Posts tagged ‘nebbiolo’
The latest vintages of Barolo and Barbaresco have just been released – 2006 for Barolo and 2007 for Barbaresco. Given this, I’d like to provide a brief recap of the last decade of vintages.
2007 - A beautiful year with wines offering lovely aromatics, lively acidity and very good to excellent concentration. The wines are forward – indeed quite approachable in some cases – but will probably not be as long lived as the wines from 2001 or 1999. The finest examples of Barbaresco I have tasted so far should drink well for 12-15 years. Excellent to Outstanding (Note: I am basing my opinion here primarily on Barbaresco, but I have also tasted a few barrel samples of Barolo from this year; the 2007 Barolos will be released in a year.)
2006 – This is an old fashioned vintage with deep concentration, firm tannins and a tight style, demanding patience from the consumer. Depending on your viewpoint, you may love this vintage or you may be puzzled by it. I certainly think that Barolo and Barbaresco lovers who have been drinking these wines for a long time will be more of a fan than consumers who try these wines on an occasional basis; those individuals will no doubt prefer the approachability of the 2007s. The finest Barolos from 2006 will be at their best in 20-25 years. Excellent to Outstanding
2005 – A charming vintage with good concentration and freshness as well as finely tuned acidity. Given the intensity of recent vintages such as 2004, 2006 and 2007, this vintage may seem a bit light on the palate; indeed the wines as a rule are not as deeply concentrated as those years. However, these are beautifully balanced wines and offer very good varietal character. Look for optimum drinking for 2005 Barbarescos to be in 5-7 years, while the finest Barolos will be at their best in 10-12 years. Very Good to Excellent
2004 – Gorgeous wines with everything you’d want in these bottlings – deep concentration, beautiful aromatics, lively acidity and ideal structure for long-term aging. When I tasted these wines at first – the Barbarescos in early 2007, the Barolos in early 2008 – I was struck by the amazing perfumes. Rarely have I had wines that were as beautifully aromatic upon release as the 2004s. Yet as mentioned above, the wines will age wonderfully. Look for 20-25 years for the finest examples of 2004 Barbaresco and as long as 35-40 years for the top Barolos from 2004. Outstanding
2003 – Average at best. 2003 was a torridly hot year all throughout Italy, so for the Nebbiolo-based wines here, the acidity levels are lower than usual, meaning the wines will not age well. As these wines are all about aging, that makes this vintage less than successful. The wines have big weight on the palate, but in this year, that translates to a heaviness and lack of elegance. Poor to below average
2002 – Hailstorms throughout much of the Barolo zone were the story here, especially in La Morra. This reduced the crop as well as causing berry shatter, so the wines are quite light. Producers in communes that escaped the hail, such as Verduno, did produce some stylish and complex wines, but for the most part, this is a disappointing vintage. It’s doubtful you’d even find any 2002 Barbarescos or Barolos on retail shelves or restaurant wine lists these days, but if you do, they’re not as bad as advertised. At least these wines have elegance and good levels of acidity, unlike those from 2003. The wines should be consumed now or over the next 3-5 years. Below average
2001- A stellar vintage with excellent to outstanding concentration, beautifully defined acidity and wonderful expression of terroir. Every district in Barbaresco and Barolo performed brilliantly. Look for these wines to peak in another 12-20 years. Truly one of the most successful vintages of the past twenty years. Outstanding
2000- Despite one or two early proclamations that this was an amazing year, 2000 turned out to be an average vintage. This was a hot year (not as hot as 2003, but quite warm), meaning the wines had ripeness without the proper acidity. The wines were forward with round tannins, prompting the early raves, but in reality, these are nice wines that lack intensity as well as the structure for long aging. While a few of the best wines will drink well for another 3-5 years, most are ready to go now, and as this is only 10 years out, that certainly doesn’t equate to a great – or even excellent – vintage for these wines. Average
1999 – Another stellar year, the top Barbarescos and Barolos from 1999 offer excellent concentration, firm tannins and ideal acidity (one Barolo producer told me that in his opinion, the 1999s offer the best levels of acidity for Barolo in the last decade). While a few of these wines are drinking well now, the finest will offer another 12-20 years of pleasure. A great, great vintage. Outstanding
