GDP on Wine

Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz

The Rare Wine Company presents Aldo Vacca and the Produttori del Barbaresco at Convivio 1/14/2009

Posted by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jan 20, 2009.

I was delighted to be able to join so many Nebbiolo lovers at Convivio last week for a wonderful look back at the Produttori wines from 1978-1990. I have long been a fan of and proponent for the Produttori and it is great to see them getting the respect that they deserve.

We had a broad range of both vintages and vineyards prepared for this tasting and while most of the wines showed very well there were issues with more than a few bottles. Some wines were too damaged to be included in the line up. Others obviously underperformed, damaged by storage over the years. Others still were excellent but obviously not up to the level that these wines can perform at.

Case in point was the line-up from 1978. Having enjoyed a spectacular array of wines from this hallowed vintage just a few months ago I was able to recall the pristine clarity and depth those wines offered. They were also served in better stemware which certainly played a part in their performance that evening but there was no denying that as a group they were fresher, more interesting wines.

I am fortunate to have participated in that event but without that insight I still would have come away from this tasting confident in the knowledge that the Produttori del Barbaresco wines comfortable perform at the second tier of Barbaresco producers while, costing significantly less. I say historically since it does seem that the prices have risen noticeably over the past 3 years, yet still these are wines that offer very fair value, as the quality has never been better.

While the current release wines are the 2005 Barbaresco Normale, and the 2004 Cru Riservas, a brilliant selection of wines, this evening was focused on mature and maturing vintages. We began the evening with a flight of 1996s.

1996 was a watershed vintage for Piedmont. It was the first truly great vintage of the internet era, released as they were in 1999 and 2000 after 5 vintages that ranged from abysmal to just plain difficult to appreciate. It’s not that these wines were easy or fun on release, they were and remain fiercely structured wines whose reputation is built on their complexity, balance and potential for improvement.

None-the-less when they were released they were accompanied by accolades from much of the press, who had been storing up accolades for several years blissfully unaware of the impending flood of accolade rich vintages that mother nature was poised to unleash. Much of the enthusiasm really sprung from the narratives of the producers. Recalling the great vintages of the past, these meticulous producers knew that the huge tannin and acid structures that accompanied the perfectly ripened fruit of the vintage would one day yield marvelously expressive wines in a classical vein. So how are they coming along? We had 4 examples to judge


This was wonderfully musky and gamy on the nose with a somewhat closed, dusty, earthy aspect to its rather masculine perfumes of asphalt, orange blossom and mortadella. Bright acids on entry with a lightly chewy mid-palate that offers up great, just ripe fruit supported by fine, stiff tannins. Austere and slightly rustic yet with lovely purity to the bitter cherry fruit that leads to a lovely tar and licorice tinged finish of moderate length. Quintessential 1996 and quintessential Ovello. Really textbook stuff but not in a particularly popular model. Just coming out of it’s shell this should be particularly long lived though I would recommend drinking 2011- 2025 92pts

In contrast to the closed and wild Ovello this was offering up a fruity nose with hints of almost jammy cherry and red plum fruits, big rose notes and gentle tones of forest floor, leather and candle wax adding complexity. Soft and rich in the mouth this is ripe and round with a dark, slightly tarry quality to the ripe fruits. A touch austere with moderate tannins and a crisp finish with lovely notes of bay leaves on the finale this appears to be at the beginning of it’s drinking window and offers less potential for improvement. The 1996 I would drink first 2009-2020 90pts

A return to a more closed nose with chalk and sand tones serving as a base for subtle lilac and baby powder tones to build apon. With air this turns lightly medicinal and offers up smoke and spice tinged notes of pomegranate. Soft and rich on entry then turning quite austere and structured as the tannins pop on the palate. This has a decidedly dark and earthy core of fruit supported by vibrant yet integrated acidity. The finish returns to a bit of a softer character with wonderful inner mouth perfumes persisting on the long finish. 2012-2024 89pts

Sweet at first then turning a bit deep this nose offers up compelling complexity with layered notes of tar, dried rose, slightly roasted beef and ripe cherry tones, a touch of anise and a hint of leathery brett. Really superb clarity and precision on the nose. Tight and taut in the mouth with a fine balance yet it’s packed with fruit. Still awkwardly youthful and tight there are feints of wild berry fruit that wash over the tongue only to be slapped away b the waves of ripe tannin that follow. A very long if particularly lean tobacco toned finish lingers with fine, fruit driven inner mouth perfumes. Really fantastic stuff 2012-2024 94pts.

