(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
A few thoughts today about some very tasty Italian wines I’ve enjoyed recently. Some of these are quite famous, a few not so famous, but they’re all extremely well made wines that offer a great deal of pleasure, both on their own and at the dinner table.
2012 Livio Felluga Sauvignon - I’m guessing that almost everyone who is an Italian wine lover has enjoyed a wine from the Livio Felluga estate at some point. Certainly the Pinot Grigio is one of the most famous examples in Italy and it’s also on my list as one of the most delicious. But the entire lineup is a brilliant array of vibrant whites and edgy reds that are evidence of the excellence of this estate, located in the Colli Orientali district of the Friuli region in far northeastern Italy.
Particularly memorable is the Sauvignon. This is the same Sauvignon Blanc grape that is grown throughout the world; however in Italy, it is known simply as Sauvignon. The examples from Friuli and Alto Adige, another cool climate northern Italian region, offer very good acidity as well as strong aromas and flavors; the 2012 offering from Livio Felluga displays attractive aromas of Bosc pear, freshly cut hay, spearmint and chervil. These aromas are textbook for this variety and it’s nice to find such complexity in the nose and on the palate. However, lest you think this is an intense wine, think again, as this is a harmonious wine with beautiful balance, excellent persistence, precise acidity and ideal varietal character. This is a delicious Sauvignon and while that term is often used for Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco or other lighter Italian whites, it’s not often applied to Sauvignon. But here it is and it’s very enjoyable on its own, although the subtle herbal characteristics of this wine deem it an appropriate partner for sautéed scallops or shrimp with lemon or ginger, while grouper or tilapia would also be ideal with this excellent white. Enjoy it tonight or over the next 3-5 years. (Suggested US retail of $26)
2013 Attems Pinot Grigio - I don’t drink much Pinot Grigio, as I find too many examples to be too simple for my tastes. This doesn’t mean they’re bad wines, it’s just that the wines are made as crowd pleasers, aimed at offending no one instead of trying to please with specific characteristics. One Pinot Grigio I did taste recently that offered a little more complexity- as well as richness on the palate – is the 2013 Attems Pinot Grigio. This wine is also from Friuli and it’s from the splendid 2013 vintage, one that was cool and ideal for whites with expressive aromatics and wines with admirable structure, given their beautiful acidity levels. This has aromas of yellow apples and lilacs, is medium-bodied and is quite dry. This is a must with food – pair it with risotto with seafood or chicken with vegetables. (SPR -$19)
2013 Cantina di Soave “Rocca Sveva” Soave Classico – I don’t have as much space as I’d like to discuss my love of Soave, a wine that’s remarkably misunderstood in this country. It’s too often thought of as a summer white, a term I dislike, as it equates to saying the wine is a simple quaffer with little to offer. Yes, there are some examples of Soave that are a bit one-dimensional, but price will often give you a clue to the identity of those wines.
The Soave district in the Veneto region – about a 30-minute drive from the lovely town of Verona – is actually home to at least three extinct volcanoes, so yes, the soils in much of this district are volcanic, which means the best examples of Soave Classico have a distinct minerality to them as well as excellent complexity. This isn’t to say that these are weighty, “ultra serious” wines, as they are very appealing in their youth; it’s just that the best examples of Soave are multi-dimensional wines that can age for anywhere from five to fifteen to even twenty years in a few instances.
All of this is a preface to let you know how much I enjoyed the 2013 Rocca Sveva Soave Classico from Cantina di Soave. This is a large cooperative, located just behind the famous castello in the town of Soave. You can bring in demi-johns and fill them up with the basic Soave for a very inexpensive price or you can enjoy their finest selection of Soave under the Rocca Sveva label. This 2013 is a beautiful wine with enticing aromas of honeydew melon, honey and magnolia – just textbook. Medium-full with a rich mid-palate and a lengthy finish, this is especially nice this year, as it’s from the excellent 2013 vintage, which as mentioned above, was outstanding for white wines. In fact, this is the finest version of this wine I have tasted! This is so delicious on its own, but even better with vegetable risotto, sole or roast chicken. (SRP $15 – a great value. I can’t say I’ve had even one or two other $15 whites that are this good!)
