Gravello Librandi: 30 years old and it doesn’t show
A great Calabrian classic that maintains a remarkable vitality even with the older vintages and always at an unbeatable price.
An historic vertical tasting of Gravello Val di Noto IGT Librandi was held at Milan’s lovely Mandarin Hotel to mark the wine’s 30th year. The Librandi family was there in full as well as important guests who all helped to create a very relaxed, pleasing and informal atmosphere.
For those unfamiliar with it, Gravello at the end of the 1980s was the first Calabrian wine to win acclaim in the domestic and foreign press. It is the product of the amazing intuition of the Librandi family and the technical expertise of the legendary Puglia enologist Severino Garofano and became one of the few beacons for the rebirth of southern Italian wines. The original idea was to create a wine with a strong territorial base, the Gaglioppo grape, and then add the international allure of a varietal known throughout the world, Cabernet Sauvignon. At the time, this was more or less standard procedure to appeal to international tastes and break into foreign markets where there was growing interest in Italian wines.
The initial blend called for at most 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, a percentage that was never surpassed and in some years was even lower. Fermentation took place in stainless steel vats while the practice of controlling temperatures was introduced with the arrival in the winery of the young enologist Donato Lanati, who was brought in to replace the original master who was overloaded with too many commitments in his native Puglia. Although one was from Piedmont and the other from Puglia, both were leading Italian winemakers. French barriques were adopted to mature the wine also to see the effect they had on Gaglioppo. The blend proved to be a winning and non-invasive one, above all as the wine aged.
One of the conclusions from the tasting was the confirmation that the current and worn out argument over using barriers to age a wine is idiotic and groundless. All the wines offered, especially the older vintages when experience was limited in regard to using these containers, proved that time had shown that the decision by the wine’s creators was the right one because they are still exceptional without any invasiveness from the wood.
Some facts concerning the vineyard used for Gravello: the soil is a chalky clay, the vines are pruned-spur codon-trained with the density of some 5,000 vines per hectare, which was quite dense for the 1980s. Maceration today is no more than 15 days and the wine matures for at least 12 months in barriques and then ages for another six months in the bottle before going to market.
Some vintages were missing at the tasting because production had been limited and here we offer a selection of the vintages that impressed us the most. One of the things that stood out was the consistent quality of the wines in the tasting while we had some doubts over the corks used, with some bottles needing to be promptly replaced.
The oldest vintages, those from the first decade of production, are practically impossible to find and coming across those from the following decade is no easy task either. For this reason, the prices indicated for them are quite relative. Those for the last decade, however, are much more realistic (less than 20 euros retail) and confirm this great Calabrian classic’s incredible quality/price ratio.
A legend, a wine that lifted Librandi to the status of a great Italian producer. Despite being almost 30 years old, this was still in stunning form. Its ruby color was leaning towards garnet but remained compact while the intriguing bouquet had notes of autumn underbrush and a little graphite with still some traces of fruit. The mouthfeel was excellent thanks to its texture and progression, settled tannins and engaging saline streak that persisted towards an excellent and consistent finish.
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Another remarkable confirmation. The color was a brilliant garnet, the aroma clear and intense with notes of cinchona and licorice that then shifted towards those of autumnal underbrush with a little spice. The mouthfeel was intense, flavorful and progressive with refined tannins and a finish that was still fresh with its hints of orange. Very persistent.
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A significant leap in time due to the scarcity of vintages available and the fact that some years the wine was not made. The ruby color was light yet nicely intact and the aroma had notes of cherry, dark fruits and Mediterranean spice. The mouthfeel had an excellent progression and it had balanced tannins, a nice salinity and an elegant texture that allowed for a flavorful, fresh and intense finish.
Another champion vintage that I had forgotten about. The color was bright and intact and the bouquet intense, complex and still youthful with notes recalling the Cabernet, like graphite, dark berries and Alpine underbrush. These were followed by those of cherry and some hints of orange to close the aromatic profile. The mouthfeel was fresh and nervous yet nicely assorted with a very persistent finish. The tannins were excellent, elegantly composed, and the salinity was good.
This vintage deserved an extra point for the surprise this difficult year offered. The enologist was right when he said 2003 was his favorite vintage during pre-tastings. The ruby color is bright without any darkness or deviations while the aroma is incredibly intense with its notes of blood orange, ripe cherry and blueberry. The taut mouthfeel has a distinct salinity that nicely accompanies the rounded tannins and give the wine incredible depth with a very intense and persistent finish.
A great wine from a year in which the weather was practically the opposite of 2003: cool and late with warm temperatures only in June and the beginning of July. The ruby color is bright and compact and the aroma still young with fruity notes of cherry, blackberry and currant with austere sensations of underbrush. The excellent mouthfeel is nervous and vertical with a nice progression and a juicy yet never sweet flavor thanks to compact tannins and a nice acidity. The finish is light and very persistent.
An intense, ruby color and aromas of blond and dark tobacco that shift towards notes of summer underbrush and Mediterranean shrubs. The mouthfeel has a thick and progressive texture with tannins that are still young while slightly warm notes of cherry return in the aftertaste that is persistent and very Mediterranean.
A classic yet slightly pale but bright ruby color with an intense and clean bouquet with youthful, fruity notes of strawberry and cherry along with floral hints of rose. The agile mouthfeel is saline, quite nervous, very elegant and not muscular with a finish of medium personality.