On my recent visit to Piedmont I included five producers in the neighboring village of Barbaresco since I’ve often given them short shrift. Known as the Queen of Nebbiolo, in contrast to Barolo the King, Barbaresco has a reputation for being a softer, more elegantly styled example of Nebbiolo. While this is undoubtedly true, the accompanying sentiment, that because of this it can’t quite achieve the heights of Barolo, also seems somewhat ingrained in the marketplace, and that is of course terribly unfounded.
Barbaresco will rarely have the sheer power of Barolo, but the wines are simply different, not less good. While that may be true there is in fact a bit of factual information supporting the idea that great wines are harder to find. Simply put there are fewer of them.
Fewer producers, fewer bottles, and fewer Crus, all make buying Barbaresco a somewhat more difficult proposition than buying Barolo. Add in the fact that the Cooperative in Barbaresco, the Produttori del Barbaresco had for years a near monopoly on the wines from this commune and you’ll see why things are the way they are today; with numerous smaller producers sprouting up over the past two decades, still developing their styles and their understanding of their vineyards.
One additional point worth making about the dominance of Barolo in the region is that while these two regions are separated by a short distance they do experience distinctly different climatic conditions, with Barbaresco usually enjoying a harvest that precedes that of Barolo by a pair of weeks. We, even educated consumers, tend to think of the region as a whole and use the vague results of vintage assessments to help guide our buying in the region. That is a significant mistake.
After speaking with the producers and tasting the wines here it became clear to me that 2009 in Barbaresco clearly has an edge over Barolo, with wines that have all that upfront fruit that the wines of Barolo display but with a better balanced and riper structure. In contrast 2010, which looks to be epic in Barolo, is elegant and perfumed in Barbaresco but without the power of depth of it’s siblings. The 2011s, which seem to be very promising in Barolo might be even better here in Barbaresco. The wines from barrel are full bodied, ripe, and intense, and in the words of Produttori’s Aldo Vacca are ” the biggest Nebbiolo ever produced here, biggest fruit, biggest alcohol, biggest tannins, an over the top vintage, but not overripe”. And one last thought on vintages, the 2008s in Barbaresco seem to have outperformed their Barolo brothers.
Armed with this knowledge I continued my limited set of tastings in the region. It is always a challenge deciding where to visit when one has a limited amount of time in a region, and even when spending two weeks in Piedmont I sadly only found time for 5 visits in Barbaresco. As I have mentioned in previous postings on the Barolo producers visited this year, this year I was trying to visit Barolo producers whom I have yet had the opportunity to visit. That being done I look forward to broader coverage in Barbaresco next year. Having said, that the five producers I did visit offered a fascinating perspective into the state of Barbaresco today.
My first visit was at the Martinenga estate of the Marchesi di Gresy. These are well known and well regarded wines that come from an excellent slope within Barbaresco. Essentially surrounded by the crus of Asili and Rabaja, this is a fabulous spot, an amphitheater, steep and southwest facing. Spend some time in the vineyards and that steepness, and the accumulated heat of the day can become very apparent. This is reflected in the wines produced here, which tend to be on the richer, more powerful side of the Barbaresco scale.
There are three Barbarescos produced here, the Martinenga along with Gaiun, which sees 100% oak, of which 30% is new, and the Camp Gros which, like the Martinenga, spends a bit of time in barrique before being moved to botte for 22 months, in contrast to 12 months for the Martinenga. While all of the wines here are well made, there is no doubt that many people will prefer one bottling over the other, primarily due to the impact of the differing wood treatments. Not surprisingly my preference was for the Camp Gros.
Next up on the agenda was a visit to the Cantina del Pino, ably run by Renato Vacca and reflecting Renato in their understated style. Quite the opposite of what one finds in the Marchesi di Gresy wines, here one finds very precisely made yet traditional wines with fruit sourced primarily from the family owned vineyards in Ovello, as well as a bottling from the Albesani cru of the Santo Stefano hillside, which lays several hundred meters east of Ovello in the commune of Neive.