By the way, the three white wines I mentioned above are fermented and aged in stainless steel – no oak on these! I prefer this approach more often than not (although there are numerous oak-aged whites I think are first-rate). It all depends on the wine, but my point here is that there are so many brilliant whites wines that never see oak.
Mionetto Prosecco “Valdobbiadene Superiore” DOCG - Finally, a note on a very charming sparkling wine. Everyone knows about Prosecco, especially given its proliferation on the shelves of not only wine stores, but also supermarkets. It seems as there are dozens of $12 Proseccos everywhere and while these are pleasant, if undistinguished wines, spend a few dollars more – as little as $15 – and you can find a Prosecco that will interest you and your friends. In other words, these are Proseccos you wouldn’t dream of mixing with peach juice!
For just under $20 you can find an excellent Prosecco that’s one of the most elegant and flavorful I’ve tasted in a while. That’s the Mionetto Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, labeled as Extra Dry. In order to identify the finest examples of Prosecco, the regulations were changed a few years ago to let consumers know that the true home of Prosecco are the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene; this is important to know as the term Prosecco by itself has become somewhat generic as inexpensive sparkling wines from Friuli can be called Prosecco. Pleasant wines, perhaps, but not wines with much complexity.
Mionetto has been one of the leading producers of true Prosecco for some time now and their products are quite good and very representative of the heart of the real Prosecco zone. They’ve recently introduced their line of luxury cuvées of specialty Prosecco. This DOCG is well made with appealing lemon peel, chamomile and peony aromas, an off-dry finish (though dry enough for food) and an elegant finish. This is very refreshing and enjoyable on its own- I’ve enjoyed it with take-out Chinese food as well as seafood salad and I’m sure it would also be fine with lighter white meats. I can’t imagine a fan of Prosecco not loving this and wanting to find a few bottles for themselves.
I’m writing a book on the wines and foods of Piemonte and it’s amazing how many notable wines there are from this region, even if we’re just talking about the whites. Gavi is one of those whites that doesn’t get the attention it deserves; that’s understandable given all the attention paid to Barolo and Barbaresco from Piemonte, but it also has to do with Gavi not being marketed very well.
You see, Gavi was once a very popular Italian white wine; I imagine some of that had to do with the fact that it was an easy name to remember. Then along came a little wine called Pinot Grigio, which became a phenomenon. Once Pinot Grigio took over, it knocked much of its competition out of the way, so other Italian white wines such as Gavi, Soave and Verdicchio lost a lot of market share.
There were other reasons for the decline in sales of Gavi, as dull, one-dimensional efforts from some producers didn’t aide the cause. Thankfully, those days are becoming a faded memory, as there are now more artisan producers that are crafting very distinctive examples of Gavi; one of the best versions I’ve tasted lately is the 2013 Castellari Bergaglio Gavi “Fornaci”.
Gavi is made from the Cortese grape; the name means “courteous” in Italian and that’s a nice descriptor for wines made from this grape as they’re very agreeable with good, but not overwhelming acidity and pleasant fruit flavors such as pear and melon; sometimes in warmer years, notes of kiwi or other tropical fruit can be found.
Marco Castellari Bergaglio produces several versions of Gavi, from sparkling to passito. There are four examples of traditional stainless steel-aged Gavi made here; the Fornaci is a favorite of mine. The 2013 is especially expressive, offering beautiful aromas of melon and kiwi with notes of peony, this is very rich with a long, persistent finish and very good acidity, a signature of the 2013 vintage. All in all, this is a beautifully complex wine with a refreshing character and delicious fruit. It’s a crowd pleaser in the very best manner and it’s a marvelous example of not only the wonderful quality of today’s finest examples of Gavi, but also the great work being turned in by white wine producers throughout Italy.
