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!