On my recent visit to Piedmont I included five producers in the neighboring village of Barbaresco since I've often given them short shrift. Known as the Queen of Nebbiolo, in contrast to Barolo the King, Barbaresco has a reputation for being a softer, more elegantly styled example of Nebbiolo. While this is undoubtedly true, the accompanying sentiment, that because of this it can't quite achieve the heights of Barolo, also seems somewhat ingrained in the marketplace, and that is of course terribly unfounded.
Barbaresco will rarely have the sheer power of Barolo, but the wines are simply different, not less good. While that may be true there is in fact a bit of factual information supporting the idea that great wines are harder to find. Simply put there are fewer of them.
Fewer producers, fewer bottles, and fewer Crus, all make buying Barbaresco a somewhat more difficult proposition than buying Barolo. Add in the fact that the Cooperative in Barbaresco, the Produttori del Barbaresco had for years a near monopoly on the wines from this commune and you'll see why things are the way they are today; with numerous smaller producers sprouting up over the past two decades, still developing their styles and their understanding of their vineyards.
One additional point worth making about the dominance of Barolo in the region is that while these two regions are separated by a short distance they do experience distinctly different climatic conditions, with Barbaresco usually enjoying a harvest that precedes that of Barolo by a pair of weeks. We, even educated consumers, tend to think of the region as a whole and use the vague results of vintage assessments to help guide our buying in the region. That is a significant mistake.
After speaking with the producers and tasting the wines here it became clear to me that 2009 in Barbaresco clearly has an edge over Barolo, with wines that have all that upfront fruit that the wines of Barolo display but with a better balanced and riper structure. In contrast 2010, which looks to be epic in Barolo, is elegant and perfumed in Barbaresco but without the power of depth of it's siblings. The 2011s, which seem to be very promising in Barolo might be even better here in Barbaresco. The wines from barrel are full bodied, ripe, and intense, and in the words of Produttori's Aldo Vacca are " the biggest Nebbiolo ever produced here, biggest fruit, biggest alcohol, biggest tannins, an over the top vintage, but not overripe". And one last thought on vintages, the 2008s in Barbaresco seem to have outperformed their Barolo brothers.
Armed with this knowledge I continued my limited set of tastings in the region. It is always a challenge deciding where to visit when one has a limited amount of time in a region, and even when spending two weeks in Piedmont I sadly only found time for 5 visits in Barbaresco. As I have mentioned in previous postings on the Barolo producers visited this year, this year I was trying to visit Barolo producers whom I have yet had the opportunity to visit. That being done I look forward to broader coverage in Barbaresco next year. Having said, that the five producers I did visit offered a fascinating perspective into the state of Barbaresco today.
Marchesi di Gresy
Cantina del Pino
Produttori del Barbaresco
Cascina delle Rose