This would certainly be an excellent match with vegetable or seafood risotto, as the wine is rich enough to stand up to these foods. I enjoyed this at a BYOB Thai restaurant, paired with crab rangoon – this was a wine and food pairing made in heaven! All of this for about $20 a bottle – maybe Gavi will make its way back after all.
One further note – It’s important to understand that there are eleven communes where Gavi can be produced. Naturally the one that everyone remembers is Gavi, but the communes of Tassarolo and Rovereto are generally considered superior or at least sites that generally result in more complex wines. But sound bites being what they are, the majority of consumers remember only the name Gavi, so there’s the common belief that one should purchase a “Gavi di Gavi.” Of course, this is like saying that a “Barolo di Barolo” – if I may use that term – is better than a Barolo from La Morra, Serralunga d’Alba or Verduno. It’s not better, it’s different, as each of those communes have a particular style. Bottom line, learn the districts where wines are made, but the most important factor is the name of the producer.
So don’t think for a second that you have to buy a “Gavi di Gavi”, or more formally Gavi del Comune di Gavi. Yes, there are some lovely versions of Gavi from Gavi commune, but I’ve enjoyed the examples from Tassarolo and Rovereto even more. So if you want this wine, you’ll be buying the 2013 Castellari Bergaglio Gavi “Fornaci”, a Gavi del Comune di Tassarolo. The same producer also makes a very nice Gavi called “Rolona” that is a Gavi del Comune di Rolona. This wine is also brought into American by the importer, Ionia Atlantic Imports.
Bottom line, Castellari Bergaglio is a leading producer of Gavi, so if you haven’t tasted an example in some time, seek one of these wines out, whether you’re enjoying crab rangoon, seafood risotto, roast chicken to simply want a well-made, delicious dry white that’s sure to please.
The name of this blog is Learn Italian Wines; I’m happy to write about my knowledge of this subject, which has been formed by more than 60 visits to wine regions around the country over the past fifteen years. I’ve been able to talk with winemakers, vineyard managers and winery owners – as well as other journalists that share my passion – about specific Italian wines and have learned about an incredible array of products that seem to be endless.
So it was with great excitement when I read the recently published book Native Wine Grapes of Italy by Rome-based writer/educator Ian d’Agata. Simply put, this is an exhaustive, encyclopedic study of this particular subject that is first-rate. While it is admittedly written for the serious student of Italian wines, I do think that casual Italian wine lovers will enjoy this book as well, given its dearth of information as well as its tone.
D’Agata covers everything here – and I mean everything. Everyone who knows Italian wines is familiar with famous varieties such as Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Barbera. If you’re a more serious student of this topic, then you probably know about cultivars such as Piedirosso, Fumin and Oseleta. But have you ever heard of Ortrugo, Cjanorie or Corenossa? They’re all part of this book as well.
The author covers a lot in this book and your enjoyment will depend on how much information you need. For example, there are detailed listings of various clones of the hundreds of varieties listed here; for example, there are two dozen separate clones of Barbera listed. I’m not certain how many people reading this book will care about this, but it’s always better to have too much information that too little in my opinion.
For each grape, D’Agata goes into great detail about its history and in many cases, explains how the grape received its name. He is smart enough to list two or more explanations for many of these varieties; I mention this as there have been too many writers these days that list only one theory, as though we’re supposed to believe this as gospel. I’m fascinated with words and their meanings, so it’s wise of the author to make this topic a more complex one.
