Barbaresco’s New Releases and More: Stellar 2016s, Difficult 2017s, Surprising 2018s and Highly Promising 2019s (Part Ⅰ)

The wines of Barbaresco are some of the most exciting red wines made in the world today. Grab all the 2016s you can, for they are the single greatest Barbaresco wines of all time; search out carefully for the better 2017s, buy and enjoy the approachable and slightly underestimated 2018s, and set some money aside for the promising 2019s, many of which (but not all) look to be excellent wines. Above all, be aware that a number of ’17s and ’18s are much better wines than you might have heard, so try not to let the good ones pass you by.

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When it comes to Barbaresco, let me be crystal-clear: it is one of Italy’s, and hence the world’s, greatest red wines. However, for a variety of reasons, many wine lovers do not seem to be aware of just how good the wines of Barbaresco can be and, more often than not, are.

The reasons that have contributed to the present state of affairs are numerous and varied. Undoubtedly, being a 100% Nebbiolo wine just like Barolo means that Barbaresco has always played second fiddle to its more famous, better-known, and bigger neighbor. And while understandable, the “child of a lesser God” view often reserved for Barbaresco is no longer neither correct nor justifiable, as I shall explain shortly. Another reason for Barbaresco’s relative lack of world recognition is that, for the most part, the area’s wine estates have always been small family-run estates that historically, with few exceptions, were not manned by especially media-savvy individuals. Also, up to ten-fifteen years ago the Barbaresco denomination lacked a critical mass of truly outstanding world-class wine producers. In fact, once you got past the wines of the twenty-five or so best estates, the likelihood of tasting uninteresting, forgettable or even flawed wines was not that rare (in fairness, this was never much the case with Barolo, where the historical average talent level of producers has always been relatively high). Furthermore, that Bruno Giacosa and Gaja (Barbaresco’s two most famous and truly world-renowned producers) also made Barolo didn’t help focus the spotlight on Barbaresco alone. Last but not least, unlike Barolo, Barbaresco’s history has been strongly marked by the presence of a large cooperative (of very high quality) that produces some of the denomination’s best wines (of Italy, actually) but that served as a convenient production outlet causing many of the locals to prefer selling their Nebbiolo grapes rather than making wine and estate-bottling. Not at all an illogical situation, given that up until the early1980s there wasn’t much money to be made from wine, a reality that led most of the area’s youngsters to flee the countryside and to look for work at local car companies and in banks. This meant that Barbaresco, a much smaller production zone compared to Barolo, had even fewer wine estates than it might have otherwise boasted, with fewer still of its wines exported. This lack of availability outside of Italy’s confines, or a limitation to smaller European markets, further diminished the likelihood of wine lovers worldwide getting to know Barbaresco. But times change, and things are different today.

Barbaresco: the state of the art

Good times are here for Barbaresco, and it is right that it is finally so. The area is one of exceptional beauty, with a somewhat more natural and wilder panorama than the highly manicured, vineyard-intensive one of Barolo and other world vineyard areas. Perhaps even more importantly to wine lovers, Barbaresco boasts an unequivocally fantastic and highly localized terroir that allows the production of unique wines, quite unlike any made elsewhere else in the world. Even better, the Barbaresco production zone is a relatively easy one to get to know and grasp, at least compared to most other world wine production zones of note. For example, the Barbaresco denomination is limited to only four communes or townships and sixty-six officially designated cru areas (what in Piedmont have been named Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive or MGAs). Compare those number to Burgundy’s 44 communal appellations, 33 grand crus, and 640 premier crus, or Barolo’s eleven communes and 171 MGAs. More important still is that in Barbaresco are located some of the world’s truly greatest vineyards, “crus” in the real sense of that term (a cru may be defined as a finite, specific vineyard area with a long history of producing unique wines of great quality year after year). Barbaresco crus such as Asili, Pajorè, Rabajà and Santo Stefano are in exactly the same league as Burgundy’s Chambertin and Musigny, the Pfalz’s Jesuitengarten and Kirchenstück (of Forst), the Mosel’s Doktor (Doctor), Scharzhofberger, and Sonnenühr (Zelting’s more so than Wehlen’s), Alsace’s Brand, Hengst, Goldert, Rangen, Schlossberg and Schoenenbourg, the Rhône’s Côteau de Vernon, Les Bessards, Les Greffieux, La Crau and other famous crus of the world. And I can make a case that Barbaresco crus Montefico, Montestefano, Pajè, Pora, and Serraboella deserve to be much better known and appreciated for their exact value too.

