At Nebbiolo Prima in Alba back in May, before the assembled journalists were ambushed by the grueling three mornings of 2009 Barolos, we were lulled into a false sense of security by a morning and a half of on-the-whole-fine Barbarescos of the 2010 vintage. So for most of this post, the news is very, very good: 2010 is a vintage for the cellar – possibly for many decades of aging – yet it seems to be very friendly and accessible already. In effect, it combines the best of old-style Nebbiolo structure with welcoming post-global-warming fruit.
Barbaresco is a far smaller zone than Barolo, with far fewer producers: Only some 70 Barbaresco wines were shown at Nebbiolo Prima, compared to 218 Barolos. The three townships of Barbaresco, Treiso, and Neive make up 95% of the zone, with just a tiny corner of Alba township forming the rest. The Barbaresco zone lies to the northeast of Alba, while Barolo lies to Alba’s southwest. The soils and elevations and exposures in the two zones are roughly similar, and both use only Nebbiolo to produce their wines.
The major differences between them are that, overall, the climate in Barbaresco is slightly cooler than in Barolo, and the regulations for its wines allow a year less aging before release; but in the same vintage, the best wines of either zone could easily be mistaken for the other’s. The different qualities of the vintages – Barolo 2009 and Barbaresco 2010 – stood out glaringly at the event in May. Where the Barolo presenters spoke guardedly of 2009 as a difficult vintage, yielding wines for short-term enjoyment, Barbaresco producers expressed unqualified enthusiasm about their 2010s. (The Barolo producers will get their turn to gloat next year, when they show their 2010s.) I didn’t hear a single disparaging remark about the 2010 vintage from anyone the whole week I was there.
The official Consorzio account of the vintage usually tries, in judicious bureaucratese, to put the best face on every harvest, an effort that was hardly necessary for 2010:
Nebbiolo . . . was able to enjoy fine weather throughout the month of September, offsetting the slight delay in the ripening of the grapes due to the wet weather between July and August. Ripening checks showed that the sugars continued to accumulate during the second half of the month, while the acid profile gradually dropped to very acceptable levels. Ripening of the phenolic components which are essential for ensuring body and ageing capacity has been excellent. Without question, Nebbiolo has responded sublimely this year . . .
I love how the dispassionate technical analysis collapses into the sheer enthusiasm of “Nebbiolo has responded sublimely”!
For us wine drinkers, the best part is that that enthusiasm was totally justified by the experience of the tastings. Here’s one of my tasting notes, picked at random from the first morning of Barbaresco tastings: “Classic aromas of black cherry, road tar, and dried roses; palate slightly closed but very smooth and elegant; lovely fruit-and-tar finish – an excellent wine, 4-star +.” Lest you think this is just cherrypicking, here’s my very next note: “Black cherry and toast on the nose; more closed than the preceding wine, but evidently built on the same lines, with an intense dark fruit finish; needs some time, but potentially 4-star +.” Just to put this in perspective: 5 stars are my highest rating, and I gave scores between 3 and 4.75 stars – all right, I’m stingy – to better than 80% of the Barbarescos from the communes of Treiso, Barbaresco, and Alba.
The not-so-hot portion of the tasting was once again, as it has been for some years running, the wines of Neive. With a few honorable exceptions – for example, Angelo Negro, Oddero, Francesco Rinaldi – the Neive wines were over-oaked to the point that their Nebbiolo character was for me completely obscured. I infer, from the fact that these wines continue to be made, that somebody must like them and buy them, but for me most Neives remain undrinkable: milestones on the long death-march of a great wine toward its ultimate pepsicolization.
Despite the disappointments of Neive, 2010 Barbaresco offers an abundance of first-rate wines that I think will be drinkable early and last long, which is the kind of two-fer package that Nebbiolo lovers dream about. Here are some of my favorites (with communes in parentheses):
- Cascina delle Rose, Barbaresco Rio Sordo (Barbaresco), Barbaresco Tre Stelle (Barbaresco)
- Ceretto, Barbaresco Asili, Barbaresco Bernardot (Treiso)
- Michele Chiarlo, Barbaresco Asili (Barbaresco)
- Marchesi di Gresy, Barbaresco Martinenga (Barbaresco)
- Pertinace, Barbaresco Marcarini (Treiso)
- Poderi Colla, Barbaresco Roncaglie (Barbaresco)
- Vigneti Luigi Oddero, Barbaresco (multiple communes)
- Produttori del Barbaresco, Barbaresco (Barbaresco)
- Albino Rocca, Barbaresco Ronchi (Barbaresco), Barbaresco Teorema (Alba)
Also, be on the lookout for Barbarescos from such outstanding crus as Asili, Montestefano, and Rabaja, which seem to have performed exceptionally well in this vintage.