As a group these wines revealed the lean, structured nature of the vintage. There is no doubt that 1996 is a great classic vintage but these wines will require time and will never appeal to a broad audience.

With our next flight we moved on to what is undeniably one of the truly great vintages of the post war era, 1989. A complete vintage combining brilliant balance, exceptionally deep fruit, and superb structure that is just coming into it’s own. Expectation ran high in the room when we were presented with this flight!


A decidedly leathery tone initially but then this really began to unfold aromatically yielding a fleshy, slightly dried cherry/sour cherry core of fruit with complicating notes of forest floor, bat leaf, menthol and cigar ash. In the mouth the attack features big acids and big though superbly ripe tannins. The structural elements are balanced and really well integrated into the tight core of dark wild berry fruits. There is a succulence on the long finish that draws one back to the glass for another sip. This would have benefitted from a better glass and more time to breath but is really lovely right now and still has significant potential for positive development. 2009-2023 91pts

Our bottle was decidedly advanced with a nose full of soy tones but there was a sneaky note of truffle lurking low in the glass. In the mouth the wine showed a touch fresher and in a pinch would have been drunk but it’s soft, earthy palate really showed this to be evolved and certainly not indicative of the potential quality. NR

This on the other hand was totally rocking, pumping out layered aromatics of dried orange rind, angelica root, floral tones, rosehips, sweet bay leaf, fleshy dark fruits and fine balsamic candle wax top notes. Aromatically fine and precise. Racy entry with superb balance that leads to an elegant mid-palate with rich ripe fruit flavors that dance around the mouth with wonderfully vibrant energy This is so lively and complex without huge weight. It is simply authoritative. Brilliant stuff 2009-2020 95pts

Montestefano - from magnum
This was tight and dusty at first slowly revealing subtle tones of dried rose, roast meat, and a horsy, saddle leather tone. Over the course of the tasting this retained an earthy core that recalled dirty root vegetables and become a touch tarrier. Big and powerful in the mouth with fine, ripe tannins and bracing acidity supporting fresh, slightly astringent wild berry fruits laced with notes of earth, tar and fresh mushrooms. Really nice cleansing finish. Certainly at or close to peak this should develop a bit more aromatic complexity but in the mouth it’s built to deliver power rather than complexity and I don’t see much upside on the palate, particularly from 750ml. 2009-2019 91pts

Our third flight, the 1988’s, certainly split the room. This is an austere, structured vintage that has matured relatively quickly. The wines are not as consistent as the best vintages but the wines do deliver fine, traditional representations of Nebbiolo.


Rio Sordo
Strong tobacco notes waft immediately from the glass. With air they are joined by notes of leather, tree bark, dried wild flowers, coffee and salted plums. In the mouth this is dark and precise with a cool bitter cherry core of fruit that is bright and fresh but rather uncomplicated. This is fine and really does capture the essence of bitter cherry with perhaps a touch of bitter melon rind but it’s also a bit short. At peak and lovely for it’s captured fruit. 2009-2016 89pts

This seemed a bit closed with its dusty tone but opened slowly if grudgingly to reveal a soapy floral tone, old dried asphalt, hot rocks, and subtle herbal/rubber notes. In the mouth there is the sweetness of age wrapped up in a soft, flannelly palate impression. Wild berry and lingonberry fruit with bright, supporting acids and complicating suggestions of dried funghi and forest floor. There is nice tension in the mouth and while my initial impression was that this was a bit short there was a sneaky return of wild raspberry fruit. A very nice wine that would have developed with a bit more air. 2009-2017 90pts