Furthermore, a new generation in Barbaresco is beginning to take over the family estates: unlike most of their grandparents and parents, these twenty- and thirty-something individuals have been fortunate not just to study abroad and visit the world’s better wineries, but also to taste the world’s best wines. This is important, for without knowledge and overall awareness about the world’s great wines, it becomes objectively very difficult to evaluate fully the quality of your own wines and what and how you need to do to improve upon them. Happily, all that has changed: these days, when visiting Barbaresco wine estates, I often find myself spending part of the time also talking and reminiscing about reciprocal experiences with the great wines of the Willamette Valley, Loire or Margaret River, not to mention Burgundy and Bordeaux.

And while many wine professionals who still don’t know better are still looking down at Barbaresco as Barolo’s lesser sibling, happily and importantly an ever-increasing number of wine professionals and wine lovers are more knowledgeable about Barbaresco today, recognizing its value and place among the world’s great red wines. And so it should be, given that Barbaresco and Barolo, though both 100% Nebbiolo, are not better and worse, or greater and lesser; rather, they are different, each great in its own way. Even though the Barolo and Barbaresco production zones are only a twenty minute car ride apart (depending on traffic and how you drive), the two terroirs are very different, and consequently, so are the wines. It really couldn’t be otherwise, given Barbaresco’s more temperate climate; generally lower average altitudes at which vines grow; softer rolling hills; and mostly blue-grey marl-clay soils that give faster-maturing wines of generally earlier appeal. All of which of leads to Barbarescos being generally (but not always) more politely-styled wines. This does not make Barolo a masculine wine and Barbaresco a feminine wine: both are in fact some of the world’s most tannic and powerful wines. Over the years, at blind wine tastings conducted all over the world, it has been obvious to me that very few people in the room tasting away are really capable of distinguishing between a Barolo and a Barbaresco most of the time, and only those with a large body of tasting experience reliably recognize Barbarescos among a bunch of Barolos. So much for masculine and feminine wines.

My tastings and the wines in this report

You will find wines from a bunch of recent vintages reviewed in this article, though clearly most of the wines written about are those of the 2017 vintage, released mostly in 2020.

I have been visiting Barbaresco (and Barolo) regularly since the 1980s and know the denomination and its producers exceptionally well. In fact, I began my tasting days with the parents of most of the people making wine today. More importantly, I know very well not just what their wines tasted like twenty or thirty years ago, but how they change over time, having been able to also follow the development of said wines over the years, learning and committing to memory how they changed over time (which is not at all the same as tasting twenty or thirty year old wines today).

As we all know too well, in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic made international travel impossible, or just about. And so international wine writers and sommeliers were left in the cold, unable to visit Barbaresco and all the other world vineyard areas. Only those who were quick off the mark and travelled abroad in January and a part of February were able to visit wineries and taste with the producers; a handful of other, mostly European writers and somms, managed to do so too in the summer months too when lockdown restrictions were temporarily eased. I was among the fortunate to visit wineries both in the first two months of the year and then again in the summer. Over the years I have made the visiting of wineries my single biggest priority and have always devoted the majority of my work-time and my savings to doing just that, paying out of pocket for flights and hotel accommodations. That sort of dedication and commitment to my craft paid off handsomely in a tragic year such as 2020, because I began visiting wineries in January that I had no idea would be precluded to me and everyone else only a short time later. And so I was on the ground running already on January 3, 2020 for five days straight (in which I visited, among others, Giacomo Conterno in Barolo and  Sottimano and Rizzi in the Barbaresco area). Then, beginning in June, the minute it was deemed safe to travel in Italy and Europe again, I immediately set out, literally travelling non-stop, visiting wineries all over Europe from June to early September included. And so while I was unable to visit Barbaresco and Barolo at quite my usual clip in 2020, I still managed to spend four weeks there.

