The undisputed red co-operative champion of the wine world, Produttori del Barbaresco produce, year after year, some of the most scintillating wines of Barbaresco and indeed Piedmont. Masters of Nebbiolo, the 2018 vintage with its cool, damp and fresh weather conditions served up a long list of challenges for producers, yet after all was said and done, many wineries made some exceptional wines fully deserving of the vintage’s 4-star rating with an emphasis on short to medium-term drinking over long-term cellaring.
Produtorri del Barbaresco Barbaresco 2018, DOCG Barbaresco, 14.5% Abv.
We all know when Produttori del Barbaresco decide not to bottle all their great nine grower crus, the resulting wines are all blended into the Barbaresco DOCG normale cuvee. 2018 is just such a vintage and sure enough, eager collectors have been waiting for this super charged Nebbiolo release. On initial examination, the wine shows the most pretty, lifted, inviting aromatics of dried rose petals, crushed coriander, tart red cherries, salty blueberries and a seductive red liquorice complexity. On the palate, there is an attractive translucent purity and silky filigree tannins that combine with a suave, lithe, harmonious concentration of red cherry candied fruits, touches of tar, saline cassis, sloe berries and a finish that typifies true, pure classical Nebbiolo fruit. While the seductive allure of the perfumed aromatics currently outpace the slightly backwardness of the palate fruit density and structure, all the signs in the glass point to another extremely fine and supremely attractive Barbaresco release. Drink from 2022 to 2034+.
With the Gaja Crus of Sori Tilden, Sori San Lorenzo and Costa Russi now almost out of the financial reach of many fine wine consumers, the annual new release of Gaja’s perennially impressive DOCG Barbaresco has certainly taken on a new level of interest and attention from the broader ranks of the global fine wine trade. So when Gaia Gaja made her first trip back to London since the beginning of the pandemic, the stage was set for an exciting Barbaresco launch.
After the warm and dry 2017 harvest, the 2018 vintage was characterised by early flowering and then a cooler summer with periods of rain that proved challenging to grape growers. Indeed, between the 1st of May and the 15th of June, the region saw pretty much uninterrupted rain showers which resulted in downy and powdery mildew in many areas. To compound the problems, the 17th of July saw hail hit the Barbaresco vineyards… “because the hail canons of the town were not used in time because all the villagers were watching Italy play France at football”… Gaia Gaja joked. A more windy, dry and hot September brought on the start of the harvest slightly ahead of schedule with picking finishing on the 9th of October. Despite the challenges of the weather during the growing season, 2018 is generally considered a better vintage than the warmer 2017, yielding wines with great purity, minerality and refinement.
In 2018, no Crus were made at Gaja for the first time since 2012, with all the Sori Tilden fruit and half of the Costa Russi fruit being blended into the DOCG Barbaresco (part of Costa Russi is being replanted). No Sori San Lorenzo wine was produced. While normally a blend of 14 parcels around Barbaresco, the 2018 did see some of these parcels excluded from the blend but the additions of the Cru fruit certainly acted to bolster the cepage quality considerably.
Gaja Barbaresco 2018, DOCG Barbaresco, 14% Abv.
Wonderfully pure and translucent with gorgeous red cherry and ruby hues. The nose shows impressively perfumed, opulent, hedonistic notes of stewed strawberries, fraise des bois, cured bresaola, tilled earth, tar, salty red liquorice and beautifully detailed nuances of aniseed stick. The palate texture is dense yet crisp, fresh, creamy and full in the mouth with a weighty mid-palate concentration, layered chalky, stony mineral Nebbiolo tannins over black cherry and tart blueberry fruits. This is a classical expression of Barbaresco that will appeal to the purists and collectors alike – Very fine, perfumed and beautifully expressive but also powerful, super seductive and accessible. Drink now and over the next 25+ years.
Admittedly, I love Barolo and drink a lot of all the top producer’s wines at any chance I get, but I have to be honest that while I’d heard a little bit about the Luigi Pira wines, I had never tasted any. So what a way to acquaint oneself with a new Barolo producer’s wines than to taste their blockbuster 2016s!