Floral and citrus aromas dominate the nose at first then fresh mushroom tones blossom to be joined by a bit of smoldering campfire and slightly roasted wild plum tones. With air this really gains depth and intensity with briary notes and a brilliant blackberry hard candy note. Lean and linear at first this was noticeably tannic and a bit low intensity at first but the core of dark berry and slightly jammy wild strawberry fruit really grew with time. This eventually offered elegance and enveloping depth. Still with a few years of upside potential. 2011-2020 92pts

Deep and earthy on the nose with roasted meat, minerally cigar ash, cigar smoke, and dried mushroom notes framing the blackberry fruit. With air this turns muddied and gains a dank still water tone. Fresh and rich in the mouth with integrated tannins supporting a very nicely preserved core of fresh, if simple, loganberry fruit. The finish has a bit of the bitterness of apricot pit or the nuttiness of amaretto with tarry, muddy accents. A fine bottle of wine in great shape but simply not at the level of the Cru wines. I would drink this sooner rather than later but it will remain intact for a very long time. 2009-2014 87pts

Our next flight, the 1985’s, suffered from a double whammy of a quickly evolving vintage and a new winemaker. For this vintage the typical 4-5 week maceration was shortened to only 2 weeks, still reasonably long but not enough to extract all that Nebbiolo has to offer. In addition 1985 is a vintage whose star is fading. Lauded as a nearly perfect vintage on release and blessed with favorably press coverage since the simple truth is that the wines are fun and beautiful but the vast majority lack the depth, complexity of the finest vintages and simply have not evolved in the bottle but have aged and in many cases, simply faded away.


Fleshy and gamey on the nose with background notes of old wood, earth and mineral. Just a few haunting berry tones recall the fruit. Decidedly better in the mouth with a velvety feel and bright red cherry and orange rind tone. This is round and mouth filling with crisp, moderate tannins and zesty acidity that leads to a zesty finish with fine herbal accents. Really lovely transparency and purity here. 2009-2014 90pts

A touch tight on the nose with sandy notes and a good violet tone adding some lift. The wild raspberry and lingonberry fruit remains intact and assertive. In the mouth this offers up a rich, sweet core of dark berry fruit. It has more obvious tannin than acid so it sits a bit heavily on the palate and finishes quite short, though there are appealing notes of licorice. This is a bit simple if fun and delicious. 2009-2014 87pts

Lovely aromatics here with seared cherry fruit built over layered oyster shells, rosewater and nori. The fruit takes on a wild tone and gains fine top notes of black tea and dried leaves. In the mouth this seems a bit washed out with a rich weighty palate impression yet subtle flavors of dark cherry and mineral. The acidity here is just adequate yielding a wine that is big, powerful and ungainly. 2009-2014 88pts

1978 is one of those rare vintages when many wines transcended their humble origins. The small crop of tiny berries yielded uncommonly powerful wines packed with tannins and all the compounds required for a complex, deep richly flavored evolution. And evolution is the key word there. These were not easy wines in their youth. They were not easy in their adolescence, and, for some, they remain a bit tough to appreciate but they continue to testify to the greatness of this watershed vintage. I love the wines and have found many examples that have only recently entered their prime drinking windows. This is certainly an unusually long dumb period but with classically structured wines from such a fantastic vintage it was certainly worth the wait!


Decidedly citrussy on the nose with scorched orange rind and classic notes of earth, mineral, sandalwood, talc, campfire ash and dried, fading flowers. Big and round on entry with bright acids and lovely ripe tannins belying it’s age. There is plenty of spicy red berry fruit here and touches of tar and dried herb adding complexity. This has really fine length but ultimately comes off as a bit heavy and clumsy 2009-2016 89pts

A bit baked on the nose with notes of clay tile, baked raspberry and hints of burnt marshmallow and, leather and cooked bean starch. Sweet with lovely integrated structure and a fine lightness, this remains fresh and elegant with round fruit but does have a bit of a drop out on the middle. The rich wild berry and wild plum tones pick up again and lead to a fine finish with notes of clay and flowers but the dip is a bit troubling. This probably is at or just passing peak so drinking sooner rather than later is advised. 2009-2013 88pts

