Posts tagged ‘barbaresco’
Wine journalism, as we know it, is a dying art. The reason is simple; most wine publications these days specialize in points – the ultimate sound bite – as a way to attract readers. They’re easy to understand and much quicker to peruse. The editors of these publications – in print and online – have clearly decided to limit traditional articles about wine regions and grape types, as they sense that readers prefer a quick fix.
That’s why it’s a true pleasure to read Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine by Kerin O’Keefe. It’s clear from the first chapter that O’Keefe knows her subject well and is passionate about these wines. While other authors have also contributed notable works on these iconic red wines of Piemonte, O’Keefe takes the extra steps necessary to inform the reader about the DNA of these wines, from their history to their soils to their styles, as crafted by dozens of the finest producers. The fact that she does so in such a well-written, well-documented and opinionated manner is all the more reason to acquire this book.
First things first – full disclosure. I have known Kerin O’Keefe for about ten years as I tend to see her at special events in Italy; we have tasted together not only in Alba for Barolo and Barbaresco anteprime, but also in Montalcino as well as Sicily. She has an excellent palate, is a first-rate writer and is professional in her discipline. For all the wine gurus out there who tend to gloss over too many wines, they could learn a lot from O’Keefe’s common sense approach to the great wines of Italy. (I’ll also note that O’Keefe and I also have very similar palates, as we tend to favor the more traditional, terroir-driven wines and not the splashy, overripe offerings made by some producers if only in hopes of gaining a big score for a wine publication.)
Last year, O’Keefe wrote an outstanding book titled Brunello di Montalcino: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines that was among the finest wine books I have ever read. She takes a similar approach in this new work, first giving us an examination of a history of these wines along with a detailed analysis of local terroir. To my way of thinking, this is the best part of this new book.
I mentioned that the author is a talented wine journalist and it is in this section that her talent shines, especially in the chapters “Noble Nebbiolo” and “The Barolo Wars and their Effects in Both Denominations.” In the former chapter, the author deals with several aspects of this grape that is the sole variety used to produce both Barolo and Barbaresco. How it was named, DNA analysis and several statistics on planting are detailed and there is an interesting fact about the Nebbiolo Rosé clone not being a clone at all, but rather a separate variety. I’ve never read that anywhere else; kudos to the author for doing her research and uncovering that piece of information.
Besides being remarkably well-informed about these wines, O’Keefe is opinionated, but in a professional manner (unlike certain famous wine critics). She was and remains opposed to too much oak (especially new) in these wines, believing that small barrels too often yield wines that are not representative. She writes of “mundane and ubiquitous sensations of toasted oak, vanilla and chocolate” in these wines. She also takes a jab at certain wine gurus who were only recently discovering Barolo and Barbaresco (especially with the warm 1990 growing season), writing that the flavors she mentioned above “put many influential critics in their comfort zone. Before this, these same celebrated palates either ignored Barolo and Barbaresco or slammed it.” Great insight here by the author!
I love her take on this subject, as she goes into great detail about the Modernist producers who made Barolo in a very different manner than the previous generations; she also notes that many producers, whom she labels Traditionalists, continued to produce wine in the tried and true manner of their parents. The various production methodology is an important theme of this book and it carries over into the descriptions of the producers in the second half of the book.
The latter half of this book consists of producer profiles in which the author gives us the necessary contact information (location, website, email – all very helpful) as well as her take on each vintner’s style – if they age in large casks or small, what are the specific vineyards they work with, etc. She organizes each chapter into communes, which is a very smart approach, as the Barolos from Serralunga and Monforte with their assertive tannins and muscular frame are much more tightly wound and need more time to settle down that their counterparts from La Morra, which are much more approachable wines upon release. Again, her insight into these wines is very impressive, almost encyclopedic.