1998 – A vastly underrated vintage, 1998 had the bad luck to be sandwiched in between 1997 (a vintage that has been overrated) and the stellar 1999. 1998 offers everything you want in a textbook Barolo or Barbaresco – beautiful concentration, firm tannins and precise acidity. In fact, it is the acidity of these wines that in my opinion carry these wines, keeping a wonderful freshness and elegance to these wines. This is not the most deeply concentated vintage of the past decade (1999, 2001 and 2004 resulted in much more powerful wines), but there is admirable depth of fruit and great balance and finesse. Most of the finest bottlings of Barbaresco as well as many Barolo from 1998 are drinking beautifully now, while a few of the top Barolos will offer another 7-10 years of pleasure. Excellent
Text ©Tom Hyland, 2010
If you would like to read more of my thoughts on Barbaresco and Barolo, see:
I’ve just returned from Piemonte, tasting new releases of Barbaresco (2007) and Barolo (2006). I briefly wrote about these wines on my other blog (read here and here). Now I would like to go into a bit more depth on Piemontese reds in general.
The Langhe area of southern Piemonte where the Barolo and Barbaresco zones are located, has been on a bit of a roll as of late. After the rainy 2002 vintage and the torridly hot 2003 growing season, which resulted in wines that were powerful, yet poorly balanced, the weather has cooperated. 2004 was a glorious year, producing wines of superb aromatics along with impressive weight. While 2005 was a lighter vintage, the wines are beautifully balanced with precise acidity and are drinking well. 2006 was a big year – this is a vintage where the wines need plenty of time – and 2007 was a relatively warm year that resulted in ripe, forward wines that are very enjoyable in their youth. The 2007 reds – at least what I have tasted so far (dozens of Barbaresco along with a handful of Barolo from cask) are notable wines, though probably not meant for the long haul, especially when compared to 2006.
Then there are the vintages of 2008 and 2009. You will be reading a great deal about the quality of 2009 in Piemonte (as well as the rest of Italy). It was a warm year, producing rich wines with impressive concentration; based on what I’ve tried so far with the whites as well as some reds from tank and cask, it definitely has the potential to be an outstanding vintage. That means that 2008 will likely be lost in the shuffle, as this was a cooler year that yielded less weighty wines.
However, 2008 is an excellent vintage – don’t let the hype fool you. While the wines may be less robust than those from 2009, they do offer beautiful varietal character and, most importantly, excellent acidity, which means the wines will age gracefully.
In fact, when it comes to Barolo and Barbaresco – both made exclusively from Nebbiolo – 2008 may be the better year. Danilo Drocco, winemaker at Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’Alba in the heart of the Barolo zone, told me that he believes 2008 will be the better of the two years for Nebbiolo-based wines. “I prefer 2008 for Nebbiolo,” Drocco related. “2008 was a long, cool growing season while 2009 was a shorter, hotter year. 2009 will be better for Barbera and Dolcetto, but it was not great for Nebbiolo.” Dante Scaglione, former winemaker at Bruno Giacosa and now consulting enologist for several projects including Cascina Roccalini in Barbaresco, told me that he agrees with Drocco about Nebbiolo for 2008.
Vintage assessments are always fascinating, but it’s also important to think about the style of the red wines made in Piemonte. From what I tasted during my recent trip, it was clearly noticeable that oak is becoming more of supporting player in the wine, as it should have been all along. Barolo went through its stage of high percentage, new barrique aging during the 1990s and early 2000s, but now the tide is turning back to larger barrels and thus, less wood influence. Another promising trend is that here are more and more cellars fermenting and/or aging their wines for a short time in cement tanks. Franco Massolino in Serralunga prefers fermenting his Barolo in cement, as “this helps preserve the aromas.” How nice that producers such as Massolino, Giovanni Rosso, Elio Grasso, Marcarini, Bartolo Mascarello and others are producing wine with the goal of emphasizing the flavors of the Nebbiolo variety as well as focusing on terroir to produce a wine with a sense of place.
