Boca at Buco: Conti Boca Dinner @ Il Buco Restaurant

After falling for a bottle of 1985 Conti Boca I went on a search to find out more about this mysterious wine.  The internet did not reveal much, yet I did manage to track down a website but it didn’t have much information at the time so I dashed off an email trying to find out more.  I got a sweet reply from one of the three sisters that run the winery along with a couple of PDFs containing information about the winery, the region, and the wines.  Castello Conti Boca is located in the very north of Italy’s Piedmont region.  The wines are composed of 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Vespolina, 10% Uva Rara (Bonarda).  Thankfully Conti Boca uses natural vineyard practices planting fava beans between the rows of their vineyard, which is quite small actually.  One hectare producing only about 3000 bottles annually.  This makes the wines as rare as they are wonderful.  The wines were once fermented in concrete vats but now are done in stainless steel.  All fermentation is done with indigenous yeasts.  The wines are raised in a mix of used French tonneaux and barriques for two and half years, then they spend four months back in stainless steel before being bottled.  Despite such small production, the winery maintains a stock of library vintages going back to the 1980′s.The trove of back vintages is why we are afforded the chance to see how these wines age.  And oh how they can age.  Their real secret is the acidity, which gives them their legendary long life and makes them great food wines.  The wines at our dinner at Il Buco all showed very well, each with it’s own distinct personality.  The dinner featured Elena Conti, who modestly spoke about the wines she and hers sisters now make, and which were made by their father up until 2004.  Also in the house was Jan D’Amore the importer of the Conti wines, amongst other gems from Italy.  We were in the wine cellar at Il Buco, which has to be one the coolest and most romantic places to dine in NYC.  I am sure it is every wine geeks fantasy to have an old world cellar like Il Buco’s.  The food was excellent, the company lively, and the wines were very strong across the board.  With a 14 year gap separating the older and younger wines, there was a clear divide, but it gave a great perspective on how the wines drink when they are young and how they can age.  I think the greatest thing I took away was that each wine had a distinct personality.  It really shows the transparency of the wine making philosophy at Conti Boca.  Long live Conti Boca!


1985  Conti Boca

The wine that started it all.  For me at least.  From a cooler, thus “classic” vintage.  This wine still maintains an air of youth with distinct notes of camp fire smoke married with candied cherries, solid minerality, good acidity, with hints of spice and anise.  The wine is balanced and most definitely a classic.  A quarter century and the clock is still ticking very solidly.

1988 Conti Boca

Owing to a warmer vintage, the sweet candied cherry fruit sings forth.  There are hints of olives and sweet anise candy.  There are meaty notes and the acidity is solid, with a lovely perfumed nose.  A more forward wine than the 1985 in the fruit department.

1989 Conti Boca

The element of salinity really enters the picture in the 1989 vintage.  The cured olives are there mixing with mushrooms and earth.  There are also cured meat notes, hints of anise, and the mouth feel is rich and round.  Reminds me of mature traditional Rioja in a way.  How distinct this wine is from the 1988 and the 1985.

1990 Conti Boca

The salinity is also present in 1990.  This renders the 1989 and 1990 seemingly more mature than the 1988 and 1985?  There is a core of cured olives, spice, and smoke.  There is a meaty note and the nose is complex, rich, and invites contemplation.  1989 and 1990 hold a special place.  Would probably recommend drinking these two sooner than 1985 and 1988 as they show more maturity.

2004 Conti Boca – Il Rosso Delle Donne

Fast forward about 20 years and we find ourselves in 2004.  This was the first vintage with Elena at the helm, having taken the reins from her father.  Fermentation was taken from concrete vats to stainless steel.  The wine is very different, but that probably has more to do with the difference in age, which is a lot.  The 2004 has a decidedly citrus acidity to the nose.  Very unique for red wine, much more commonplace with white, for example.  Grapefruit, vinegar, and green elements abound, but the wine does tame itself with some air.  Great food wine with such solid acidity.  Needs more time, but should age gracefully.  Promising.

2005 Conti Boca – Il Rosso Delle Donne

This is another study in contrast from the 2004.  The nose lacks the citrus acidity, and is instead imbued with distinct floral aromatics.  It is a more subtle wine, with fresh cut flowers and rhubarb mixing with hints of anise, solid acidity, a balanced mouth feel, and a lingering finish.  Drinking very well despite its youth.  Maybe lacking the legs of the 2004, it should do well in the short to medium term.  Bravo.


With only about 3000 bottles being made each year the wines of Conti Boca are not always easy to come by.  But there are older and newer vintages on the market now.  The 1989 is out there at about $80 and the 2004 and 2005 are out there as well at about $40.  While not bargains per se, the wines represent a reasonable price given there quality and scarcity.  You can find these vintages at shops like Chambers Street and Astor Wines.




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