In conclusion…

All of which is meant to say that the reviews you are about to read are the product of a lifetime devoted to wine and in this case, to the area of Barbaresco specifically. I hope my tasting notes and scores will help you understand and appreciate the area’s wines more; and that the article in its entirety will help Barbaresco and its wines gain more visibility and new fans. But this does not mean that I score wines with largesse. Producers have come to know me over the decades and generally respect what it I try to do with my articles: to educate for sure (and there is no hope of anyone buying something they don’t understand or know much about) and to be fair in my assessment of other people’s work. But clearly, this cannot and should never mean a rubber stamping of any wine that crosses the path of my rods and cones (because I for one do look at wine color, as it tells me an immense amount of stuff), as well as of my olfactory and taste buds. Though I realize people need to sell their wines, the fact remains that wine is an agricultural product and is therefore a servant of its environment; and in years in which it rains non-stop, or is hotter than hell, making 95-100 point wines is a tall task indeed. In this light, a vintage such as 2017 in Barbaresco can rarely give wines that score as highly as those of better vintages like 2016 or even of 2015, for example. It’s not a matter of taste preferences: but rather, of the consequences resulting from specific terroir factors (which includes human decisions made in the vineyard and the cellar) that invariably affect how the wine will look, smell and taste. Clearly, a little knowledge goes a long way in understanding the wine you have before you. Even in a hot and droughty year such as 2017, some areas in Barbaresco performed undoubtedly better than others: eventual producer mistakes aside, you would in fact expect certain sites to give better wines, and this just based on what you know about the sites themselves. For example, while the soils of Barbaresco’s Vallegrande and Asili crus are rich in the blue-grey Saint Agathe’s marls that characterize all those areas of Barbaresco formed during the Tortonian stage of the Miocene epoch (please note that “stage” and “epoch” are terms that refer to precise geological time periods and I use them exactly so; they cannot and should not be used haphazardly), those of the former cru differ from those of Asili because of a slightly higher sand content. This fact helps you understand why Vallegrande was at a slight disadvantage with respect to Asili in the warmer, but especially drier, 2017 vintage. Clearly, if you lack that level of knowledge independently of the huge amount of wine tasting experience you may or may not have, it’s hard to come up with a thorough assessment of the wines tasted. But many producers did make excellent 2017s and 2018s, and I hope my article allows you learn about wines and producers you didn’t know about or did not expect to perform as well as they have.

Last but not least, as is always my custom when writing about a specific wine area or region anywhere in the world, I try to paint as complete and accurate a picture of their current level of production. This is independent of considerations such as whether wines are imported or not, which are expensive, which are famous, which have big importers, which do not. This is why you will find that this article, like all my articles, describes the wines of not just the big, the famous and the well-known names of Barbaresco, but also many other estates you most likely have never read about elsewhere. This has always been my distinguishing feature as a wine writer (and not only when writing about Italian wines): I write about all wineries that I think are of potential interest to wine lovers, not just those that have importers or good PR agencies. Make no mistake about it, there are many high-quality estates in Barbaresco (and elsewhere) that deserve to be much better known than they are today. Taking Barbaresco as an example, three that immediately spring to mind are Ada Nada, Lano and Renato Fenocchio, estates that make very good wines that are more varietally accurate, more site-specific and generally just better wines than those of many better-known estates I see regularly on wine store shelves and wine lists all around the world. The wines of these three estates I have chosen as an example might not be as concentrated or complex or as showy as other wines from better known producers from the denomination, but they are very rep[resentatiove of the terroir they come from. And frankly, I want my Chambolle-Musignys to taste like Chambolles, not Pommards, or wines made on highly gravel soils to taste as such and not to taste like they were made with grapes grown on rich clay soils; likewise, I don’t want a 2002 wine from a rainier than rainy year like 2002 was to taste like a wine made in a drought-like 2003. Sometimes less is not less, sometimes less truly is more; and sometimes, more is just too much, straining patience and good will (mine for sure). For this and other reasons, I am especially proud of this article which is also the first article devoted to an Italian wine region that I have written for the brand new TS Wine Review of which I am Editor-in-Chief.

In ultimate analysis, I hope the article meets your approval and that you also might/will learn something from it. And perhaps more importantly, that you will enjoy it.

The recent Barbaresco vintages

2018

A very difficult year overall, the 2018 weather in Barbaresco was completely different from that of 2017. Generally cooler and fairly rainy, the 2018 growing season started late due to a cold winter (much more so than 2017s) with a humid spring and an especially rainy May. The vintage ended up being much better than initially anticipated because weather in July and August was quite good (though generally speaking, when it rains too much in May and June at a time vines are pushing growth, excessive water amounts ultimately translate into slightly dilute and softer tasting wines (too much uptake of water and salts such as potassium can lead to acidity dropping and slightly higher pHs). In some respects, 2018 is reminiscent of 2014, also a cooler, fresher and in some respects more classic year (but the 2018 wines are better wines, with more flesh and fruit than their 2014 counterparts). In general, many wine lovers will prefer Barolo to Barbaresco in 2018 if nothing else because in a year when structure and size are missing or not the wine’s strong suit, Barolos naturally seem to have more appeal. But though the jury’s still out, I think the best 2018 Barbarescos are easily the equal of the best 2018 Barolos, and oftentimes, the better wines (much as it was in 2011 and 2014, two vintages that were far better for Barbaresco than Barolo). Not surprisingly, 2018 was an especially difficult year for Barbera wines (the wines of which are best in hot years) and the early-September rain proved slightly bothersome to the thin-skinned variety like Moscato Bianco. By contrast, Dolcetto and the later-ripening Nebbiolo fared reasonably well, and this is why, on average, there are quite a few very good, easy going, fruit-forward 2018 Barbarescos to be had. Most of the wines will provide early drinking pleasure; and thought this is not a vintage of wines destined to become octogenarians, a few age worthy wines are likely to be found. In ultimate analysis however most estates will not be making any Riserva wines (keeping in mind that 2019 and 2020 are both vintages that look to have given very solid, even outstanding wines with many a Riserva produced). So 2018 is an excellent vintage by which to fill up with juicy, fruity lighter styled Barbarescos that will provide early drinking pleasure, wines that more often than not represent also great “wine by the glass” options in restaurants.