Founded by the Pira family in 1950, this Serralunga estate consists of 12 hectares of vineyards at 300 metres above sea level with winemaking duties overseen by Giampaolo Pira. Vigna Marenca and Vigna Margheria are reputed to be some of the best vineyards in the township of Serralunga and this estate produces single vineyard Baroli from plots owned in all of these crus (which can be seen from the azienda’s terrace). In the 1950s the grapes were initially sold off. In the subsequent years, small quantities of Barolo started to be bottled at the estate.
In 1993 the Baroli Margheria and Marenca were produced followed by Barolo Vigna Rionda in 1997. The wines from these three crus are typical of the great terroir of Serralunga displaying great minerality, intensity and power. Barolo Margheria, made from 50-year-old vines, is the most classical. Barolo Marenca and Barolo Vigna Rionda are structured and complex, with a lot of muscle and age ability. But tasting all these crus for the first time was certainly an exciting exercise.
Luigi Pira Serralunga Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.
The Luigi Pira 2016 Barolo Serralunga is another fabulously dense and sweetly fruited Nebbiolo that has just the most seductive aromatics of dried rose petals, violets, potpourri, orange peel, tea tree oil, tart red cherries and an exotic licorice and wild herb botanical top note. The palate is cool, plush and powerful with fleshy layers of red and black cherry, char grilled herbs, dried ginger and plenty of dried thyme and sage. True to the iconic 2016 vintage, this wine combines classical Serralunga structure and power with a beautiful fruit opulence and concentration. Deliciously accessible and fresh, this is another Barolo beauty from the vintage.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Luigi Pira Margheria Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.
The Luigi Pira 2016 Barolo Margheria is an exotic, complex expression of the vintage with the most intricate aromatics of pressed purple flowers, pink musk , cherry cola, licorice and tar, dried rose petals and the most personality filled botanical, herbal vermouth spice nuances. The tannins are powerful and grainy coating the mouth with a fabulously plush mineral grip. On the palate there are hints of saline cassis, black cherry and bramble berry spice with a long, liquid mineral stony finish. This possess all the power and structure to last a very long time in the cellar. Something very serious but also very magical from a fantastic Barolo vintage. (7,000 bottles produced.)
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Luigi Pira Marenca Barolo 2016, 14.5% Abv.
With one of the only other Marenca Crus produced going into the Gaja Sperss Barolo cuvee, you know this is a very special site. So with Sperss 2016 garnering a perfect 100 points from the Wine Advocate, you would expect this wine to also show something extra special sharing the same terroir. This Marenca is almost like a subtle blend of the Pira Margheria and the Pira Serralunga Barolo wines with rich, plump, bold dark berry nuances, pink musk, charcoal embers, licorice and potpourri spice but also notes of freshly tilled earth, crushed gravel, iron and blood together with a fabulous dried herb and wood spice melange. The palate is deceptively generous and cool with seductively textured layers of blue and black berry fruits, cassis, black currant, purple rock candy, graphite and the most suave fleshy plump tannins I have tasted on a Nebbiolo in a long time. This really is classy and classical, yet supremely ripe, intense and just drop dead gorgeous. A very fine effort from Pira!
Founded back in 1958 and now representing a group of 51 growers with a combined total of 100 ha of vineyards, Produttori del Barbaresco under the leadership of Aldo Vacca has gone from strength to strength. The 2017 vintage certainly has a tough act to follow with the Produttori co-op producing one of their finest modern era wines ever with their 2016 release. But there is a reason that Produttori del Barbaresco is rated as the best red wine Co-operative in the world. Wines like the 2015, 2016 and 2017 exemplify top quality village Barbaresco! When they need to really deliver, they exceed expectations time and time again.
Produttori del Barbaresco 2017 Barbaresco DOCG, 14.5% Abv.
