Add two more – 2006 and 2007 – to the already improbably long list of better-than-average-to-great Barolo and Barbaresco vintages that has been accumulating since 1988. These two – the most recently released of the two appellations – are a little different, however, both from each other and from what has preceded them over the past 22 years. Side by side, they look like Jekyll and Hyde: Barbaresco 2007 seems gentle, friendly, good company, while Barolo 2006 is rough and tough and, at this moment at least, decidedly unfriendly. Together, both resemble pre-1988 vintages more than any more recent ones, the ’06 closed and ungiving as superior Barolo vintages used always to be in their youth, the ’07 softer and more welcoming, as good lighter vintages used to be, especially in Barbaresco.
No one ever said Nebbiolo was an easy grape variety to grow or to know. In the past, it was more often heartbreaking than heartwarming, and outside of a few very restricted areas of Piedmont, it still is – a highly localized glory that it shares with Pinot noir, to which it is often compared. And while we appear now to be in a sort of Golden Age of Barolo and Barbaresco, Nebbiolo still occasionally reminds us all – producers and consumers alike – that it is no pushover.
Any wine journalist who might have forgotten that fact was forcibly reminded of it every morning at this year’s Nebbiolo Prima (formerly the Alba Wine Event). Every morning the participating 50-odd international journalists confronted approximately 85 newly released 2007 Barbarescos and 2006 Barolos (plus some few Barbaresco Riserva 2005 and Barolo Riserva 2004).
By noon every day, almost all of us had black teeth and tongues, and cheeks that felt as thoroughly tanned as our best shoes. Make no mistake: this annual Alba marathon is penitential tasting – but it is worth it, for what you learn about the vintages and the way the producers have handled them. Nothing gives you a better sense of a whole vintage across an entire important zone than does this annual endurance contest.
As a sort of gentle start, we always taste first the Barbarescos, which get a year less aging before release than do the Barolos. (This also gives us a sneak peak at next year’s Barolo prospects, since there isn’t that much difference between the two zones.) This year, most of the ’07 Barbarescos showed very well indeed. Some examples from Neive were overoaked, but even there I could still taste the vintage’s cheerful, enjoyable fruit. All these Barbarescos displayed lovely balance. Overall, 2007 in Barbaresco has medium body, delightful fresh fruit of an authentic Nebbiolo character, and a nice touch of elegance. These aren’t wines for long cellaring; they are already approachable, and they should be thoroughly enjoyable drinking for the next seven to ten years – which isn’t bad at all.
Here are some of the wines that for me stood out from the (very pleasant) crowd:
- Cascina delle Rose Rio Sordo and Tre Stelle
- Castello di Neive, the basic Barbaresco and the Santo Stefano
- Marchesi di Gresy Martinenga
- Moccagatta Bric Balin
- Poderi Colla Roncaglie
- Produttori del Barbaresco, the basic Barbaresco
- Albino Rocca, the basic Barbaresco and Vigneto Brich Ronchi
- Bruno Rocca Rabaja
Most of these names will probably be familiar: they are among the perennial top performers in Barbaresco, turning in excellent wines vintage after vintage. New to me was Cascina delle Rose, which I wish I had known about years ago. I managed to visit the property, a little gem – just about three hectares – in the sweet spot of Rio Sordo. Its nearest neighbors are Gaja on one side and di Gresy on the other, which speaks volumes about its terroir.
The owners are charming people and very traditional winemakers: no fancy tricks, just straightforward Piemontese craftsmanship. They produce lovely Dolcetto and Barbera d’Alba, as well as their classic Barbarescos, and they also have accommodations for travelers and vacationers (www.cascinadellerose.it).
Still to come – but this will have to be another post: this one’s long enough already – are the 2006 Barolos, which are a whole nother story.