There are tasting notes, including a vertical of eighteen examples of Gaja Barbaresco. Her section on this world-famous producer is quite illuminating, nicely communicating the tremendous influence Angelo Gaja has had on Barbaresco. O’Keefe’s work over the years earned her the right to be able to taste these wines with the producer – where else can you find such detailed notes about these famed wines?
This section of producer profiles is extremely well done, as the reader learns the names and styles of the finest vintners working today in Barolo and Barbaresco. One thing that is unavoidable about listing producers in a work such as this is that you can’t include everyone. In a private email about this book, O’Keefe admitted that she was given a page limit by her publisher, the University of California Press. This meant that she had no opportunity to feature every producer she wanted to. So while I would have loved to read about the Barolos of Giovanni Rosso and Luigi Baudana as well as Barbaresco from Serafino Rivella or Pasquale Pelissero (all traditional producers, incidentally), there are no descriptions or mention of these estates and their wines.
Well, you can’t have everything, but the author more than makes up for a few omissions by including text on numerous underrated producers that have not revived much attention elsewhere. This is especially true in the chapters about Barbaresco, where O’Keefe writes about the wines of Pier and Socré; I’ve not had the opportunity to taste the wines of these producers, so I was delighted to learn about them. Barolo and Barbaresco in general have never received as much attention as other renowned red wines of the world (such as Burgundy, Bordeaux and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons), so the very fact that the author has included several unheralded estates is another strong recommendation for the book.
A couple things to add: while there wasn’t enough room for every producer, there are a few that are missing from the book, namely Vietti (Barolo) and Marchesi di Gresy (Barbaresco). O’Keefe does mention their names at the end of their respective chapters (“other firms of note”). Yet even with this, there is no mention of the Barolos of Roberto Voerzio in La Morra. Perhaps the style of his wines is not what the author favors; regardless, it’s a strange omission.
Also, and this may be a personal thing, but after reading all the detailed tasting notes as well as information about how each producer makes their wines, I wanted a bit more. I don’t mean more in the sense of quantity – there is a wealth of information in this book and I can only imagine how many hours went into this book – but I mean more in the sense of a broad look at the subject. I would have loved to read a few quotes from the producers about what makes them tick. There is information such as this with a few important producers, but not as much as was possible (again, perhaps space limitation was a reason for this).
I think the reader would like to know how these producers view Barolo and Barbaresco in the larger world of wine – are the wines marketed well, are they priced fairly, how have the wines improved over the past thirty or forty years? Again, this is touched upon from time to time in the book, but not as much as could have been. The tasting notes are detailed as are the estate profiles, so clearly that is what O’Keefe wanted to write and has written. I have to review the book that’s been written and not what I want, of course. To that end, someone looking for an up-to-date analysis of what’s happening in Barolo and Barbaresco today will find a book that is as thorough and as informative – and as engaging – as anyone could want.
I would think that anyone who reads this book would want to taste many of these wines and perhaps make a visit to these marvelous wine districts. That is about as great a situation as could be possible for this subject. It’s one thing to write facts, but it’s another thing to make them come alive. Kerin O’Keefe has done just that and has written a memorable book.
Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine
Written by Kerin O’Keefe
Hardcover, 386 pages
University of California Press
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!
I am writing this post from Piemonte, where over the past few days, I’ve had the opportunity to taste several dozen bottlings of the soon to be released 2008 Barbaresco. The wines were tasted blind at the annual Nebbiolo Prima event in the city of Alba, where journalists from around the world can preview the new examples of Nebbiolo for the year: 2008 Roero Rosso, 2008 Barbaresco and 2007 Barolo.
Briefly, the 2008 vintage for Barbaresco was first-rate. The growing season was cooler than 2007, which yielded forward, ripe wines that year. The 2008s had the advantage of long hang time which meant ideal ripening conditions. While 2007 was an excellent vintage for Barbaresco, 2008 was even better, as the wines have deeper concentration along with precise acidity and beautiful structure. Look for many of the best bottlings from 2008 to be at their best in 12-15 years, with a few drinking a few years beyond that.