But getting to the meat of the sections on each variety, D’Agata writes about the areas in which these grapes are grown, the soils and the distinctive characteristics of each variety. He includes quotes from winemakers about particular cultivars and also comments on examples of wines made from many of these grapes from outside Italy, including versions from California (and other parts of the United States), Canada, Australia and a few other countries. These sections, titled “Which Wines to Choose and Why,” is especially nicely organized and helpful to the reader searching for the best wines made from particular varieties. He rates his favorite wines from Italy with stars – one, two and three – instead of the meaningless point system; for me this is a real plus, especially as most readers will discover some excellent wines that are little known outside their immediate areas.
While this is a very serious book, D’Agata does offer his opinions – this is not a dry analysis of Italian wine. For example, he states that “Verdicchio is arguably Italy’s greatest white grape variety”; regarding Nebbiolo, he opines that it is “Italy’s greatest native grape… and one of the world’s five or six great cultivars.” These opinions are held by other experts on Italian wines and varieties, but it’s nice to read this from the author, who then gives us a multitude of reasons why he feels this way.
He also writes with a nice sense of playfulness from time to time. Describing the red variety Uva di Troia from Puglia, he writes, “the wine is never a blockbuster, but rather an exercise in equilibrium: think Marcello Mastrojanni, Cary Grant or Hugh Grant, not the bodybuilders in your gym.” When describing the stylistic changes in Barbera over the past few decades, he writes,”like many who have decided to consult plastic surgeons in these appearance-dominated times, Barbera wines have also undergone a remarkable makeover.”
There is also a chapter, almost 70 pages in length, titled “Little Known Native and Traditional Grape Varieties.” If you thought the varieties I listed earlier, such as Ortrugo and Corenossa were obscure, wait until you read this chapter to discover varieties such as Corinto Nero (Sicily), Francavidda (Puglia), Lecinara (Lazio) and dozens of others. This chapter is followed by three separate tables with detailed information about grape plantings throughout Italy in terms of hectares planted as well as percentages; this information is very helpful. This book covers it all!
D’Agata mentions that this book is the result of thirteen years of conducting interviews and walking through vineyards as well as many more years of tasting. He is to be commended for his tireless research and for taking the time to write this book which I highly recommend.
Native Wine Grapes of Italy
University of California Press, 620 pages ($50)
Danilo Drocco, Winemaker, Fontanafredda, Serralunga d’Alba
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I recently interviewed Danilo Drocco, winemaker at the historic Fontanafredda estate in Serralunga d’Alba in the heart of the Barolo zone. Below is the initial text from the interview for wine-searcher.com
Where were you born?
I was born in the area, in a little village near Alba – Rodello is the name. It is a little south of Alba.
Did your family make wine?
My grandfather owned a little winery in Novello, but he died during the Second World War. So my grandmother had to sell the winery to my cousins because she could not manage it by herself. My father decided to move to Alba. I was born in 1965.
To continue reading, please see the article (here) at wine-searcher.com
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Talk about the wines of Piemonte and no doubt, great reds such as Barolo and Barbaresco come to mind. Perhaps you might think about other well-known reds such as Dolcetto or Barbera. Or maybe you’re a fan of the white wines of Piemonte, such as Arneis, Gavi or Timorasso. There are plenty of beautiful wines from this great region, but chances are you don’t think about the sparkling wines. That’s understandable, but if not, you’re missing some beautiful bubblies.
There are numerous producers that make metodo classico sparkling wines in the region and there are several types. Arguably the finest examples are the Alta Langa; currently there are about a dozen firms that make one or more of these wines. Some of these producers are quite small, while others are rather large, but all of them have taken the high road and are producing premium quality sparkling wines.
The name Alta Langa, means “high Langa” (Langa, a.k.a. Langhe is a district in southern Piemonte where these wines- as well as Barolo and Barbaresco – are produced). This particular territory is called the Alta Langa because of the elevation of the vineyards that receive cool breezes from the nearby Liguria sea; while much of the Langa is quite warm – a necessary condition to ripen the red grapes – the Alta Langa is much cooler, making it an ideal location for the production of sparkling wines.
