BARBARESCO is often perceived as the little brother of the Barolo. Both DOCGs are Piedmont’s most cherished wine treasures, made from the versatile nebbiolo grapes. Barbaresco is, however, roughly just a third of the size of Barolo in terms of vineyard hectarage (734 hectares vs. 2,073 hectares) and bottle production (4.8 million vs. 14.1 million). While both Barbaresco and Barolo have obvious similarities brought about by using the same varietal, there are also distinct differences that can at times be subtle, but also at times be quite glaring.
For this column, I will only delve into the Barbaresco wines I tired at the last Nebbiolo Prima.
THE INFLUENCE OF WATER ON NEBBIOLO
Unlike the right bank-left bank distinction of Bordeaux from the Gironde River for Medoc and Saint Emilion, both Barbaresco and Barolo are on the same side of the Tanaro River. Barbaresco is, however, closer to the river than Barolo. Barbaresco also has lower altitude vineyards compared to its Barolo counterparts. Because of these two aspects, Barbaresco benefits from more winds coming from the river, which brings earlier maturation and faster development of the nebbiolo grapes and therefore lesser aggressiveness on the tannins. This is why nebbiolo normally ripens faster in Barbaresco, and Barbarescos are logically also released 14 months earlier than Barolos.
During the Nebbiolo Prima, we had the Barbaresco DOCG 2016 vintage, while our Barolo DOCG wines were from the 2015 vintage.
THE 2016 VINTAGE
The wines of 2016 can be described as a very good vintage. There were some concerns over the low temperature or the “late cold” that caused some delay in the start of the vegetative cycle of the vines, but the low temperature and the rains provided the soil with the right amount of water for the physiological development of the nebbiolo. Despite the delayed vegetative process, the consensus among producers was that ripening was achieved for the nebbiolo grapes. The high temperature in August and September helped the phenolic components of the grapes immensely. So 2016-produced Barbarescos are therefore balanced, with good acid structure, lovely nose, and are of great structure, but may have slightly lower alcohol contents. Good quantities were also achieved from this vintage.
BLIND-TASTED AND RATED
Of the 288 wines blind-tasted at the recent Nebbiolo Prima in Alba, Piedmont, 63 wines were from the Barbaresco region. From the 63, 55 were from the Barbaresco DOCG 2016 vintage, while the remaining eight were from the Barbaresco Riserva DOCG 2014 vintage. These numbers were significantly less than the Barbarescos I blind-tasted in Nebbiolo Prima 2015 and 2016. In Nebbiolo Prima 2015, there were 64 Barbarescos (from vintage 2012) tasted, and in Nebbiolo Prima 2016, there were a whopping 105 Barbarescos (from vintage 2013) in the blind-tasting schedule.
Different too from my previous experiences in 2015 and 2016 was that in 2019 I tasted and previewed the wines at least two months earlier than the usual Nebbiolo Prima. Several of these 2016 Barbarescos I blind-tasted were surprisingly approachable this early, yet there is a strong sense of much better development and improvement awaiting patient cellaring.
I gave 22 of the 55 Barbaresco DOCG 2016 scores of 90 points and above — this represented 40.0% of all Barbaresco DOCG wines tasted. While for Barbaresco DOCG Riserva 2014, I gave only one of the eight wines 90 points — just 12.5% of total Riservas tasted. The percentage of my 90 points and above wines for Barbaresco DOCG 2016 was higher than my Barbaresco DOCG 2012 grades (40% vs 23%), but slightly below that of one of my favorite vintages of this present decade, the Barbaresco DOCG 2013 (45%), my other favorite vintage being the 2011.
There are four communes within the Barbaresco DOCG region, namely: Naïve, Barbaresco, Treiso, and Alba. Of the 55 Barbaresco DOCG wines blind-tasted, 20 comes from Naïve, 15 from Barbaresco, 13 from Treiso, four from Alba, and three with no specific communes/blended from different communes. For me, the Treiso wines were the most impressive among the communes, with my top two wines (Orlando Abrigo and Pertinace) on my personal Barbaresco blind-tasting score sheet coming from Treiso. Also, among my top 13 wines, Barbarescos from Treiso contributed four of them, tied with wines coming from Naïve.
