Visiting Piemonte last week provided a valuable lesson in understanding the styles and quality levels of Barolo and Barbaresco, the supreme expressions of the late ripening, often finicky Nebbiolo grape.
As you enter the gilded village of Barbaresco, signs of wealth abound, including the entrance to the venerable Angelo Gaja's estate. Gaja can best be credited for his passion in putting Barbaresco on the map as a top quality DOCG for Nebbiolo.
Of particular interest and amazement was the afternoon spent with Aldo Vacca at the Barbaresco cooperative, Produttori del Barbaresco, which Vacca has managed for the past decade. The notion of a cooperative and Barbaresco ( the "queen" of Nebbiolo), did not seem to mesh to me. What a surprise I was in for!
Bottle image via ablegrape/FlickrCC
Vacca is not new to Piemonte, he cut his teeth with Angelo Gaja back in the late 1980s as the quality of Barbaresco was dramatically elevated and became a serious competitor with Barolo (the "king" of Nebbiolo).
Vacca's Produttori del Barbaresco is no ordinary cooperative. He delivers the full range of single vineyard Barbaresco wines, an anomaly for a co-op. He purchases grapes from 52 different growers, each managing small plots of 5 hectares each with surprisingly low yields. At harvest time, if the grapes do not live up to his rigorous lab analysis standards, Vacca will not accept the grapes.
My personal assessment is that Vacca has raised the bar for cooperatives in Italy, using Barbaresco as an example of how cooperatives can truly make a statement of outstanding quality at affordable prices. Total production here is 500,000 bottles with nine single vineyard Barbaresco wines making 30 percent of the volume. His immaculate cellars are ready to receive the first deliveries of Nebbiolo in the weeks ahead, polished, shining and ready for the 2012 harvest.
The best values are the vintage bottlings of Barbaresco from multiple sites, delivering complexity, concentration and excellent quality.
I tasted the 2005, 2007 and 2008 vintages of multiple site blends, each one delivering distinct vintage character but always with powerful acid and tannin structure, elegance, concentration and finesse - truly fit for a queen!
Look for the Barbaresco 2007 bottling state side - an elegant, Burgundian-styled, feminine wine with great power and finesse. It is easy to find for under $30 and will not disappoint.