A few of my highest-rated wines include the Pertinace “Vigneto Nervo” and the Ceretto “Bernadot” from Treiso. The latter producer is world-famous, of course, but what a nice accomplishment for Pertinace, a small cooperative of 15 growers. I have tasted the Nervo Barbaresco from this producer in the past and the 2008 is as fine a bottling as I have tasted to date. With its aromas of candied orange peel, currant and cedar (the wine is aged solely in grandi botti), this is a rich, very elegant wine with the structure to improve and drink well for 12-15 years. The producer’s other cru from Treiso, “Marcarini” also showed quite well, this is a touch lighter than the “Nervo”, but will still drink well for 10-12 years. Both wines will be released in the United States in the fall and they are well worth thier suggested $40 price tag.
Treiso showed the best of the communes, as least as far as the wines I tasted during this event. I also tasted the 2008 “Bricco Asili” Babaresco from Ceretto (this wine is from the commune of Barbaresco), which is always their top-rated Barbaresco. This is a slightly more modern style of Barbaresco than the Pertinace, given its partial aging in small barrels, but the oak is beautifuly integrated in this bottling. This is full-bodied with excellent concentration and complexity and should drink well for 15-20 years.
One other wine I want to note is the splendid Cascina delle Rose “Tre Stelle” from a small vineyard in the commune of Barbaresco. I will write more about this producer in the near future, but for now, you should know about the dedication to tradition practiced by the owners of this small estate (about 5000 bottles of cru Barbaresco per year). Sporting a lovely delicate garnet color, the 2008 “Tre Stelle” offers deep aromas of Queen Anne cherry, orange peel and currant, has excellent concentration and persistence as well as outstanding complexity and balance. The wines at Cascina delle Rose are aged only in grandi botti, so the wood notes are very subtle. This is quite appealing now, but will definitely improve and drink beautifully over the next 10-12 years and possibly longer. This is amomg the very best wines of the year – Barbaresco or otherwise.
One note: again, the wines from Neive displayed too much new oak. I have written about this in previous vintages, so I was hoping that I might taste some more subtle wines from this commune. But it was not to be, as the wines were not well balanced for the most part. Thankfully, there were exceptions, most notably the Francone “I Patriarchi” and the Vigin “Nonnorlando” from the Cotta sottozona, perhaps this is some much needed good news for the bottlings of Barbaresco from Neive.
In closing, I am hoping that the quality of the 2008 Barbarescos will lead to a renewed interest in this iconic red from Piemonte. Barolo always gets the bulk of the attention, but right now, Barbaresco is poised to steal some of that thunder.
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.
Paolo Veglio and his winemaker, Dante Scaglione (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
One of the most exciting things about Italian wines is discovering a great new estate that produces honest wines – wines that truly represent their territory. Cascina Roccalini in Barbaresco is the newest and most dynamic of this group of small estates in Italy that I discovered on my recent trip to Piemonte.
I have to thank Terence Hughes of Domenico Selections in New York for this find; I just happened to be looking at a few blogs before my trip and came across his post (read here) on this estate; he will begin selling the wines this autumn. Terry put me in touch with Paolo Veglio, the owner, who was delighted to arrange a visit for two of my Italian journalist friends, Franco Ziliani and Roberto Guiliani, along with myself.
Paolo Veglio is a young man who sold his grapes for years to the Bruno Giacosa winert when Dante Scaglione was the winemaker. Dante is no longer associated with Giacosa and now consults with several estates; in fact, he approached Paolo about being his winemaker when he decided to produce his first bottlings at Cascina Roccalini.
The winery is named for the Roccalini subzone (known as a sottozona of Barbaresco); Veglio has 3.5 hectares (approximately 8.6 acres of Nebbiolo) and another hectare (2.47 acres) divided between Dolcetto and Barbera. The vineyards have optimal exposure and are located at approximately 200 meters above sea level. The view from the winery is an impressive one, with the Tanaro River and the Roero district to the west and the Barbaresco Tower only a few kilometers to the south.