Rio Sordo
This was wonderfully layered with a deep base of dried fruits and baked plums over which one found dried bay leaf, smoky earthy tones, asphalt and top notes of herbs, nettles and just a touch of ass. Aggressive and a touch astringent in the mouth this none-the-less is wonderfully precise and faceted with deep, extracted black fruits and spice tones. This was firmly at peak and really epitomized the power of the vintage. 2009-2017 91pts

Again offering a wonderful array of aromatics this started off with notes of leather and dried rose then turned smoky and exotic with tea tones, some chamomile and even a hint of jasmine. Eventually turning savory and deep with a tarry edge and a hint of shoeblack. Richly fruited though still slightly drying this offered up waves of layered flavor with chunky plum tones, earth, aromatic lift in the mouth from the VA. Turning a bit spicy with a touch of black pepper and a hint of roasted herbal tones adding some length. This is broad and muscular with fine balance. Firmly at peak and with a good future. 2009-2017 93pts

This offered up a rather unusual combination of beef broth, dried tomato, and cooked bean starch tones that may be due to this bottle seeing a bit of heat along the way. None-the-less there are nice hot iron and faded baking spice notes that keep the nose fresh and interesting. In the mouth this comes off rather soft and elegant with a tapered, lean, feathered feel. There are dark savory tones of coffee and dried olive on the palate but this neither feels nor tastes like a representative bottle. Certainly still drinkable 87pts.

Well that was it. In all honesty the flight of 1978’s I enjoyed last year performed at a higher level. All in all the wines were a delight to try, reinforcing my enthusiasm for the Produttori del Barbaresco as a benchmark producer for the region. While the 85’s certainly underperformed, and the 88’s are a slightly difficult expression of Nebbiolo to appreciate, the 78’s, 89’s and 96’s can certainly compete with the finest wines of those vintages. The wines produced since then are also superb examples of each vintage, and with the exception of 2002 every vintage since 1995 has produced wines worth experiencing.

I want to thank The Rare Wine Company, one of my favorite stores, for putting this together and finally offering a tasting here in New York City. Kudos also go to Convivio for providing a fine setting for these wines and wonderful dishes to accompany them. Special thanks should go to Levi Dalton, Sommelier, for orchestrating the wine service and Aldo Vacca, Managing Director of the Produttori del Barbaresco, for talking us through the wines. A memorable night for all of us myself included! Thank you all.


Reply by Eric Guido, Jan 20, 2009.

Wow Greg, you certainly have a gift for translating what you taste into notes that a fellow taster can really relate to. THis was a great night and in many ways I agree with your assessments of these vintages. However, my notes were significantly less detailed. I would say that 89 and 88 were my favorites. 89 for it's potential and 88 for how wonderful they were to drink right now. The 78's were a but of a disappointment with the exception of Rabaja.

Thanks for the excellent write up.

Reply by PergoleTorte79, Jan 20, 2009.

Thanks Greg. Enjoyed it. Did we have the same bottle of 89 Asili -- I don't recall those glories, and I am a slut for Asili.

Reply by Pymonte, Jan 21, 2009.

I certainly don't mean this in a negative way, but do you go around smelling everything you come in contact with? It's amazing how you can pull dried olive, burnt citrus peel and smoldering campfire out of a wine.

I'm always like, "Yum, this is fruity and sweet, with notes of... sweet... fruit... and... (sigh) fail."

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jan 21, 2009.

Thanks Eric and you're welcome.

Don't know PT. maybe not given the way things went. I certainly had a fine glass of it.

No offense taken Pymonte. I spent 16 years in the kitchen so that helps both in exposing me to a vast array of items that may be uncommon or unusual to come in touch with but also allowed me to hone my sense of taste, which is after all smell. I love boiled potatoes, I can tell when they are ready by the smell in the air. I have terrible memory but my smell memory is pretty good so I can remember the smells of my life from a day old campfire to the old leather boots in the attic or the notes a green walnut gave off 30 years ago. Just lucky that way I guess.

Reply by Ken V, Jan 21, 2009.

Here is a photo of Greg (center) and Eric (right) at the tasting.

PergoleTorte79, I don't know your real name, so I don't know if I have a photo of you.

Reply by Eric Guido, Jan 21, 2009.

Someone must have said something funny because I look really happy. Or maybe it was just the Barbaresco.

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