Note that Barbaresco DOCG required an ageing period of 24 months before commercial release, while the Barbaresco Riserva DOCG required ageing period of 48 months.
Here is my list of wines (and tasting notes) from the Barbaresco 2016 vintage which scored 90 points and above:
RANK #1-2: 93 POINTS
1. Orlando Abrigo Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Meruzzano — “subtle nose, like walking into strawberry fields, red berries, very balanced on the palate, flavorful, intense concentration but not jammy, just good fruit throughout long finish”
2. Pertinace Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Nervo — “sophisticated complex nose, vanilla, floral, vivacious, lovely balance, very integrated fruit power and bitter-sweet tannins, luscious all the way”
RANK #3-9: 92 POINTS
3. Ada Nada Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Valeirano — “nice bouquet, coffee bean, cherries, toasted, charred wood, very strong character wine, lots of fruits with power of oak, not for the faint but I love this wine”
4. Albino Rocca Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Ronchi — “caramel, raisins, like Raisinets chocolate, long luscious nose, jammy, very juicy, delicious from start to its long finish”
5. Cantina del Nebbiolo Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Meruzzano — “cherries, lots of red berries, juicy acids, tannins well integrated, a lot of depth and amazing to drink now but longevity is obvious”
6. Cascina Sarìa Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Colle Del Gelso’ Canova — “minty, cherries, pine, lots happening on the nose, sweet on the palate with right ripeness, very long and luscious on the finish”
7. Collina Serragrilli Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Collina Serragrilli — “very charming nose, lots of succulent fruits, more fresh than ripe, supple on the palate, delicious, balanced with lovely lingering finish”
8. Masseria di Delmonte Pierina Barbaresco DOCG 2016 — “candied nose, figs, overriped fruits, prunes, so much lusciousness, silky texture, and delicious from first sip to its finish”
9. Rattalino Massimo Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Quarantadue 42 — “fresh nose, fragrant but not over the top, cherries, tobacco leaves, peppery, tannins still on the rustic side, but structurally can be appreciated already, really for long haul, a wonderful wine for years to come”
RANK #10-14: 91 POINTS
10. Cascina Morassino di Bianco Roberto Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Ovello — “lovely bouquet, coffee latte nose, chocolate, silky on the palate, very supple, good concentration, well balanced”
11. Castello di Neive Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Santo Stefano Albesani — “strawberries, very fresh and vibrant, nice acid backbone, still vivacious, already drinking well, but still has longevity written all over it”
12. Negro Giuseppe Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Gallina — “very alluring nose, good complexity, graham cracker, red berries, juicy, deep with long supple finish”
13. Oddero Poderi e Cantine Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Gallina — “fresh cherry notes, very captivating on the nose, well-balanced and quite approachable now, delicious and ready to be enjoyed now”
RANK #14-22: 90 POINTS
14. Adriano Marco e Vittorio Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Basarin 15. Alessandro Rivetto Barbaresco DOCG 2016
16. Cortese Giuseppe Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Rabajà
17. La Biòca Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Ronchi
18. La Ganghija di Rapalino Enzo Barbaresco DOCG 2016
19. Moccagatta Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Basarin
20. Moccagatta Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Bric Balin
21. Mustela Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Karmico
22. Rizzi Barbaresco DOCG 2016 Rizzi
For the Barbaresco Riserva DOCG 2014, I only gave one out of the eight entries a score of 90 points. It was the Francone Barbaresco Riserva DOCG 2014 — “complex bouquet, vanilla, strawberries, nice texture, good freshness, drinking well now and very supple from start to finish.”
For my next column, I will go into my Barolo vintage 2015 review. Plenty of amazing wines once more to look forward to.
The author has been a member of the Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux or FIJEV since 2010. For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, and other wine-related concerns, e-mail the author at email@example.com. He is also on Twitter at twitter.com/sherwinlao.