Quality is high if for no other reason than only Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and Chardonnay grapes are allowed in these wines. The production method, as mentioned, is the classic approach, with secondary fermentation in the bottle. Minimum aging on the yeasts is 24 months for a classic bottling, 36 months for a Riserva (Alta Langa is a D.O.C.G. classified wine.)
In my upcoming book The Wines and Foods of Piemonte, I will have a thorough section on Alta Langa and its best wines. For now, I want to tell you about my favorite examples from Enrico Serafino. This is a relatively large winery, located in Canale, and is a member of the Campari group, which also includes wine estates from Tuscany and Sardegna. The range of wines at Serafino include very good to excellent examples of Roero Arneis, Gavi, Nebbiolo d’Alba and Barolo among others, but it is with the Alta Langa wines that this producer has recently gained a lofty reputation.
There is an entry level Alta Langa that ages for 36 months in the bottle before disgorgement. I tasted the new release from the 2008 vintage at the winery with winemaker Paolo Giacosa at the winery in May. This is very fresh with beautiful aromas of magnolias and melon and has very good acidity and a clean, satisfying finish with impressive length. This is an excellent introduction to the wines of Alta Langa, as this is a sparkling wine with lovely varietal purity as well as finesse. This is not a powerful wine, but it is perfectly balanced and is quite tasty.
Paolo Giacosa, winemaker, Enrico Serafino (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
As good as that wine is, Serafino and winemaker Giacosa have hit the jackpot with their Alta Langa Brut Millesimato “Zero”, a blend of 85% Pinot Nero and 15% Chardonnay. The wine is called “zero” as there is no dosage, making this an extremely dry sparkling wine. While many sparkling wines of this type are a bit sharp or slightly bitter in the finish, this is a delight, with ideal balance and excellent length and complexity. This is a late disgorged sparkling wine, one that has spent a remarkable 60 months (that’s five years!) aging on its own lees. There are many vintage Champagnes that aren’t aged on the lees for that long of a period. Needless to say, this is also much more reasonably priced than Champagne, as this cost of this at an enoteca in Piemonte averages around 24 Euro a bottle.
The 2007 Enrico Serafino “Zero” was named as the Italian sparkling wine of the year by Gambero Rosso, one of Italy’s leading wine publications. That meant the wine sold out quickly, so I tasted the brand new 2008 release with Giacosa. Che un vino! My notes go on about the beautiful Bosc Pear and elderflower aromas, the very good acidity, the remarkable balance and purity as well as the excellent complexity. This is a delicious sparkling wine with a very satisfying finish, as it cleans the palate and gets you ready for another sip. This is so wonderful on its own, but it is a marvelous accompaniment to most seafood, especially river fish. I rated this wine as outstanding and estimate it will drink well for another four or five years, though I’m not sure I can wait that long as far as the other bottles I have!
Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Giacosa has now followed up the great success of the Brut “Zero” with a new product, the Alta Langa Brut Rosé. This wine spent thirty months on the lees; I tasted the second release, the 2011 vintage. I love rosé sparkling wines and this one certainly did not disappoint. The color is a very appealing bright pink/strawberry and the perfumes are of cherry, currant and orange roses. The perlage, as with the “Zero” is quite fine, while there is a long, elegant, dry finish. This too is ultra delicious and simply a great sensual pleasure! I’m thrilled that Serafino is now producing this wine, as it is a great addition to their lineup as well as the roster of Alta Langa wines.
You’ll probably have to go to Piemonte to purchase or enjoy these wines, but believe me, the trip will be worth it!
P.S. Please note the glass in the photos. This is the special Alta Langa glass, designed by Sir Giorgetto Giugiaro. It is one of the most beautiful sparkling wine glasses I have encountered and it is as distinctive and as elegant as the wines themselves!
The town of Barolo, early morning (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I recently tasted more than 125 examples of Barolo from the 2010 vintage at the Nebbiolo Prima event in Alba, Piemonte. This event is held each year for a select few dozen journalists (about 70) from around the world, who taste the wines blind over the course of several days. This was the tenth year in the last twelve I have participated in this event and it’s one I look forward to each year with great anticipation.
