but instead of needing more time, i think most of them are likely to be over the hill. There just isnt much fruit left and the wines don't improve in the glass. On the other hand, 98s and 00s are showing much better.

      3. From experience, I would drink up Clerico's before between 5-7 years. I have the 04 Pajana and Ginestra that I don't intend to keep much longer. Granted, the vintage may be stronger, but I'm not willing to take the risk.

      Ric, if you are willing do donate, I'd be happy to take one to my tasting group!

      1. I received the Clerico today. I'm really curious to pop it, though expecting the worst, of course. Given that it just took the West to East coast red-eye, I do think it needs some to reconstitute if it has any chance of showing well. How long do you folks usually allow to compensate for travel shock?

        2 Replies
          1. re: RicRios

            I planned to pop this yesterday, but was sent to New York for an assigment over the weekend. Still here (there), but coming back on Wednesday. Shooting for this weekend.

        1. Just had a taste of the 2000 Percristina. Quite stunning, typical of Clerico with the dark chocolate and a minty nose, terrific long finish.

          1. Sunday: popped the 1999 Clerico Percristina at 12 noon and double-decanted. A moderate amount of sediment. Poured off a small glass, and then got the lamb shanks braising.

            30 minutes later: aromatically promising with tobacco, leather, dark fruit, and a large whiff of new oak. Equally promising as the first sip passed my lips ... and then immediately fell apart on the mid-palate. Immense chalkyness, and not of the pleasantly dry, dusty tannin sort. On the finish, the wine turned on me hard with a harsh, puckering astringency that was utterly unbearable. Like inhaling fine sawdust, or a woody cloud of lung searing chalk.

            Horrible, just horrible. I popped a bottle of 06 Produttori barbaresco normale to slow-ox before dinner.

            6pm: poured off another glass of Clerico to attempt with food. Aromatically still acceptable (but tons of new oak). Is that some cherry buried underneath? A bit of a floral component emerging? Still completely undrinkable.

            Monday, 2:30pm: poured off another glass. Chalkyness subsiding a bit. A hard candy cherry element emerging. Not quite drinkable, but swallowable. And that's an improvement. This is where my experience differed from Ric's.

            7pm: poured another glass for dinner (along with a 2007 Badia a Coltibuono chianti). No longer having to choke it down, though the tannins (presumably oak derived) were still overly harsh. The immense chalkyness could almost be referred to as "dusty" at this point, but this was by no means the classic nebbiolo tannic structure. Still, one could tell the wine was Barolo, and I finished the glass with some effort. I preferred by a great margin the $15 chianti.

            I'm interested to see how it'll taste tonight, but I'm somewhat lost as to what happened here. Obviously, the aggressive new oak treatment has to bear a great deal of blame, but I've never tasted oak that's quite this offensive. On the other hand, I tend to avoid oaky wines, so I wonder whether someone who loves that flavor profile has ever experienced this particular sort of catastrophe with another wine that underwent 100% new oak barrique aging regimen (which I presume is the case here).

            I wonder what it'll taste like tonight?