The deliciously serious 2017 is the product of a warm, dry growing season that perhaps pushes the 2017 towards a darker, deeper more broody expression. The aromatics are dense and rich, layered with black cherry, tar, melted black liquorice, salty cassis, maritime sea breeze, asphalt and perfumed violets. Where the 2016 was bright and more red fruited, the 2017 is more rustic, dense, tannic and slightly chewy in a positively Piedmontese style. The palate shows a sinewy, muscled richness and ample crunchy black cherry and black berry with tart bright acids, rock salt, aniseed root and yet more black tarry liquorice nuances. Always fabulously balanced and texturally tightly focused, this is another very impressive follow up to the stellar 2016 with the main components of the blend coming from the Ovello, Montestefano, Muncagota, Pora and Rio Sordo vineyards. Drink now to 2035+
Poderi e Cantine Oddero was established in the late 18th century by the Oddero family, who have lived in La Morra since the first half of that century. In the 1890s, Giovanni Battista Oddero began vinifying grapes, which lead to the winery’s establishment. Later, his sons, Lorenzo and Luigi followed in his footsteps. It was the first Giacomo Oddero, who started selling wine in bottles. However, it was the second Giacomo Oddero, who renovated the ancient farm and began elevating the quality and prestige of the region’s wine. Today, his legacy lives on through his daughter, Mariacristina, and his grandchildren, Isabella and Pietro, who represent the seventh generation of vinicultural tradition.
Located in Santa Maria, La Morra, the raised vineyards are naturally terraced and overlook the Langhe hills. With a total of 35 hectares, they cultivate some of Piemonte’s most renowned wines through the use of traditional knowledge paired with modern production techniques. 16.5 hectares are cultivated to produce Nebbiolo for Barolo and Barbaresco. Several of those vineyards are codified “Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive”, meaning they are prized for Nebbiolo cultivation, under the new Production Regulations (Disciplinari di Produzione) for Barolo and Barbaresco.
Oddero Barolo 2016 DOCG, 14% Abv.
Another fabulous Barolo blend from the exceptional 2016 vintage made from fruit harvested from three sites, namely Bricco Chiesa and Capalot both in La Morra, and Fiasco in Castiglione Falletto. Like all great Barolo, there is a beautifully classical balance between cool, delicate red cherry fruits notes, dried herbs, potpourri, red liquorice, smoky graphite minerality and hints of fennel seeds and dried aniseed root. The palate is taut, linear and pure with a subtle weight of red and black cherry stone fruits, hints of bramble berry and sundried cranberries with a fabulously fine grained chalky tannin finish that boasts notes of red cherries, juniper and hints of blood orange citrus zest. A structured and finely delineated wine with wonderful balance and intensity married with classical restraint that offers excellent value for money. Plenty of youthful mineral grip at the moment but you can certainly drink this now after decanting or cellar comfortably for 3 to 5 years before tucking in.
Barolo, Castiglione Falletto and La Morra are three of the most important villages in the Barolo area and also three sites where Nebbiolo expresses itself to its maximum potential. The soils in Barolo close to the Cannubi Cru sub-region are compact and sandy lying on slopes overlooking the hill of La Morra. The vineyards dominated by Nebbiolo plantings are joined by this unusually sited one hectare Dolcetto single vineyard of Roussot which lies on a South Western facing exposure. The vines are properly old now having been planted between 1975 and 1977.
Vinification of the Dolcetto grapes was carried out in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks with skin contact fermentation for approximately 15 days. Further elevage or “refinement” was carried out by ageing the wine for several more months in stainless steel enhancing the characteristics of the grape variety and helping to accentuate Dolcetto’s natural freshness and fragrance. Many might have pulled up these quirky old Dolcetto vines to plant more Nebbiolo, but thankfully, the Rinaldi family continue to nurture this special vineyard and sell the small but high quality production at very reasonable prices. A true treasure of Piedmont.
Francesco Rinaldi et Figli Dolcetto d’Alba Roussot 2019, 13% Abv.
The 2019 Roussot Dolcetto is a real rarity being made in a traditional style from fruit grown on prime Nebbiolo soils, something seldom seen in Piedmont. The bouquet boasts wonderfully vinous notes of lilac, white flowers, crushed rose petals over complex nuances of blackberries, wild strawberries, forest berry notes with a subtle limestone and graphite dusty minerality. The palate is sleek, finely polished and impressively fleshy with hints of tart black plum, black currants and black cherry, finishing with a subtle note of melted salty black liquorice and roasted almonds. Delicate but confident in stature and structure, this superb Dolcetto has power and intensity but also fabulous drinkability and mouth-watering vivacity. An incredibly charming wine that will drink well now and over 3 to 5+ years.