The wines receive traditional fermentations stretching out between three weeks and 30 days in length and then are aged in large format wood for two years before bottling. I found these wines to be quite pretty but I have to admit to wanting a bit more from many of them. They are elegant almost to a fault, and stand in stark contrast to the more powerful wines created at the Marchesi di Gresy. Results of winemaking decisions as well as the difference in the crus, which is as important here as it is in Barolo.
If you want to really delve into the crus of the commune of Barbaresco there is no better place to go than to the Produttori del Barbaresco. Undoubtedly one of the finest coops in the world of wine, the Riserva Barbarescos of Produttori are among the handful of wines I regret not buying more of. These are, year in and year out, fabulous wines and among the best values in the world. And as I mentioned, they are a fabulous case study for the crus. Every cru receives essentially the same treatment in the cellar, a month of time on the skins followed by three years in botte before bottling. The classic Barbaresco, known as the Torre bottling due to the tower on the label sees only 24 months in botte but otherwise is produced in a very similar fashion.
While I was unable to taste all nine crus the day of my visit, I did taste a nice assortment of wines, each excellent in it’s own right. Interestingly there will be no Cru Riserva wines bottled here in 2010 as the Torre bottling was deemed to be not quite where the Produttori wanted it to be, so working within the constraints of their protocols, where they either bottle all of the crus or none of them, the cru wines were all blended back into the 2010 Torre. The result is a fabulous Torre bottling and one you should definitely try but based on the 2011 Langhe Nebbiolo tasted here one that might be soon upstaged! If you are interested in learning about Barbaresco the wines of the Produttori are not to be missed.
Moving on, yet staying within the commune of Barbaresco, my next visit brought me to the hill of Montestefano, where Teobaldo Rivella has been farming two hectares of Nebbiolo organically for decades. These are wines that were new to me and yet at the same time harken back to a time and style of wine that we are very close to losing. Rustic, earthy, complex and particularly honest, these are wines that clearly reflect their place. To be sure the natural winemaking that takes place here does leave an impression on the wine, one which you may or may not enjoy, but they are remarkable wines. With only a single Barbaresco produced each year, still under the brand founded by his father Serafino Rivella, getting a better feel for Teolbaldo’s wines might take a bit of time, but I look forward to better understanding how the wines age and develop in the bottle. If a 1989 recently enjoyed is any indication I would say quite well.
My final visit in Barbaresco, and of the whole trip in fact, brought me to the Cascina delle Rose, still in the village of Barbaresco. While I had enjoyed several vintages of their Barbaresco in the past, as part of large tastings, I was not fully prepared for the wines here. Starting with both Dolcetto and Barbera, stunning examples of each, and moving through their pair of Barbarescos I was struck by the detail and grace of these wines. To put things in perspective, the owners Giovanna and Italo opened a bottle of their 2004 Barbera Donna Elena and it could easily be the wine of the day on any given day tasting Barolo and Barbaresco!
The wines are made by their son Davide, and one might be tempted to call him a rising young star, which though technically true falls to capture the commitment this young man has made. Starting at the age of nine he began pruning the vines that lie in the Rio Sordo and Tre Stelle crus that back up against the family winery. Today at the age of 26 Davide is making some of the best wines in Barbaresco. Period. These are brilliant wines and they remain fabulous values. I don’t intend to regret not buying them further down the road when they receive the full attention that they deserve. The 2011s out of botte look to be a phenomenal pair of wines, be ready for them.
So that’s the short of my trip, the long follows with the detailed notes on the wines tasted. Stylistically Cantina del Pino, Marchese di Gresy, and Serafino Rivella each will find their audience, though I expect the overlap there to be a bit limited. Produttori stands on their over five decades of producing some of the finest wines in all of Italy, as they continue to produce benchmark wines. And then there is Cascina delle Rose, an exciting discovery that could turn just about anyone into a devoted lover of Nebbiolo. If you get the chance to visit Cascina delle Rose, I urge you to try their grappa as well. I almost passed on the opportunity but these two grappe, one of Barbera, which exploded with notes of chocolate and oranges, the other of Nebbiolo and full of fennel and lemon notes are the best grappa I’ve had in a very long time, and I do not shy away, usually, from indulging in my love of grappa!