There are so many wonderful reds that will be released over the next 3-4 years from Piemonte and while things look good in the short term of this span, it’s especially nice that tradition will play a more important role in this area for years to come.
A few months ago, I wrote a post on the great red wines of Piemonte made from the Nebbiolo grape. Included in that post were the two most famous reds of the Langhe, Barolo and Barbaresco. Today, I would like to go into greater detail about Barbaresco.
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Produced entirely from Nebbiolo, Barbaresco originates from vineyards in three communes east of Alba: Barbaresco, Treiso and Neive as well as a small section of Alba itself known as San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. The wine must be aged for a minimum of two years with one of those in oak casks of any size. The wine is released after three years (the 2006 vintage of Barbaresco is the current one on the market in 2009), while a Barbaresco Riserva can be released four years after the vintage.
There are more than 60 geographical designations that can be named on a bottle of Barbaresco. Most of these are cru (vineyard) designations, which were most recently reorganized in 2008. Among the most famous cru designations in the Barbaresco zone are the following:
- Sori Burdin (Bordini)
Asili Vineyard, Barbaresco
Soils throughout the area are generally Tortonian, which are the younger of the two predominant soil classifications in the Langhe; the other, older soil is from the Helvetian era. As the yonger soils are not as deep as the older ones, wines from these soils tend to be more approachable upon release and do not have as intense a tannic profile. This is one of the primary reasons why the wines of Barbaresco are more approachable than those from Barolo, as that zone is comprised of more Helvetian soils.
As Barbaresco is a much smaller area than Barolo and has a shorter history, Barbaresco is not as well-known as its neighbor. Add in the fact that Barolos in general can age longer than Barbarescos and you have a situation where Barbaresco is usually thought of as a “lesser” wine than Barolo. This is quite unfortunate, as Barbaresco is a great wine in its own right.
Two Great Producers
While there are not as many famous producers of Barbaresco as compared to Barolo, there are two in particular that have done a tremendous job of elevating the image of Barbaresco. These two producers – Angelo Gaja and Produttori del Barbaresco – have a different approach to winemaking, but each in their own way have done tremendous work in the promotion of Barbaresco.
Gaja is the master salesman who makes wines from great sites and charges a good deal of money for his wines – if you want a bottle of Gaja wine, you have to pay for it. But what you get is a wonderful offering with great depth of fruit and a lovely expression of site. The wines offer tremendous complexity, are elegantly styled and age well. They are made in a modern style of winemaking (aged in small oak barrels), yet the wood rarely overwhelms the fruit.
For years, Gaja produced several bottlings of Barbaresco, from a normale to cru bottlings from Sori San Tilden and Sori San Lorenzo, but some years back, he changed the designation on these last two wines to Langhe Nebbiolo. This has alowed him to alter the wines in slight fashion – often these wines now contain a small percentage of Barbera, to increase the acidity of these wines. Thus Gaja now only produces one bottling of Barbaresco each vintage, while his most famous offerings are no longer known as Barbaresco. This has angered some of his fellow producers in this area, yet the truth remains that for many consumers, the name Gaja is the most recognized with Barbaresco.
As for Produttori del Barbaresco, the message here is much more tied in with the land and not an individual; in fact, managing director and winemaker Aldo Vacca is about as far removed from Angelo Gaja as you can imagine. Reserved and insightful, Vacca produces wines that reflect the terroir of Barbaresco as well as any wines do. This is a cooperative producer with growers from several of the finest crus in the town of Barbaresco supplying their grapes.