July 2020 sees the new release of the famed Gaja Barbaresco 2017 vintage produced from 14 vineyards situated in the municipality of Barbaresco. The land, at a height between 250 and 330m above the sea level, covers a surface of 21.4 hectares and vines are between 40 and 45 years old on average.
After the abundance of rainfall at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017, a suitable amount of water combined with the warm spring, led to an earlier than anticipated bud break, which occurred 15 days earlier than usual. By mid-April 2017, three days of frost had hit the Barbaresco area, leading to a strict selection in the vineyards which resulted in the loss of -10% of the overall production.
However, the sudden drop in temperatures led to a positive slow-down of the vegetative growth cycle, whereas the summer proved to be one of the warmest in the last 10 years. Overall, 2017 will be remembered for the healthiness of the grapes, due to the dry growing season and for the overall drop in the production which the Gaja estate estimated at up to -20% to -30% by the time of picking. The harvest began on September 13th with the Merlot, followed by the Barbera and ending with the late ripening Nebbiolo grapes on October 20th.
Gaja Barbaresco DOP 2017, 14.2 % Abv.
The 2017 Barbaresco is a vintage of low quantity but undoubtedly high quality. After the warm dry vintage, the final expression is one of concentration of fruit as well as acidity and tannins from grapes with a low juice to skin ratio. The nose is perfumed and inviting from the first pull of the cork, showing a complex bouquet of cherry blossom, rose petals, red liquorice, sour red and black cherries, sun raisined strawberries and a classical, cranberry and aniseed root spice. Powerful in the mouth yet notably fine grained in texture and classically mineral with sweet velvety tannins balancing the fruit concentration of red cherries, sour plums and hints of ripe blood orange. Despite the heat of the vintage, the wine retains impressive linearity and classical restraint more reminiscent of a vintage like 2015 while the fruit of the 2017s are purer, more elegant and harmonious and a little less plump, fleshy and rounded in comparison. A beautifully expressive wine showing fabulous freshness, precise and considerate extraction and a grand Nebbiolo intensity and persistence. Drink from release until the aromatics and palate start to tighten up and then over the next 15+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
(The Gaja wines are imported and distributed to the UK wine trade by Hatch Mansfield.)
Sicilian wines are now super trendy undoubtedly helped in no small part by the fabulous tourism industry on the island and the incredible gastronomic feasts tourists enjoy on their visits. Sicilian food is some of the very best! Wine too is part of the life blood of Sicily, just as it is on the mainland, but the wines of Etna are cut from a totally different cloth. They are not the usual ripe, plush sunshine offerings of Nero d’Avola but far more intricate, earthy, ethereal mineral expressions that have more in common with Burgundy than the Mediterranean.
So IDDA is an exciting new joint venture winery project between Angelo Gaja of Piedmontese fame and Alberto Graci. Together they own 20 hectares of vineyards in the villages of Belpasso and Biancavilla which are currently planted with Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. 2017 is the first vintage of the IDDA Etna Rosso red and a pretty smart effort it is as well.
Gaja Idda 2017 Etna Rosso, 14.5% Abv.
A lot of expectations are built around tasting this maiden release of Gaja’s Etna Rosso, the first from Angelo and Gaia Gaja’s new project on the island of Sicily. This is an archetypal Nerello Mascalese expression with fabulous savoury earthy berry aromatics, overt sous bois, hedge row spice, volcanic minerality and a high toned basaltic, stony dustiness that attempts to court the subtle fragrant herbal notes and dried potpourri sapidity lurking beneath. Unmistakably Sicilian … until one starts to imagine sleek Nebbiolo notes lurking in the glass. The texture is certainly classic Nerello Mascalese and teases the palate with the lighter, sleeker more supple notes similar to glass of Pinot Noir cut with a slug of Langhe Nebbiolo and its accompanying tannin rusticity. All in all, this is a very precise wine, expertly crafted and moulded with vibrantly fresh acids and a seamlessly polished accessibility. Never easy launching a maiden vintage of any wine, but this expression certainly shows the incredible potential for future, more finely honed releases. Drink and enjoy this wine now and over the next 5 to 8+ years.