Martinenga Marchese di Gresy
Normally 18 months in both small and then large oak but this saw a little more in botte, one year and two months in bottle
Shows some toast on the nose, Minty, with raw wood, small red fruits, and camphory white soil notes. Nicely firmer style on the palate with nice amplitude in a rather tannic, big fruit but not fruity style that shows lots earthy, mineral aspects that make the palate almost lean and elegant. The long finish shows lots of tannins, lots of fruit tannins, but also just a touch of drying wood tannin on the finish, which ends with a lightly toasty note. 89pts
The middle part of the vineyard
Lighter in character than the 2009 with dried citrus peels, tea leaf, rose petal, and barely ripe red berry fruit on the nose. A bit narrow but fairly ripe on the palate,with fine grained tannins lending this a transparent and elegant feel with a nice silky texture. The palate reveals layers of leafy fennel, soil driven, and slightly umami flavors, with a lovely sweetness on the finish that contrasts the very precise tannins. 90pts
100% barrique about one third new
Smells a bit marshmallow, vanilla, pencil lead rich in a bit dull and heavy vein. Opening with sweet fruit and toast flavors in a broad style, this shows nice acidity making the midpalate bright and lively with lots of strawberry fruit and a little whipped creaminess from the oak. There is noticeable wood tannin all across the tongue and through the short finish. This is a bit chunky and shows an inelegant use of wood. 87pts
Two and half weeks fermentation, a little delestage, submerged cap, on the skins for thirty to thirty five days, in 2011 a tank was kept on the skins forty days
With perfumes of small strawberries in alcohol this exhibits more Nebbiolo fruit backed up with integrated wood, camphor and mint aromas. The bright acids on entry are quickly covered by very subtly creamy and compact red fruits. Dense with tannins that are slightly austere yet polished,there is still nice focus and detail here with a nice savory finish. This shows some vitality and elegance, and is quite classic but the oak is noticeable if not obtrusive on the nose and it adds a textural note on the palate. 90pts
A bit pruny on the nose and intense with lots of soil tones, some minty spice, some prosciutto, and pencil shavings framing lots of strawberry fruit with a top notes of smoke and vanilla, and clay. Soft, rich, and powerful in the mouth this displays lots of red fruit even some watermelon, with nice slightly rustic and spicy tannins. Fresh and powerful on the finish this is full of red cherry and earthy fruit and retains a sweetness on the long finish. This is pretty attractive 2007. 91pts
No Gaiun in 2007 because of hail, lots of it went into nebbiolo
2006 Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco Gaiun Martinenga
Thirty five days on skins, two years in oak
Toasty on the nose with accents of toasted marshmallow, a bit of pencil shavings, rose petals, violets, red plum skins. There’s a little campfire here along with some old wood on the nose. Silky and focused on entry this remains fresh and youthful yet with a maturing feel on the palate. Elegant and cool with nice depth of flavor, super focus, a rather seamless feel and plenty of lovely red cherry and red plum skin notes on the finish, with just a hint of wood tannin remaining on the finish. I would prefer less toastiness on the nose but this is coming together well. 91pts
Lucky picking early, flowering was tough, small crop, cool season, rained for about nine days, directly after the harvest here
Ferments are slightly cooler today than in the past, two or three degrees