Each year, there is a regular bottling of Barbaresco from the Produttori and in the finest vintages, the cru botlings – nine in all – are produced. The wines vary in intensity with examples such as Pora and Ovello offering less concentration and tannins than those from Montefico and Montestefano, yet all beautifully express their site’s terroir. One of the principal reasons for this is the winemaking, as each wine is aged solely in large casks (botti grandi), which minimize wood influence while emphasizing the varietal character. These wines offer aromas of dried cherry, cedar, persimmon and orange peel which changes to a profile of balsamic as they age. Impeccably balanced, these are in my opinion, the most classic representation of Barbaresco and some of Italy’s greatest red wines.
There are of course, dozens of other excellent producers of Barbaresco. These include:
- Bruno Giacosa
- Ada Nada
- Fiorenzo Nada
- Marchesi di Gresy
- La Ca Nova
- La Spinetta
- Bruno Rocca
- Rino Varaldo
The message then about Barbaresco is that it should be examined as a great wine in its own right instead of being constantly compared to Barolo. The 2007 bottlings of Barbaresco will be on the market in the fall of 2009 and these wines should offer exemplary proof of what a great wine Barbaresco truly is!
Ancient variety of Calabria; black cherry fruit and firm tannins. A few producers, most notably Librandi are working with this grape.
One of Italy’s most widely planted white varieties, this found in several regions, including Tuscany, Lazio, Sicily, Umbria and Basilicata. There are several clones and subvarieties of Malvasia. Generally produces a lighter, high acid white, but it can also be used for sweet wines, as in Malvasia di Lipari in Sicily.
Red subvariety of Malvasia found in Tuscany and Pugila. Generally used in blends for acidity (Salice Salentino in Puglia, e.g.)
White variety of Calabria, used often to produce dessert wines. Notes of pear and honey.
Red variety of Tuscany used in Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Deep color and good acidity. Almost always used as part of a blend.
Red variety of Trentino. Deep color and moderate tannins. Marzemino wine is mentioned in Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni.
One of the principal red varieties used in the Valpolicella district. Brisk acidity and firm tannins are the key trademarks of the variety.
Red variety found in Sardinia with light color and tannins. Bottled on its own as a stand-alone variety and also used in blends.
The leading red variety of the Abruzzo region – Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – is the best-known example – the variety is also found in Marche and a few other regions. Deep color and plenty of spice – often notes of tobacco.
White variety found in several regions of Italy, perhaps best known in Piemonte for Moscato d’Asti (frizzante) and Asti Spumante (bollicine). Gorgeous aromatics of peach, apricot and honey.Usually fermented with a bit of residual sugar to make a lightly sweet wine. There are also excellent examples of Moscato found in Sicily, most notably in Pantelleria and Noto.
One of the most important subvarieties of Moscao, this is found in Alto Adige, where it is usually fermented dry.
Red subvariety of Moscato found in Alto Adige. Gorgeous aromas of rose petals, raspberry and strawberry. Wines are lightly sweet.
Found in several regions, from Trentino to Sicily (yes, a few producers in sunny Sicily work with this variety!), this has aromatics of pear, peach and apple and is usually made in a lightly sweet style.
The great red variety of Piemonte and one of Italy’s most important red varieties. The only grape used in the production of Barolo and Barbaresco, Nebbiolo has aromas and flavors of currant, red cherry, orange peel and tar. Quite tannic, so most wines made from Nebbiolo age quite well. Also found in the neighboring region of Lombardia, where it is planted in the Valtellina district and known there as Chiavennasca.
Important red variety of Puglia, literally meaning “black bitter.” Principal grape used in Salice Salentino; also bottled on its own. Deep color, big spice and firm tannins.
Red variety that is the lesser component (20%) of the Etna Rosso red of Sicily.
Red variety that is the principal component (80%) of Etna Rosso. Deeper color and more body that Nerello Cappuccio.
Arguably the most important red variety of Sicily, Nero d’Avola has flavors of marascino cherry with deep color, moderate acidity and tannins. Good examples of Nero d’Avola can be made at various levels; the more full-bodied examples offer more spice.