I was especially eager to taste the 2010s, which have been receiving tremendous praise from all corners. In fact when I attended this event three years ago, while I was tasting the 2007 Barolos (an impressive vintage in its own right), several winemakers that week told me the same thing – “wait until you try my 2010s.” They knew back then that 2010 was something special!
Gianluca Grasso, winemaker at the Elio Grasso estate in Monforte d’Alba, told me that 2010 was “one of the longest vegetation cycles ever.” He also knew right away that his wines would be something quite distinctive,” I remember that when I destemmed the first bunch of Nebbiolo for 2010, the perfumes, the aromas that we got during the vinification were something unbelievable. We knew since the beginning it would be a wonderful vintage.”
Lazzarito vineyard, Serralunga d’Alba (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I recently wrote a brief overview of the 2010 vintage for Barolo, including my thoughts on the best producers and wines at wine-searcher.com. The article can be found here. In this post, I will briefly mention a few other things about these wines in general.
First, this was a year in which the majority – a great majority – of producers made excellent to outstanding Barolo. Believe me, this does not happen every vintage (for proof of that, one only needs to look back to last year when the 2009 Barolos were released). So from a great, truly classic year such as 2010, yes, there are first-rate wines from famous Barolo producers such as Renato Ratti, Vietti, Ceretto, Francesco Rinaldi and many others.
So how nice to find so many examples of Barolo from 2010 that are truly excellent, even from producers you may not have heard about, such as Giovanni Viberti, located in the frazione of Vergne, on the outskirts of Barolo. I’ve had the “Buon Padre” Barolo from this producer almost every year for more than a decade and it’s one that I’d describe as a nice introduction to Barolo in general, as it has good varietal character and balance. But I have rarely (if ever), rated this wine as excellent- that is, until this year. My notes for this wine mention the “rich mid-palate, balsamic, dried cherry and sage aromas, medium-full to excellent concentration, impressive complexity and varietal character.” This is a beautiful wine that can be served for dinner tonight (though I’d wait a few years), while it has the stuffing to last 25 years. This is quite an accomplishment for a wine that should sell for about $65 retail in the US when it becomes available in a few months. (My rating – 4 stars (out of five) – excellent.)
I was also quite impressed by the Batasiolo 2010 Barolo. This consistent producer gets impressive reviews from many Italian publications for its portfolio of wines (ranging from Gavi and Arneis to Dolcetto and Barolo), yet somehow they are not as well known as they should be in America. The firm has holdings in several distinguished cru in the Barolo production zone and releases as many as seven (yes, seven!) different Barolos from any given vintage. This is the classic Barolo, blended from vineyards in several communes. My notes on this wine: “aromas of balsamic, dried cherry and dried currant, excellent concentration, very good length in the finish; youthful, graceful tannins and very good acidity. Peak in 20 years.” Again, we are looking at a wine that should retail for $60, perhaps a few dollars less. Another 4-star wine from me and what a nice wine for restaurants to buy for service now and over the next few years. Both this and Viberti are brilliant examples of how good the classic Barolos are from 2010. (Incidentally, I also tasted the “Brunate” bottling from Batasiolo for 2010; this from the famous cru situated on the La Morra-Barolo border; this also performed well, but it was clearly made for consumption down the road. I’ll be interested in tasting the other 2010 cru Barolo from Batasiolo soon.)
While I am on the subject of great values, I have to mention the 2010 Vietti Barolo “Castiglione”. This is always one of my favorite Barolos from this outstanding producer, as this is sourced from their vineyard holdings in Castiglione Falletto, Barolo, Monforte d’Alba and Novello (the firm owns parts of some of the finest cru in the Barolo production zone; in fact, very few producers have as many vineyards in as many great sites in the area as does Vietti).
