As the world gets back to normal after pandemic disruptions, new fine wine releases are also slowly getting back on track and becoming more frequent. Today I was privileged to join one of my favourite wine personalities, Gaia Gaja, for a true celebration of 20 years of Ca’ Marcanda including a tutored tasting and a preview of the fabulous new 2019 releases.
Magari is an Italian expression holding different meanings: “If only it was true…!” or “I wish…!” It is said to carry a sort of irony which usually leads people to smile, and I can tell you this Magari 2019 certainly made me smile with pleasure. Undoubtedly always one of my favourite cuvées in the range that includes the Promis and Ca’ Marcanda flagship Rosso, once again the superb Magari expression delivers something very special indeed.
Made from fruit grown on classic dark Bolgheri soils rich in limestone and clay, the three varieties were fermented and macerated separately for around 15 days before circa 12 months of oak barrel ageing. The maiden release was vintage 2000. Watch out for all the new, incredibly serious but seductive releases from Gaja Ca’ Marcanda Bolgheri.
The 2019 Magari is a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. Showing taut broody aromatics in its youth, this is a very serious linear Magari that needs coaxing to come out and play. Wonderfully dark fruited with cool limestone minerality, lavender, graphite and subtle oak spice notes, the palate is incredibly fine and polished, super precise and harmonious with a five star balance and intensity. The finish is cool, creamy and beautifully pure with smoky creme de cassis and a pithy black cherry elegance that very slowly melts away on the long, persistent finish. Stern but seductive and very serious! Bravo Gaja! Drink from 2024 to 2044+.
This famed co-operative in Piedmont dates back to 1894; forced to close in the 1920s because of fascist economic rules, it was regenerated and revived in 1958 by the village priest of Barbaresco who recognized that the only way the small properties could survive long term was by joining forces and combining their efforts. Today the cooperative has 56 members and 100+ hectares of Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barbaresco appellation, which amounts to almost 1/6th of the vineyards of the appellation.
Their Langhe Nebbiolo in particular has long been one of the greatest and most profound value reds on the international wine market, recognised and lauded unanimously by critics far and wide. With the new 2020 releases, it will of course take some time before a more complete assessment of the vintage can be formed and final conclusions made about the potential quality of the embryonic Barbaresco and Barolo wines in barrel. But like much of Europe, Italy experienced a warmer than average growing season in 2020 which resulted in an earlier than usual harvest. Current evidence suggests that the earlier ripening varieties like Barbera were picked in great health, while the warm days and cool nights proved perfectly suited for the late-ripening Nebbiolo grapes.
Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2020, 14% Abv.
Produttori del Barbaresco makes its Langhe Nebbiolo with declassified Barbaresco fruit (often from parcels on lower slopes) so production volumes are notably reduced in the better vintages when more of the prime fruit finds its way into their delicious village Barbaresco DOCG or indeed one of the classy nine Cru Riservas. This young 2020 Nebbiolo certainly shows great promise with an immediately attractive array of aromatics that boast dark cherry, damson plum, sweet herbs, blood orange and a slight menthol top note. Always wonderfully intense and potent, the palate displays a medium bodied weight of red and black berry fruits, macerated strawberries and sweet cherries with an underlying cool, suave elegance and a fresh acid vitality. The finish is creamy and plush with soft plump tannins, subtle piquant black liquorice notes and a pure, weightless length. Delightfully streamlined and accessible, this 2020 continues a fine run of vintages for Produttori del Barbaresco. Drink from release and over 5 to 8 years.
One of the oldest and most famous producers in Barbaresco, Giuseppe Cortese makes some of the regions most classically proportioned wines from their eight hectares of vineyards, over four of which are located in the iconic Cru of Rabaja. Producing wines according to traditional methods but using the latest modern winemaking technology, Azienda Agricola Cortese has managed to bridge the gap between high quality and affordability.
With new vintages recently released and on their way to the UK, today I tasted a snap shot of their new wines with one of their main importers, Wood Winters UK.
Giuseppe Cortese Langhe Bianco DOC Scapulin 2019, 12% Abv.
Using spontaneous Chardonnay fermentation in stainless steel before being divided into an amphora, a stainless steel and a large French old oak portion in roughly thirds for 9 to 10 months ageing before being blended. The nose shows hints of flinty stony reduction with almond skins, limestone, white citrus and dried herbs. The palate is sleek, polished and textural with leesy, pithy almond skins, wet river pebble stony nuances and a long, full, smokey finish with just a hint of marzipan. A lovely gastronomic expression of Chardonnay. Drink now to 2028+.
(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Giuseppe Cortese Morassina Barbera d’Alba 2016, 14.5% Abv.