It all started way back in 1886, when Paolo Conterno founded the Casa della Ginestra winery dedicated to the production of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto wines. A hard worker with a mind of great intuition, he devoted the most favourable parts of the Ginestra hillside to the growing of the best grapes, subdividing them by type, exposure and terrain.
He also had the foresight to predict a growing demand from a market of educated connoisseurs for superior quality red wines, leading to him selling his own wines in wooden casks produced in his own cellar. Succeeded by his son Carlo and his wife Giuseppina, the winery was subsequently run by Paolo and Caterina Conterno and now today by their son, Giorgio Conterno. As in the past, each generation has made its own individual contribution both in the winery and also in the vineyards.
Their 10 hectares of calcareous-clayey loam is favourably situated at an altitude of between 300 and 350 metres on slopes of up to 38 degrees, prevalently exposed to the south and in part to the south east. The Ginestra Cru in Monforte d’Alba is today one of the most important vineyards in Barolo producing iconic age worthy Nebbiolo red wines.
Paolo Conterno Barolo Cru Ginestra 2015, 15 Abv., Piedmont
2015 was a warm and opulent vintage in Barolo producing wines with great breadth, depth, power and concentration. The aromatics on this Ginestra are bold and punchy with layer upon layer of salty red liquorice, sun dried red cherries, pink musk and aniseed root nuances. The palate is ultra compact and powerful, almost muscular with a real intensity of sweet mineral tannins, raisined cranberries, stewed wild strawberries and a subtle, savoury, earthy, creamy textured finish. A very confident, ripe Nebbiolo expression from one of Barolo’s great Cru terroirs. Should drink well in its youth and also perform over the long term.
If the wines of Angelo Gaja are the Domaine de la Romanee Conti of Barbaresco, then in my mind the pure, precise, fragrant, linear expressions from Kiwi winemaker Jeff Chilcott must surely be the Armand Rousseau. Coming from a site famous since ancient Roman times, the Marchesi Di Gresy estate was originally known as ‘Villa Martis’ with its 11 hectares of single vineyard Martinenga Nebbiolo producing some of the best Barbaresco DOCG reds in the region.
Marchesi Di Gresy own the entirety of Martinenga and split it into three cru terroirs – Gaiun (2.3ha south-facing), Camp Gros (2.6ha south-west facing) and Martinenga (6.5ha facing south/south-west). This ideal exposure at an altitude of 250-280m contains a very special soil composition of blue marl (a mix of clay, chalk and limestone) which all help combine to produce wines of exceptional class, structure and finesse.
Tasting with winemaker Jeff Chilcott in London recently.
The owner Alberto is rarely over in London showing his estate’s wines but these days is more often than not ably supported by his daughter Ludovica and son Alessandro. I recently caught up with Jeff on one of his flying visits to London and had the opportunity to taste the range with him including his sensational new Martinenga 2015 Barbaresco.
Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco Martinenga 2015, 14.5 Abv.
From a warm year in Barbaresco, winemaker Jeff Chillcott recons they managed to make a very decent wine. Piedmont of course prefers the cooler years, but in 2015 they had to pick before the end of September. The wine is fabulously perfumed and precise with a piquant note of dried almonds, sour red cherry, pink musk, exotic cherry blossoms and red currant crumble. On the palate there is the usual impressive precision, purity and linearity you find in all Jeff’s Barbarescos. The entry is very seductive with a sweet pocket of spicy, pithy red cherry confit combined with a gravelly minerality. The texture is oh so fine, like polished marble and the acids fresh but soft and perfectly integrated. Medium bodied in weight, silky smooth and utterly seductive, this wine has enough ripeness, freshness and mineral tannin grip to allow good age ability. Definitely one for the collection!