This is a lovely wine, one that has richness as well as a great deal of finesse. My notes: “aromas of currant, orange peel and tar, medium-weight tannins, very good acidity, peak in 12-15 years.” I also noted that “this is one of the best examples of this wine produced to date.” The 2009 version of this wine averaged about $50 in the US, so again, we will be looking at a marvelous value when the 2010 is released soon. What a delicious, stylish wine and what a wonderful choice for consumption over the next few years!
I have put together a 20-page pdf document with my tasting notes on the 2010 Barolos, reviewing exactly 118 wines. My highest rating is 5 stars – outstanding. In this report, I have given this highest rating to 31 wines (26.2%). Yes, the 2010 vintage is that good! Among the finest were the Renato Ratti “Rocche dell’Annunziata”, the Vietti “Rocche di Castiglione”, the Paolo Scavino “Bric del Fiasc”, Bartolo Mascarello and many others. These are truly classic examples of Barolo, so you might expect these wines to rise to the occasion in a great year such as 2010 and they most certainly did! These are wines that will peak in 35-50 years. I know I won’t be around to see these wines at that stage, but it’s nice to know they will last that long (it’s also quite a pleasure and blessing to know I can at least try them now!). These wines will cost you upwards of $100 a bottle, but if you are a Barolo lover, you need to find a few of these wines! (Incidentally, the great examples of Barolo are priced much more reasonably than the finest Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa or examples of Bordeaux or Burgundy of similar quality. This is something that is rarely discussed, but it is a fact and it’s something I need to point out; the best Barolo are under valued.)
If you would like to receive a copy of this 20-page pdf report (it was sent to contributors of my upcoming book “The Wines and Foods of Piemonte”), the cost is $10, a very reasonable price for this overview of these great wines. Payment is by PayPal – use my email of email@example.com (If you choose not to use PayPal, you can send along a check to me in the mail – email me for information).
Vineyards below the town of Barbaresco (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Once again in mid-May, I was invited to Nebbiolo Prima, an event held in the town of Alba in southern Piemonte to sample soon-to-be-released examples of the new releases of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero Rosso. This anteprima (preview) tasting is reserved for about 70 journalists from around the world, who are able to taste these wines before their release in the market and write about them for the public.
Of course, Barolo is always the featured attraction and how could it be otherwise for a product known as “the king of wines, the wine of kings”? Add to that the fact that this year’s tasting focused on the 2010 Barolos, wines that have already been labeled as classic. So Barbaresco, which always has to take a back seat to Barolo, was treated with even less than the usual attention this year, given that 2011 was a warm year, which can often lead to wines that are a bit heavy, alcoholic and tannic – in other words, wines that lack finesse.
My reviews of 2010 Barolos will appear soon, but for today’s post, I’m going to deal with the newest releases of Barbaresco. As I mentioned above, 2011 was a warm growing season: Giovanna Rizzolio of Cascina delle Rose, an outstanding traditional producer at the Rio Sordo sector in the commune of Barbaresco compares 2011 in that respect to 2009. She adds that this is a year that will show “the skills of the producers regarding their work in the vineyards,” as she notes that it was critical to not take away too many leaves from the plant, so as to shield the grapes from too much sun. Her summary of the 2011 Barbarescos: “good acidity and structure, very fine and silky tannins – the wines will show even better with a few months’ time.”
After tasting several dozen examples of 2011 Barbaresco, I agree with Rizzolio in prinicipal. I found some lovely wines with round tannins and beautiful ripeness and overall balance. Many of these wines were from the commune of Barbaresco, which is in keeping with my usual tastes. The producers here seem to be able to craft a wine that communicates Barbaresco; that is a 100 % Nebbiolo that is not trying to be a Barolo – or worse yet, some sort of modern, dare I say, international wine with too much flashy oak. Examples of the best producers here include the impeccable Produttori del Barbaresco, Albino Rocca, Marchesi di Gresy and the aforementioned Cascina delle Rose.