There are many important things to note about the wines of Roccalini, but perhaps the most significant is the elegantly simple winemaking philosophy of Dante Scaglione. The Barbera and Dolcetto are aged only in stainless steel (with one exception of the Barbera Superiore), while the Barbaresco is aged solely in grandi botti of 10 and 22hl casks. Tasting through the wines, you are enveloped in the varietal purity as well as fruit persistence and elegance.
The soon to be released 2007 Barbaresco is very typical of the vintage, with pretty red cherry and plum fruit, graceful tannins and precise acidity. This is not a powerhouse wine, but a beautifully expressed wine that is very attractive now and will be at its best in 10-12 years. The 2008 Barbaresco, tasted from cask, is an even better wine, in my opinion. While 2008 was a cooler year than 2007, the conditions were optimal for Nebbiolo and this wine has tremendous length in the finish with finely tuned acidity and a beautiful note of fennel in the aromas. This is a more reserved wine, but one that I believe will age even longer than the 2007; look for this wine to peak in 15-20 years. The 2005 Barbaresco, from the first vintage of Roccalini, is also beautifully crafted, with notes of currant and mocha and is drinking well right now; it should offer pleasure over the next 7-10 years.
As is typical in this area, Barbera and Dolcetto are also produced. Now while many other producers of Barbaresco also make very fine examples of these wines, the truth of the matter is that the bottlings from some local estates are pleasant, though hardly memorable wines. That’s not the case at Cascina Roccalina – questi vini sono incredibili!
The 2008 Dolcetto d’Alba has gorgeous color and stunning aromas of boysenberry, black cherry and dark chocolate; there is excellent persistence and complexity with beautiful acidity and moderate tannins. This is a particularly complex Dolcetto that is absolutely delicious and remarkably elegant. The 2009, tasted from the tank, simply explodes on the nose and palate with beautiful ripe boysenberry and black plum fruit and notes of black mint. While 2008 with its long, cool growing season, may turn out the be a better year than 2009 for Nebbiolo, the opposite is true for Dolcetto (and Barbera) in this territory and this 2009 Dolcetto is a promise of the upcoming glories of this vintage. After tasting only these two wines, this is one of my top Dolcetto estates in all of Piemonte!
But the real star at Cascina Roccalini (at least it was to all of us on the day we visited) was the simple Barbera d’Alba. In truth, simple is a poor choice of words, as there is nothing ordinary about this wine. The 2008 Barbera d’Alba offers lovely myrtle, black plum and tar aromas with excellent concentration and superb acidity. The finish is long and very pleasing and there is tremendous fruit persistence. The 2009, tasted from the tank, is even better, with ripe black plum fruit and notes of anice; the acidity is precise, the varietal character is pure and the layers of fruit on the palate are remarkable. I can’t wait for the 2009 and I’m definitely looking forward to trying the 2008 several more times (I’ll have to contact Terence about acquiring a few bottles down the road – ditto for the Dolcetto!)
After the formal tasting, we were treated to a lovely dinner prepared by Paolo’s mother Luciana, which included a sublime spinach flan wrapped in Raschera cheese, a local cow’s milk variety; this dish rivaled the best I had all week long in the area’s ristoranti!
What a start young (34 years old) Paolo Veglio is off to with Cascina Roccalini! Of course, it also helps to have great vineyards as well as a superb winemaker such as Dante Scaglione. But this is no overnight success, as Paolo has been working these vineyards for many years, delivering great fruit to the cellar.
Keep in mind that this is a small estate – only 14,500 bottles are produced, so the wines are quite limited. Thanks again to Terry for helping me organize this visit – I would have been disappointed to miss this estate. Best of luck selling the wines – though I’m not sure you’ll need much of it, given the spectacular nature of these offerings!
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!