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Barbaresco wine: first among equals

It’s time for Piedmont’s ‘other’ great Nebbiolo wine to stop being seen as the perennial bridesmaid to Barolo, says Ian D’Agata. Barbaresco is just as good and (whisper it) in some cases better, especially when it comes to price...

Barbaresco’s best sites

In 2007, Barbaresco’s different crus were officially recognised (the so-called Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive or MeGA), and these 65 hallowed sites are now recognised on labels. It was about time, too, as locals have long known that some sites always deliver better grapes than others – much like in Burgundy, where a patchwork of premiers and grands crus also exists.

In fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of the region is just how different Barbaresco wines can be depending on where the grapes were grown. Just like there’s a world of difference between a Musigny and a Corton, the same is true of a Barbaresco from Rio Sordo and one from Montestefano.

The crus of Barbaresco

The majority of this sub-region’s best crus are located south of the town of Barbaresco towards the hamlet of Tre Stelle and Treiso. Other quality vineyards lie to the town’s north-east, and of these, Montestefano is an exceptional site. Its higher-lying vines have benefited the most from climate change, as its slightly cooler microclimate guarantees wines of both body and finesse. Generally speaking, the Barbarescos of Barbaresco are the most complete and balanced of all.

Best crus: Pajè, Pora, Asili, Martinenga, Montefico, Montestefano, Muncagota, Rabajà, Rio Sordo, Roncagliette and Secondine. This latter site is where Angelo Gaja sources the grapes for his worldrenowned Sorì San Lorenzo (no longer a Barbaresco because he chooses to include a little Barbera in it; Barbaresco, like Barolo, must be 100% Nebbiolo).

Top producers: Albino Rocca, Bruno Giacosa, Bruno Rocca, Ca’ del Baio, Cascina Bruciata, Cascina delle Rose, Cascina Luisin, Ceretto, Cisa Asinari Marchesi di Gresy, Giuseppe Cortese, Moccagatta, Produttori di Barbaresco, Roagna.

Need to know: The ridge that includes Asili (mainly south/south-east exposure), Rabajà and Martinenga (mainly south/south-west) is the real grand cru of Barbaresco. These three sites, plus Neive’s Santo Stefano and Treiso’s Pajorè are the five best vineyards of the entire Barbaresco DOCG – true grands crus in all but name only. Barbaresco’s Pajè, Montestefano and Rio Sordo are the three best premiers crus.

The crus of Neive

Neive is divided into a lower-lying modern town and a picturesque medieval hamlet. Geology here is complex: moving southwards from Neive, where sites like Cotta and Basarin are found, soils are more sandy (with less limestone and clay) than Barbaresco’s, but more northerly sites, where Santo Stefano and Gallina lie, are richer in clay. Neive is historically also famous for outstanding Dolcetto wines. Generally speaking, the Barbarescos of Neive are the most powerful and structured.

Best crus: Albesani, Basarin, Currá, Cottá, Gallina, Santo Stefano, Serraboella.

Top producers: Bruno Giacosa, Cantina del Glicine, Castello di Neive, Cigliuti, Piero Busso, Sottimano, Ugo Lequio.

Need to know: Santo Stefano may be the single best vineyard of the Barbaresco DOCG – in fact one of the greatest vineyard sites of Italy. Gallina and Serraboella are two outstanding premiers crus: the former gives chunkier, fleshier wines that are hard to resist, while the latter offers greater refinement.

The crus of Treiso

Treiso is one of the few areas in the Langhe where forests still grow tall and temperatures are noticeably cooler, especially at night. The best crus are all located to the north and west of the town. Treiso’s generally much cooler microclimate explains the steely, high-acid resolve of many of its wines, but not all of them – this is one of the most common misconceptions made about Italian wines. While much of Treiso is an area of extreme viticulture not all of its vineyards lie at high altitudes (Rombone, for example). Generally speaking, the Barbarescos of Treiso are the most graceful and refined.

Best crus: Bernardot, Bricco di Treiso, Pajorè, Rombone, Valgrande.

Top producers: Ca’ del Bajo, Fiorenzo Nada, Pellissero, Pio Cesare, Rizzi, Sottimano. Many of the grapes for Gaja’s Barbarescos come from Treiso.

Need to know: The Pajorè cru has always been considered one of the top four or five crus of the Barbaresco DOCG. Rombone, Bricco di Treiso and Bernardot (the last two situated on one of the steepest spots in all the Langhe) are high-quality sites as well.

The crus of San Rocco Seno d’Elvio

The least known of Barbaresco’s communes, the Seno d’Elvio is actually a stream, though locals rightly point out that the Elvio in their town’s name refers to a Roman emperor, Elvio Publio Pertinace, who was born there.

Best crus: Meruzzano, Montersino, Rizzi (all these are shared with Treiso) and Rocche Massalupo.

Top producers: Adriano Marco e Vittorio, Armando Piazzo, Poderi Colla.

Need to know: Over the past 10 years, I’ve been characterising the differences between these wines and the other communes of Barbaresco and though more bottles and vintages will be needed before clear-cut specifics emerge, I believe the wines of San Rocco Seno d’Elvio embody traits that fall somewhere in between those of Treiso and Barbaresco, offering much earlier accessibility but less complexity.

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