Barbaresco is also produced in two other communes, namely Treiso and Neive (there is also a very small part of Alba where Barbaresco can be made, but this is a tiny percentage of these wines). I’ve tended to favor wines from Treiso over Neive, if only for the fact that the wines from Neive are often over oaked. Not all of course – Pasquale Pelissero and Giuseppe Negro are two producers who beautifully integrate wood into their wines, but there are just too many oaky Barbarescos from Neive in any given year for my tastes.
So on to my favorites. My top wine was a wine that I can’t say was a pleasant surprise, as this producer has been making beautiful wine from this vineyard for some time now; it’s just that the Ceretto “Asili” from the highly-regarded cru in Barbaresco has rarely been so elegant and traditional at the same time. Winemaker Alessandro Ceretto has been taking small steps year by year with all his wines, resulting in more elegant and complete bottlings. This has a beautiful pale garnet color with aromas of dried cherry, dried roses and cedar, is medium-full on the palate and offers a lengthy finish with very fine tannins. What a beautiful example of richness and finesse at the same time. This is as traditional a bottling of this wine as I’ve had – I admit to being a lover of traditional wines – but it’s more than that, it’s a wine that is terroir driven as well as being ideally structured for peak enjoyment in 12-15 years- perhaps longer. In an email, Ceretto told me “I’m excited about the quality achieved with my wines these past few vintages.” He should be and wine lovers should be as well!
Other highly recommended 2011 Barbarescos for me included the Produttori del Barbaresco; Giuseppe Negro “Gallina” (from Neive); Albino Rocca “Ronchi” (Barbaresco); Cascina delle Rose “Tre Stelle” (Barbaresco); Prunotto and Francesco Rinaldi.
No big surprises there, especially with the Produttori bottling. This cooperative producer is a reference point for Barbaresco, both in terms of quality – they have contracts with several dozen growers in the Barbaresco commune that represent some of the area’s finest sites, such as Asili, Rio Sordo, Pora and Montestefano – as well as consistency. Try a bottle of this producer’s Barbaresco – be it the classic bottling or one of the special cru (this year the 2009 crus are being released) – and you will taste the essence of Barbaresco, one where Nebbiolo fruit – and not oak – is the dominant feature. The 2011 offers beautiful balsamic and orange peel aromas, perfect ripeness and lovely varietal purity; this will be at its best in 10-12 years. Congratulations to general manager Aldo Vacca on such a superb track record of producing such classic examples of Barbaresco!
It was very much a pleasure- as well as a bit of a pleasant surprise – to see that one of my favorite 2011 Barbarescos was from Francesco Rinaldi (the wines are tasted blind, so we have no idea which wine is which when we sample each bottle). I’m always impressed with the wines from this estate and it seems they have the Midas touch with everything, even with Gavi, which they recently started producing, but I must admit to rarely considering this producer about Barbaresco; I say that as their Barolos are so sublime! But this Barbaresco, from a vineyard in Neive, is exemplary with its delicious cherry fruit, very good acidity, beautifully balanced tannins and excellent persistence. Once again, the house style of Francesco Rinaldi shines through, as this is an ultra traditional wine aged for two years in large Slavonian oak casks for two years; you can barely sense any wood notes. I estimate peak for this wine at 15- 20 years – this was one of the richest examples of 2011 Barbaresco I tasted at this event. This is an exquisite wine – don’t miss it!
Space is always limited with these posts, so briefly, here are a few other notable releases of 2011 Barbaresco: Michele Chiarlo “Asili”; Poderi Colla “Roncaglie” (Barbaresco); Ugo Lequio “Gallina” (Neive); Socré “Roncaglie”; Angelo Negro “Cascinotta” (Neive) and Castello di Verduno. From a warm growing season that could have been problematical, it is nice to experience so many distinguished wines!