Barbaresco producers have become used to living in the shadow of their counterparts in Barolo. Yet tasting the latest releases, TOM MARESCA senses a case of role reversal..
Anticipation ran high among the 50-odd wine journalists who gathered in Alba in May to taste the new releases of 2000 Barolo and 2001 Barbaresco. The 2000 vintage in particular had received a rush of early publicity, creating the impression that it would be a superb vintage. In fairness, it should be noted that the hype originated with journalists, not winemakers, many of whom were far more measured in their assessment.
In the final analysis, such caution was justified. The unexpected stars of the Alba show turned out to be the Barbarescos of 2001, plus the few barrel samples of Barolo 2001 offered by producers at private tastings.
As one of the most accomplished of the new generation of winemakers, Chiara Boschis, succinctly put it, ‘2001 will be one of the best vintages ever.’
Barbaresco is the smaller of the two prestigious Alban zones, about a third of the size of Barolo. It lies opposite its renowned neighbour, northeast of the town of Alba, which has long served as the centre of gravity for the small villages and communes that together make up the two appellations.
Barolo has for some time been viewed as the more important wine – a judgment that seems to stem from outmoded characterisations of the two as masculine (Barolo) versus feminine (Barbaresco); powerful versus sleek.
Public perceptions of Barbaresco have centered on Angelo Gaja, a fine winemaker and a maverick whose name obscured the appellation’s. But with his recent withdrawal of his most important crus from the DOCG, many smaller producers who have laboured in his shadow have begun to step forward into the limelight.
As a result, Barbaresco is enjoying what could be called a renaissance, were it not for the fact that quality producers have been quietly at work there all along.
Vintage differences between Barolo and Barbaresco are usually small-to-invisible, though localised weather can have a significant impact on individual producers. The 2001 season kept growers nervous well into October, with its alternating wet and dry days, record low temperatures and sweltering highs. The paradoxical result was a crop of Nebbiolo grapes that the consorzio described as ‘in excellent condition, with fine acids and good sugar content’.
Aldo Vacca, director and winemaker of Produttori di Barbaresco, compares the vintages: ‘The 1999 has great character, while 2001 is less powerful, and more elegant. In 2000 the vintage is more alcoholic; its fruit is almost sweet because the grapes had higher than normal sugar levels at harvest.’
Bruno Rocca, a prestigious small producer, makes the same comparison even more emphatically: ‘Both 1999 and 2001 are fantastic vintages, much better than 2000.’
Human skill has matched nature’s generosity in 2001 and that’s what makes the vintage so special. The Barbarescos I tasted had marvelous, deeply characteristic Nebbiolo fruit – black cherry and plum, with tar and tobacco accents – and an excellent balance of alcohol, firm tannins and lively acidity.
New oak, now widely used, was evident only in elegant grace notes on big, harmonious wines and rarely as an over-riding vanilla flavour, though the opposite was true with many of the Barolo 2000s (see p160).
Though very young, many of the wines revealed the distinctive flavours of their terroir, particularly in the mineral notes evident in many of the wines from the commune of Neive.
The 2001 Barbaresco vintage promises that magical combination of early drinkability and long life, with the generous fruit needed for the former and the robust structure required for the latter.
Start drinking as soon as 2006/2007, though all wines will be better in 2010 and should continue to improve gradually for another ten years after that. Properly stored – and barring problems with corks – these are wines that could give pleasure for decades.
BARBARESCO: FIVE STARS
Ada Nada, Cichin, Barbaresco 2001
Traditional tar-and-roses Barbaresco, with all the balance of a fine harvest clearly expressed. 2007-2025. N/A UK; +39 0173 638127
Ada Nada, Riserva Cichin, Barbaresco 1999
Classic Nebbiolo nose; gorgeous balance; very traditional, no-barrique Barbaresco. 2005-2025. N/A UK; +39 0173 638127
Angelo, Negro e Figli Basarin,
Fruit, leather, tar and roses. Beautifully balanced, with the structure to last many years; tar and roses sing in the finish. 2007-2025.