Red variety found in small plantings in the Valpolicella district. Masi is the leading proponent of this variety, which has more tannins than most of the other red varieties used in the production of Amarone.
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Given that Italy’s wine industry is based on indigenous varieties, it’s no surprise that many of the country’s finest wines are not very well known. One of the great red wines that few people know much about is Valtellina, from northern Lombardia, not far from the Swiss border.
The wines here are made from the Nebbiolo grape, the same variety that is the source of the famous offerings of Barolo and Barbaresco from the neighboring region of Piemonte. In Valtellina, the Nebbiolo grape is known as Chiavennasca and it is the basis for all the best reds here, most importantly Valtellina Superiore, which must be made from a minimum of 90% Chiavennasca.
Valtellina is an east-west zone (I believe the only east-west wine valley in Italy) and many of the best plantings are 1200-1500 feet above sea level. As this area is located so far north in Italy and is quite cool, it becomes necessary to plant vines at such altitudes to catch as many of the sun’s rays as possible for optimum ripening conditions. This however, makes things a bit difficult, especially for work in the vineyards. Plantings run every which way and are often shored up by rock walls, to prevent erosion. This is extreme viticulture at one of its most extreme sitings and it assures that big corporations will not be investing in this area anytime soon; rather is it the small families that are the producers of wines from Valtellina.
The most common wine here is Valtellina Superiore with the best bottlings named for five districts. The districts are: Grumello, Valgella, Sassella (named for the rocks in the soil), Maroggia and Inferno, this last zone named for the summertime heat in the vineyard which can get as hot as you-know-where.
These Nebbiolo-based wines do not have the sheer power of Barolo or Barbaresco, but do offer excellent richness and complexity. Think of these wines are more subdued than their Piemontese cousins, often with a distinct spiciness. The wines are gently rustic and feature flavors of cherry, dried brown herbs and notes of rosemary and thyme backed by good acidity and firm, but not overpowering tannins.
The best producers of Valtellina include:
- Ar Pe. Pe.
- Nino Negri
- Aldo Rainoldi
- Conti Sertoli Salis
- Mamete Prevostini
The greatest red wine of Valtellina is a Valtellina Superiore known as Sforzato (also known as Sfurzat or Sufrsat). The word sforzato is loosely translated as “forced” and it refers to the appassimento process used to produce this wine. This is the same process used to produce Amarone from Valpolicella; it concerns the initial steps in which newly harvested grapes are placed on mats or in boxes in special humidity-controlled rooms and natually dried for a period of about three months. The grapes lose a large percentage of their water, shriveling up to very small berries, almost like raisins; thus some of the flavors are “forced” in the wine with this process.
These are remarkable wines, among the best of Italy, with great power and distcintive spice. They generally age for 10-12 years (a few even longer) and tend to need very rich game or red meat to accompany them. Among the best examples of Sforzato are the “Ca’Rizzieri” from Rainoldi, the “Feudo del Conte” from Sertoli Salis, the “Roncho del Picchio” from Fay and the amazing “5 Stelle” from Nino Negri.
A few final words on Valtellina regarding foods to accompany these wines. The most famous cheese of the area is Bitto, a D.O.P. cheese that is aged for periods from 70 days to 10 years! As you can imagine, the longest-aged examples are quite powerful, making them fine partners for a Sforzato.
One of the area’s signature dishes is pizzocheri, which became one of my favorite regional foods from anywhere in Italy on my recent trip. A number of ingredients make up this dish; at the center is a pasta made with a local rye grain known as grano saraceno, a medium-width pasta much like fettucine that is cooked with casera, a local cow’s milk cheese and a cabbage known as verza. This cabbage has an exotic blend of swetness along with earthy, lightly bitter flavors. It’s unlike any other pasta dish I’ve tried in Italy and its complexities and flavors perfectly accompany the earthiness and spice of a Valtellina Superiore from Grumello or Sassella.