2012 was a wonderful vintage in Piemonte that may be overlooked with the upcoming releases of the Barolos from 2013. Yes, 2013 was a year in which producers throughout the region crafted wines of stunning depth and remarkable complexity with expressive aromatics; in many instances, these are wines that will drink well for 20-40 years.
That’s great, especially if you’re looking for wines to lay away, but what about first-rate wines from Piemonte that don’t need a great deal of time to show their best qualities? 2012 is the vintage you should seek, as this was a growing season that yielded elegant wines of ideal variety purity. Many of these wines, be they Barolo, Barbaresco or a red from Alto Piemonte, showed well upon release, with lovely aromatics, beautifully balanced tannins and very good acidity. In short, 2012 was a vintage that truly reflected Piemontese character without being overly showy.
In Alto Piemonte, Christoph Künzli, proprietor at Le Piane, released several beautiful wines from the 2012 vintage. His best known wine, Boca DOC – a blend of 85% Nebbiolo, with the remainder Vespolina – is the finest example of this appellation, arguably the finest red in Alto Piemonte, and indeed, one of the country’s greatest red wines. It’s traditionally made, aged in botti, and it combines Nebbiolo purity with the acidity and spice of Vespolina; past vintages such as 2006, 2008 and 2010 were outstanding, and the 2012 is of similar quality.
Künzli also produces a wine simply labeled as Piane that is 90% Croatina. While there are a handful of other local producers that also make a varietal Croatina, the Le Piane version stands a level or two above the competition. The 2012 is especially expressive with a deep ruby red/light purple color, and aromas of black raspberry, plum, red cherry, iris and myrtle. Offering impressive weight on the palate with medium-weight, ideally balanced tannins and very good acidity, the wine has some Burgundian qualities in its suppleness on the palate, although the spice in the finish is more Rhone-like. It’s a singular wine, and one that would pair beautifully with grilled meats or lighter game birds. I love it now, although it clearly has the structure and stuffing to drink well for another 5-7 years, perhaps longer.
Barbaresco rarely receives the attention it deserves, so let’s call everyone’s attention to one of the best examples I’ve tasted from 2012. It’s from Luigi Giordano, a small estate in the commune of Barbaresco; the wine is their Montestefano, from the cru in Barbaresco (as a point of interest, Montestefano is also one of the nine cru that is released as a riserva by the famous Produttori del Barbaresco firm in certain years).
Giordano is a traditional producer, aging his Barbarescos in botti for a period far beyond the minimum legal requirement of 9 months for this wine; for his Montestefano, the producer matures his wine in oak for a period between 18 and 24 months. The 2012 displays classic Nebbiolo aromas of red cherry, dried red roses and a hint of orange zest. Offering excellent depth of fruit, very good acidity and rich tannins that are actually quite gentle, this has excellent persistence. This is a classic Barbaresco, one that is a marvelous expression of the site, and a wine with anima, or soul; this term being about as praiseworthy a descriptor by the locals for wine that truly expresses local terroir as well as a regional heritage.
There are always surprises out there, waiting to be discovered, and this Luigi Giordano Barbaresco Montestefano 2012 was one my most pleasant finds from Piemonte in recent years. I love it not only for its traditional stylings (I admit to being a fan of such wines), but also for its winemaking excellence, and perhaps above all, its restraint. With a Barbaresco, a producer doesn’t need to underline the power of the Nebbiolo grape, as it’s always there. Rather, Giordano has made a wine that embraces the complexities and subtleties of this great red wine type. Drinking beautifully now, this will continue to display greater pleasures over the next 10-12 years (and even a few years more); pair this with braised rabbit or duck salad for a great wine and food experience.
So keep 2012 in mind when considering Piemonte’s reds; as the vintage truly is something special. Several producers have used the word “great” when describing this year to me, and in this case, greatness is about wines that are balanced, complex and complete. Perhaps best of all, they offer lovely typicity, and are superb food wines. That’s about all anyone can ask for.