Armando Piazzo, Vigna Giaia,
Big black fruit, great structure. 2007-2025. N/A UK; +39 0173 440703
Bruno Rocca, Coparossa, Barbaresco 2001
Round and minerally on the palate; long-finishing and elegant. 2006-2020. N/A UK
Bruno Rocca, Rabajá, Barbaresco 2001
Tar and black pepper nose; well-proportioned and harmonious. Would benefit from a little more time. 2007-2025. £45.95; Lib (2000)
Carlo Boffa, Vigna Vitalotti,
Textbook Barbaresco – tar and roses on the nose; black fruit, leather and tea on the palate. 2006-2020. N/A UK; +39 0173 635174
Cà Romè, Maria di Brun, Barbaresco 2000
Concentrated, with the heft usually ascribed to Barolo; sweet fruit and firm tannins, leading to a tar-and-leather finish. Will last. 2007-2025. N/A UK; +39 0173 635126
Cascina Luisin, Sori Paolin,
Lovely earthy, mineral notes, a characteristic Neive gout de terroir– very fine. 2006-2020.
N/A UK; +39 0173 635154
Castello di Neive, Riserva Santo Stefano Barbaresco 1999
Classic aromas precede an elegant, complex and long-lasting wine – very, very fine. 2005-2025. N/A UK
Dante Rivetti Bricco Barbaresco 2001
Very firmly put together, with the right flavours and a big structure for ageing. 2006-2020. N/A UK; +39 0173 67125
La Cà Nova, Montestefano,
Elegant and big, with abundant but easy tannins; built for the long haul. 2006-2020.
N/A UK; +39 0173 635123
Molino Ausario, Barbaresco 2001
Classic Nebbiolo aromas and flavours, beautiful balance – a poised, lovely wine. 2005-2020. N/A UK
Montaribaldi, Sori Montaribaldi, Barbaresco 2001
Espresso and tar nose; wood notes over black fruit; needs time. Potentially a top modern style. 2006-2016. N/A UK; +39 0173 638220
Paitin, Sori Paitin, Barbaresco 2001
Huge aromas of earth, leather, tar and roses ahead of textbook flavours, big, full and long – very fine. 2006-2020. N/A UK
Pio Cesare, Barbaresco 2000
Almost Barbera-like in its freshness; deep, chocolatey fruit; lingering cherries, espresso finish. Very fine. 2005-2020. £20.18; Cib (1999)
Produttori di Barbaresco, Riserva Montestefano, Barbaresco 1999
Evolving aromas of leather and roses and a gorgeous palate of sweet fruit. Dark and complex. 2005-2020. £19.95; V&C (Feb 2005)
Stefano Farina, Barbaresco 2001
Rich, dry fruit; elegant through to the finish. 2006-2020. N/A UK; +39 031 626445
BARBARESCO: FOUR STARS
Ada Nada, Valeirano, 2001
Fine fruit, soft tannins, long finish; needs time to integrate, but fine. 2007-2017. N/A UK
Albino Rocca, Vigneto Brich Ronchi, 2001
Still slightly closed, tar and roses aroma, black fruit and leather in the mouth, with a big tannic structure. 2007-2020. J&B; £280 (Per case in bond)
Bruno Rocca, Coparossa,
Classic nose; big, round, mineral flavours; very long finish; elegant and fine. 2006- 2020. N/A UK
Cà del Baio, Asili, 2001
Intriguing mineral notes in nose; round, soft, with very easy tannins; almost sweet black-plum finish; very promising. 2006-2020.
N/A UK; +39 0173 638219
Cà Romè, Sori Rio Sordo, Barbaresco 2001
Scents of black pepper and tar lead. Gracefully balanced, of medium heft. 2005-2015. N/A UK
Elvio Pertinace, Marcarini, 2001
Great Nebbiolo fruit ever so lightly sweetened with oak; elegant, big. 2006-2016. N/A UK;
+ 39 0173 442238
Fontanabianca, Sori Bordin,
Very composed; should develop beautifully for years. 2006-2020. £19.50; Can (2000)
Giuseppe Cortese, Rabajà, 2001
Aroma of tar and roses; dark fruit on the palate, with a long, drying finish; already poised, should improve with age. 2006-2020. £21.75; Bbr (1999)
Pio Cesare, 1999
Coffee aroma; fresh on palate, accessible already but with the structure of a long-distance runner; a wine to cellar. 2005-2025. £20.18; Cib
Produttori di Barbaresco, Riserva Rabajà 1999
A complex, balanced wine marked by sweet, dark fruit; great depth of flavour. 2005-2020. V&C; £19.95 (Feb)
Sottimano, Cottá, 2001
Soft, plummy fruit supported by excellent acidity and firm tannins; very lovely. 2005-2021 N/A UK; +39 0173 635186
Sottimano, Fausoni, 2001
Elegant, with mineral flavours atop dark fruit; big, supple and composed. 2005-2021 N/A UK
Tom Maresca is the author of La Tavola Italiana, £10.89, Trafalgar Square.