Tight on the nose with an earthy cast over cut cherry fruit, sweet herbal notes, a hint of sottobosco Bosco, sweet necco chocolate wafer and a touch of sweet wood showing cedary shadings. Silky and rather small scaled in the mouth this is almost ready displaying nice frutto del Bosco flavors supported by small austere tannins which appear on a finish lengthened by nice acid drive. perhaps a bit dry, there is still plenty of attractive burnished cherry fruit with a nice citrusy, dried rind notes adding detail, though the tannins do remain a touch youthful. 89pts
Cantina del Pino
Pretty on the nose with a hint of cheesiness and subtle layers of floral and minerals adding detail to the core of black raspberry fruit. A touch lean in the mouth, though with an edge of sweetness to the fruit, this shows off nice acids and crisp if small tannins supporting bright wild raspberry fruit with a touch of wild cherry. The finish is modest showing a minty aspect and tannins that turn a touch drying. 87pts
Firmly and richly fruited on the nose with a tight core of sliced plum and wild cherry fruit framed by dusty soil notes and topped with a hint of mint. Elegant on entry and a little sweetly fruity though clear on the palate with more depth and power than the 2010. The flavors lean a bit towards the balsamic end of the spectrum with a nice hint of rosemary on the backend. Fine acids and ripe tannins offering nice support right through the strong finish which shows good fruit and complexity,. This has a lovely flavor profile and a crisp texture but it is rather understated. 88pts
Lovely on the nose, still with a certain sweetness to the warm red berry slight jammy toned cherry fruit backed up by rose petals, and a nice limestone note. This is already easy to drink, soft and slightly creamy, rich without being weighty while delivering raspberry and wild berry fruit on the palate with a nice classic mineral accent. The tannins turn a touch dry on the backend which leads to an elegant yet powerful finish which shows fine fruit driven aromatics along with hints of coffee cream and a slightly roasted fruit character. 89pts
Richly fruited with an early touch of chocolate on the nose followed by hints of sotto bosco, woodsy wild red berry fruit and a touch of lead pencil. Still a touch reticent in the mouth, this shows how these wines might evolve.The fruitiness fades away a bit leaving fruit that is less sweet complemented by complex notes of soil, rust, and roses. Theres some raspberry coulis on the backend but this shows good clarity and nice tension in the mouth with a long, though slightly pasty finish. 89pts
A bit woody and mineral on the nose with spicy almost white pepper and limestone notes that are followed by a hint of dusty yet sweet rose petals. This opens nicely with thrust and depth on the palate offering up sandy, intense and softly sweet raspberry preserve flavors on entry with a faint bitter orange edge upfront, followed by some stepped tea character and a touch of licorice on the backend before this fades into a fairly tight though well fruited, finish which shows lots of rose hips and amarena cherry flavors. Fairly broad in the mouth with a nice base of ripe, supple tannins. 92pts
A touch cedary on the nose with a complex cognac aspect to the fine red fruit that picks up a touch of iron, a little spice with hints of camphor, rose petals and dried orange peel on the nose. Fresh and decisive on entry, this is rich yet transparent in the mouth with great depth of fresh fruit accented by the dried orange peel note found on the nose. Long and elegant with nice mineral notes on the long, savory and wood spiced finish, this is a refined wine with power, a bit of iron fist inside of a velvet glove but it’s a woman’s hand. 91pts
Produttori del Barbaresco
In 2010 will bottle only Torre since the vintage is light, very aromatic and fresh but lacking backbone so the base wine needed the structure and depth of the crus. In 1995 they made single vineyards but the Torre turned out sharp and lean and really was the turning point for producing only the single torre bottling in edge case years.