Aged for 18 months in French oak barriques and large oak casks, the aromatics show lovely pure red and black berry notes with violets, cherry cola, red plums and earthy strawberries. On the palate the vibrancy and freshness shines through with a well balanced, integrated lick of oak, plenty of sweet spices, red liquorice and a fleshy full textured red fruited depth that is creamy and utterly seductive. Impressively balanced and harmonious, this is a whole lot of classy wine for the price.
(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Giuseppe Cortese DOCG Barbaresco 2018, 14.5% Abv.
Only produced since 2017, this second release shows a lovely translucent garnet ruby colour and an elegantly restrained nose of dried herbs, potpourri, red cherries, cola, blood orange and a hint of melted tar. The palate is cool and supple, texturally creamy and mineral with a lovely full mouthfeel, bright tart cherry acids, sweet red berry fruits and a fine stony mineral red fruited length. Very accessible now but retains enough stony fine grained mineral tannin tension to make this wine age worthy. Drink now to 2030+.
(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Giuseppe Cortese DOCG Barbaresco Rabaja 2018, 14.5% Abv.
The is a darker, broodier expression of Nebbiolo with plenty of black berry fruits, liquorice, tar, sweet truffle oil and tilled earth nuances intertwined with complex cedar spice and sappy sandalwood notes. The palate is bold and powerful with silky but potent mineral tannins, graphite spice, salty black liquorice and a long stony, pithy black cherry finish. A delicious expression that is surprisingly seductive now but will age for a decade or more.
After a high quality 2015 vintage that produced ripe, well structured wines, the mesmerising 2016 vintage came along and took the global market for Barolo and Barbaresco by storm. Luscious, powerful and structured but with incredible balance, freshness and intensity, 2016 was certainly a vintage that was not going to be forgotten in a hurry.
With impossible expectations set for the 2017 Barolo releases, this hot, dry and much more challenging vintage was never going to be an easy sell to the mainstream collector market especially after so many customers had dug deep into their pockets to go long on the lauded 2016s. But great wineries are capable of producing accomplished wines even in the tricky vintages especially when the fruit comes from a high class vineyard site like the Cru Margheria in Serralunga.
Cantina Luigi Pira Barolo Margheria 2017, 14.5% Abv.
The Luigi Pira 2017 Barolo Cru Margheria is an exotically perfumed expression from this warmer, dryer vintage showing complex aromatics of purple flowers, violets, pink musk, hints of cherry cola, salty red liquorice, creme de cassis, tart blueberries and melted tar. The tannins are sweet and powdery, fine grained and mouth-coating, balanced by a wonderfully juicy, tangy tart red cherry acidity and a plush textured mineral grip. The 2017 is slightly more accessible and slimline than the block buster 2016 but no less seductive, elegant and alluring. Another very impressive and expressive Cru Barolo from Pira. Drink this now on release and over 10 to 12+ years.
The 2019 Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco might be an easy-drinking wine but it shows all the sophistication of Nebbiolo fruit that could easily pass for a village Barolo with grapes often sourced from Cru vineyards such as Fiasco, Bussia, Fossati, Bricco delle Viole and Ravera di Monteforte. Indeed, the name “Perbacco” as the story goes, translates into a somewhat entertaining “golly gosh” or “wow” because that was the reported reaction winemaker Luca Currado’s mother made when she first tasted the wine and was told it was not a Barolo!
The grapes for this wine are grown in various selected vineyards sites mostly in the Barolo area and a minor part in Barbaresco. The vineyard’s soils are made up of mostly marl (limestone in combination with clay) and the alcoholic fermentation generally lasts around three to four weeks at controlled temperatures (28°-32°) with the subsequent malolactic fermentation continuing in stainless steel tanks. Each parcel is processed and aged separately until the components are selected to be included for either the final blend of Perbacco or else left to age an extra two years longer to become DOCG Barolo Castiglione. Total ageing time for Perbacco wine components is approximately 16 to 18 months before bottling.
Vietti Perbacco Langhe Nebbiolo 2019, 14% Abv.
Deep, dark and richly coloured, there is every suggestion this is going to be a big old wine! On the nose, the Nebbiolo fruit delivers aromatic layers of ripe sweet red cherries, red liquorice, hints of crème de cassis together with sweet herbal notes of freshly chopped parsley. But it’s on the palate where the true power and pedigree of this wine is revealed, showcasing intense concentrated small berry fruits, delicious purity and intensity, compact concentrated tannin extract and plenty of textured glycerol mouthfeel laced with pithy cherry and peppery spice notes. With quality and intensity like this, you can easily see why the Langhe Nebbiolo denomination is one of the fastest growing wine categories in the entire Piedmont region. Drink now with some rich wintery cuisine or else bury in your cellar for 3 to 5+ more years before revisiting.
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.