While there has been a lot of flap about the 2007 Barolo, which will be arriving here this Fall, I’ve heard very little said about the 2008 Barbaresco, which is also standing in the wings. That’s a real shame, because the ’08 Barbaresco is by and large a lovely vintage, with a lot of very successful wines, many of them more pleasing than the 2007 Barolos.
Both wines are vinified entirely from Nebbiolo, in zones that mirror each other around the town of Alba. But Barbaresco is almost always overshadowed by Barolo, which is the larger zone, produces a lot more wine, and got to be famous sooner. Consumers should note, however, that compared to its sibling Barolo, Barbaresco is often significantly underpriced – especially the wines from smaller, less well-known producers, and those from the world’s finest co-op, Produttori di Barbaresco.
I suspect that what renown Barbaresco has achieved here in the US owes a great deal to the pioneering efforts of Angelo Gaja, who was an early apostle for the appellation (which he has now largely abandoned: One of his bottlings is still a Barbaresco; the others are all Langhe IGT, because of a small admixture of Barbera into their predominant Nebbiolo). Since those early days, many other producers have broken through to comparable levels of quality, however, and Barbaresco now represents, pretty much across the board, very high quality at a usually very reasonable price. Of which, not coincidentally, the 2008 vintage furnishes ample proof.
Back in May, at the Nebbiolo Prima event in Alba, I tasted more than 70 examples of Barbaresco ’08. With the exception of many wines from the commune of Neive, which tasted over-oaked, I found a lot to like. The wines are nicely structured, with classic Nebbiolo character: good dark fruit, generous but soft tannins, enlivening acidity, and an earthy, mineral understrapping that promises nice bottle development and longevity.
The 2008 growing season was more than slightly difficult, though its timing – bud break, flowering, coloring, and ripeness – fell into a pretty normal pattern. A chilly damp spring and a very wet summer caused problems of mold and oidium. Those resulted in a reduction of the size of the crop but had little effect on quality. Because of the damp and the chill, white grapes and early-ripening reds didn’t fare well in ’08, but the late ripening Nebbiolo enjoyed all the benefits of an unbroken, two-month-long spell of dry, sunny weather that began mid-August and ran right through harvest in October – a winemaker’s dream weather.
For Barbaresco, this means a vintage that the Consorzio has described with unusual-for-it modesty as “excellent” and “top-quality.” Maybe the Piemontesi are running out of exclamatory superlatives after the long string of fine harvests they’ve been blessed with. (If only the Bordelais would follow suit!) If there is anything to like about global warming, it has to be the kind of harvests with which it has been gifting the Barolo and Barbaresco zones (as well as their transalpine mirror, Burgundy).
Here are the wines that impressed me most back in May. Remember, these wines are very young and are still very much in evolution: I’ve chosen to spotlight the bottles that I think will change in ever more pleasing ways, but I could be wrong. Remember too that there are many more fine wines in the 2008 vintage than I have room to mention here: many of them showed good fruit and a great balance of soft tannins and lively acidity. Of the Barbaresco appellation’s three townships, the wines of Barbaresco itself showed that balance prominently, those of Treiso showed very young and fine, though in some cases needing time to integrate, while for me most of the Neive wines – even those from producers I normally admire – were oaky monsters.
Albino Rocca Barbaresco: lovely black cherry and tobacco scents and flavors, deep and smooth.
Albino Rocca Barbaresco Ronchi: not the most famous cru in Barbaresco, but this edition of it is near the top of the charts, with its sweet fruit, minerality, and chocolate/cherry/leather flavors and finish.
Ca’ del Baio Barbaresco Valgrande: from Treiso, and smelling and tasting of berries, mushrooms, mineral, tobacco, and tar – pretty much the whole Piedmont package.
La Ca’ Nova Barbaresco Montestefano: a big wine from the famed cru in Barbaresco commune; black cherry and tar throughout.
Castello di Verduno Barbaresco Rabajà: another important Barbaresco township cru (maybe the most important), and a wine in every way worthy of it.
Cortese Giuseppe Barbaresco Rabajà: black cherry and toast aromas lead, followed by big flavors of black cherry and earth – very Rabajà.
Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco Martinenga: another important cru in Barbaresco township, showing a little toasted oak (it is slight enough to absorb with time) over completely classic flavors and structure.
Molino Barbaresco Ausario: from Treiso; berries and mushrooms from start to finish.
Nada Giuseppe Barbaresco Casot: a Neive wine with the oak under control; nice balance, a touch of elegance.
Orlando Abrigo Barbaresco Rocche Meruzzano: not a cru I’m familiar with (Treiso township), but a rich and satisfying wine marked by berry, herb, and mineral flavors throughout.
Pertinace Barbaresco Marcarini: an important Treiso cru, showing a light veil of oak vanilla over very good Nebbiolo character. Needs a little time.
Vigin Barbaresco Noemy: another Treiso cru that I don’t really know, and another big wine – dark fruit, soft tannins, good dark finish.
NB: Alessandro Masnaghetti’s maps are available at firstname.lastname@example.org.