2011 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo
Very aromatic and really compelling on the nose with explosive wild berries, balsamic spices, cinnamon, and a gentle mintiness. On entry this is intense ripe, fresh and complex with lovely, lightly chewy and fresh fruit in the mouth supported by ripe tannins and nice acidity. This is Barbaresco quality wine, a huge Langhe Nebbiolo on the palate packed with fresh herbal top. notes over masses of ripe fresh balsamic, cranberry and strawberry flavors. the finish is a bit of a let down, a bit short but perfumed with rose petals and bay leaf. Time might add more to the finish but this is already exciting to drink. 89pts
2010 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco “Torre”
Includes the crus
With a soft mineral laced nose, this turns quite floral in the glass picking up and hints of spice, underbrush, blood, herb and soil. Almost sweet on entry and showing fresh wild berry and blood orange, with a contrasting dash of bitter grapefruit pith and some slightly medicinal edges, this displays lovely balance and freshness in an elegant style with slightly grainy tannins and a little bite of acidity on the wild cherry rich finish. Elegant, and refined, this is very pretty and will show well young and age well for twenty years. In a way it feel like 2008 Barolo, with excellent clarity and balance, and while qualitatively this is about at the same level as the 2009 and 2008 vintages I prefer this. 90pts
High toned nose on the nose with edgy camphor, balsamic, rose petal, and black currant tinted cherry and raspberry fruit. Broad, a perhaps a little soft and chewy on the palate this is weighty and deep with nice balsamic rose petal tones to the dark red wild berry fruit which shows some light astringency and a hint of orange peel. Long yet quite tannic on the finish, and showing fine sandalwood and cinnamon accents, this has a soft sweetness but none of the over ripeness one finds in Barolo in 2009. 90pts
With a sweet herb tinged nose, this opens to show soil and spiced cherry fruit over a base of limestone. Additional air brings out a little briar, coffee and an Asian spice note. Broad and open, and almost ready to go in the mouth this is showing off fresh lively fruit supported by soft tannins and good acidity adding attractive cut on the palate. A bit less well defined on the back end,which carries with it some quite ripe fruit flavors that leads to a moderately long finish that shows soft, chewy tannins, Riper than 2010, this is a fairly big and slightly flamboyant wine. 90pts
Sweet raspberry fruit greets the nose along with an strong leathery edge, dried herb notes and a touch of chamomile with high toned dried balsamic top notes. Firmly focused in the mouth with nice early acids adding a bit of cut and quite good clarity in the mouth. There is lovely definition to the cranberry/lingonberry toned tart cherry fruit that has a nice balsamic edge all supported by finely ripe tannins. With a bit of licorice on the finish this turns chewy with tannins that close things down a bit though this does end with an elegant, floral inner mouth perfume. 92pts
Big, deep, wooly and earthy on the nose full of coffee tinged dark cherry that shows an attractive hint of torrefaction and gentle hints of blackberry all topped with hints of balsam and pollen. Really gorgeous on the nose. Powerful yet finely defined in the mouth with good clarity to the rich, slightly blocky blackberry fruit that is long and persistent in the mouth with a clear and intense mineral base. This really is lovely with a fantastic nose but it comes off as just a bit simple on the palate though it is packed with fresh, crisp fruit. This finishes with admirable power and it is a big wine, though so very young but with age this should blossom beautifully. 93pts
2008 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Ovello
Lovely purity of fragrance that is sweet and slightly candied with detailed cranberry and strawberry with hints of soil, graham cracker, and dried green herb adding detail. With big fruit on entry,this has a bit of a soft, broad and mouth filling feel to it, delivering super fresh fruit framed by nice mineral and dried herb tones in the mouth, though with less aromatic intensity than the 09. There’s nice tension on the backend and this finishes a touch short but with good freshness. 91pts
Wow this has a gorgeous nose, sweet and lightly fudgy, tarry and full of dark oily spice notes wrapped in a touch of animal and toastiness. In the mouth this is powerful, a touch dense but not weighty, and chewy with tannin and excellent freshness of dark cherry fruit flecked with mineral and balsamic accent notes. The balance is terrific here and this shows an added level of refinement with tons of ripe tannins on the finish which shows off very ripe strawberry and raspberry fruit. A powerhouse to be sure, this should turn out to be stunning. 94pts
Aldo’s pick of the vintage
Tight and restrained on the nose with lots of cinnamon, a bit of bay leaf, still tight with floral top notes, a hint of jerky and menthol, and a sneaky rosebud top note. With a lovely blend of freshness and power in the mouth, this is complex and detailed, showing tension in the mouth while delivering a broad palate impression. There’s an incipient hint of fungi adding complexity to the small wild cherry, strawberry fruit that picks up some black spice on the finish but maintains fine transparency from the start through the long finish. Seamless and firm with classic tannic structure, this is quite fine. 93pts
Spicy, tight, refined and focused on the nose with a little sweetly smoky, mesquite and hickory tone which is followed by mineral and candied herb notes that take on a bit of a cola elements. Fairly ripe and a bit soft in the mouth, this is a little chewy with lots of red fruit early on the palate then a bit of spiciness on the mid-palate but this lacks a bit of tension in the mouth with a loose knit structure and intriguing dried herb notes on the finish. this lacks a touch of tension in the mouth, lots of fruit up front, the a bit of spiciness, easy with some tannins and chaparral herb flavors on the finish. 90pts
Two hectares in Montestefano Organically farmed.
