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Bruno Giacosa Has Passed Away at 88

Bruno Giacosa’s Barolos and Barbarescos include some of the most hallowed names in Piedmont, including Barolo Falletto, Barolo Le Rocche del Falletto, Barbaresco Asili and Barbaresco Santo Stefano, while his red-label Riserva bottlings–made only in the best years–are among the most sought after wines in the world.

Giacosa was an enlightened traditionalist, combining a largely non-interventionist approach in the cellars with innovative ideas, like trading in his traditional Slavonian botti for untoasted French oak casks made by Gamba as far back as the 1980s, when so many others were opting for toasted barriques that he felt would mask Nebbiolo’s classic floral, wild berry and balsamic sensations.

But it was Bruno’s extraordinary tasting capabilities that were key to his success.

He left school at fifteen to work in his father’s grape buying and wine making firm. He would spend his days walking among the Langhe hills to search for the best grapes, namely Nebbiolo but also Barbera and Dolcetto. The young Giacosa soon became known for what many describe as his golden palate. He would go on to create Barolos and Barbarescos of complexity, finesse and longevity from the most renowned vineyards.

He also discovered lesser-known vineyards that he would make famous through his elegant, impeccably balanced wines. His respect for the vineyards and his understanding of how they gave wines individual personalities was decades before his time. His first single-vineyard bottlings, the 1964 Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva Speciale followed by 1967 Barbaresco Asili Riserva and 1967 Barolo Vigna Rionda, were among the very first vineyard specific bottlings in Italy.

Giacosa influenced several generations of winemakers, including Franco Massolino, of the family-owned Massolino firm in Serralunga. “Bruno Giacosa was one of the first to demonstrate to wine lovers around the world the incredible potential of our vineyards,” says Massolino.

“He was a real ‘Piedmontese, with a reserved character and at times could come off as a bit cantankerous,” states Aldo Vacca, managing director of Produttori del Barbaresco. “But he was without a doubt the most expert connoisseur of the great Langhe vineyards, and even back in the 1960s, Giacosa knew how to make what are some of the undisputed masterpieces of the Italian wine world.”

Although Giacosa was well known for his somewhat gruff personality, I was fortunate enough to see another side of him, before and after his devastating stroke in 2006. A man of few words, when relaxed in his winery while tasting, he would often joke and banter with his daughter Bruna, and his face would light up with a disarming smile whenever he talked about his favorite vineyards, Asili and Falletto.

And that’s how I will remember Bruno Giacosa.