Super complex on the nose with an array of medicinal, woodsy, mushroomy, root berry notes all framing the core of dark berry, cherry fruit. Opening just a touch on the soft side this quickly turns very clear and precise on the palate exhibiting a fresh, very pure core of stony, tart wild cherry with savory, slightly medicinal and licorice notes adding detail. This is very precise with lots of lift in the mouth in a tense and lean style. The ripe tannins add fine support and help to drive the persistence, dry small red berry flavors through the long finish. This is a bit on the earthy side, and perhaps not technically perfect but it is a very compelling wine. 91pts
2008 Rivella Serafino Barbaresco Montestefano
Earthy, leathery, and perhaps a little bretty on the deep, rich and high toned nose full of wild herbs, flowers, minerals and gorgeously framed fruit.Opening with a decidedly woodsy flavor profile this quickly shows off its seamless character showing fine structure and excellent integration in a totally old school style. This could have been made in 1978. Today it is a bit bricky already, and broad on the palate with an incipient gamy edge to the dark cherry fruit. This is a beautiful wine and a window into the past. I expect this will age very well. 93pts
A bit meaty and spicy on the nose with complex aromas of game, wild herbs, cooked savory goodness, a little fish sauce and a touch of porcini with some tomato sauce in an almost fruity way. Bright slightly chewy raspberry and lingonberry fruit greets the palate followed by lots of spice up front, a touch of leafiness, and a bit of extra alcohol in the mouth followed by classic then cherries in alcohol on the back end, and gorgeous earth and herb notes on the moderately long finish. 91-94pts
Cascina delle Rose
Bottling since 1992
Left grass in the vineyard because otherwise you couldn’t work with the mud, left more lateral shoots and top growth to offer protection from sun and hail, 15 years later people adopted the same techniques and they are revolutionary natural farming techniques!
A little minty on the nose with subtle hints of herbs, camphor, spicy soil tones in a high toned style. On entry this shows of decisive acids that offer fine cut to the core of juicy blue tinged wild berry fruit. Even with the powerful ripe tannins, this is a really elegant wine in the making, filled with juicy bright wild amarena cherry and wild raspberry flavors on the finish. The clarity of fruit, mineral, and herbal flavors here is impressive and the gorgeous floral top notes add a very pretty accent to this fruit driven wine. 91-94pts
2011 Cascina delle Rose Barbaresco Rio Sordo
Very precise and super floral on the nose which explodes with fresh picked flowers, aromas of violets and a huge rose scent accented with a hint of cinnamon,stones, and a white clay notes. This is gorgeous, full of burnished fruit with a hint of chocolate in a powerful but refined style that features super ripe tannins that add a tactile impression to the mouthfeel. The finish shows lovely tobacco and briar notes over a huge, stony soil driven base. This is an awesome expression of place. 92-95pts
Classic cherries in alcohol on the nose gain complexity and a little spice edge from notes of pollen, piercing floral notes and hints f exotic sandalwood and slightly vegetal spice notes. Soft and broad on entry, this offers up bright acids and fine fruit tannins supporting fine strawberry fruit in an elegant and refined style, though there is an edge of rusticity here. Still this exhibits wonderful purity of flavor and a particularly clear expression of fruit and is flat out delicious. 93pts
2008 Cascina delle Rose Barbaresco Tre Stelle
Tight on the nose slowly revealing soil and dried grass aromas followed by hints of spice seeds, tar, and small red berry fruits before the intense rose petal aromas finally reveal themselves. Soft with densely packed fine grained tannins in the mouth, this feels so elegant with wonderfully pure flavors of wild cherry and raspberry fruit on the palate backed up with a terrific expression of soil. This is a touch chewy today, and shows a hint of alcohol as well, but with time both issues should resolve themselves completely leaving those lucky enough to have this wine in their cellar with a remarkably clear and precise expression of Nebbiolo. 92pts
Source: Snooth – Articles