2017

The 2017 vintage will always be remembered as a tough one because of hail, late frost episodes and drought. Hail got most of the press as it hit hard on April 18 of the Easter weekend (but there were other smaller hail episodes too) greatly curtailing production in many top Barbaresco sites such as  Currà, San Cristoforo, Fausoni and Marcorino (as those names attest, Neive got the brunt of it, with production entirely wiped out in some parts of the commune). Some producers tried to make up for lost production volumes by using second generation fruit, always a risk because Nebbiolo is a late ripening variety and the likelihood of getting such grapes to reach optimal physiologic ripeness is less than good. Many estates did not make any Riserva wines, and decided against bottling any of their crus, preferring to make a (hopefully) stronger classico Barbaresco only. Producers such as Bruno Rocca made a single Barbaresco only; Andrea Sottimano (of Sottimano) did not make his Fausoni or Currà (Andrea told me that he normally will make eighty cases of the Currà, but in 2017 it would have been down to six or seven cases only, and so decided to blend it all into his Barbaresco classico).

However, 2017 was also too droughty, leading to unripe tannins because of water stress. Furthermore, temperatures stayed mostly high even during the early fall, leading to an early harvest: for example, at Albino Rocca they harvested on September 20, which is early for that estate. That said, it behooves me to point out that according to at least some of the producers I talked to during my winery visits, temperatures did drop in parts of Barbaresco in the beginning of September, creating those large diurnal temperature shifts which really helps Nebbiolo deliver more balanced wines of good color intensity. Relative to the heat and sunlight, those producers that were most careful about deleafing fared best in 2017, making fresher wines (and paradoxically, slightly darker colored wines in 2017 than they did in another relatively hot year like 2015; though actually less hot than 2017, as these producers had deleafed more in 2015, their wines from the latter vintage ended up with paler colors than their 2017s). Not surprisingly, those sites with older vines (which are characterized by longer rooting systems that can go looking for water farther down) weathered the dry conditions better. Whereas yellow leaves were a typical sign in many Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards I walked around in the late summer of 2017, crus such as Albesani that boast a healthy population of older vines showed very few yellow leaves at all.

For the most part, the 2017 Barbarescos are more about medicinal and botanical herbs than they are of fruit. Generally speaking (in this case rather generally), Barbaresco fared better than Barolo in 2017, just like it did in 2011 and 2014, especially in the sectors of the denomination that were either closest to the Tanaro river (proximity to the river having a generally beneficial effect on climate extremes) or located at higher altitudes such as in the Treiso commune (these sites being, for the most part, well-ventilated and cooler). In 2017 wines made from such sites boasted generally healthier acidity levels and greater lift. That said, for the most part, finding 2017 Barbaresco and Barolos with truly optimally ripe tannins is not easy. In fact, the less successful wines of 2017 are unfailingly marred by gritty tannins, and it pains me to have to write that a few very famous producers have made such wines. Some even went ahead and made their single vineyard wines too, which was not a good idea, and the end result so-so at best (at least by the usual stellar standards of said producers). Read my tasting notes carefully and see the scores and you won’t have much trouble figuring out who fell behind the eight ball in 2017.

2016

A vintage characterized by amazing weather where just about everything turned out the way producers would have liked it to, 2016 was also a year characterized by long hang time. The late harvest, that took place on average anywhere from in mid to late October  at most estates, gave exceptional Barbarescos of perfume, grace, power, finesse, depth, age worthiness and real complexity. The only potential problem with 2016 was that it was also a generous year, meaning that yields could easily get out of hand; in this case the risk of making wines with less structure than there should have been was real. However, excessive green harvesting was just as bad as not reining in yields at all, for it led to estates having to harvest a little sooner than they would have liked to, thereby curtailing complexity in the finished wines. But overall, 2016, a long season of generally wonderful weather, gave very elegant, polished wines that are truly not just great, but memorable. In fact, I have no difficulty in stating that in the thirty years that I have been following and tasting the wines of Barbaresco extremely closely, I have never before, I repeat, never before, tasted as many good wines. It is in my mind, 2016 is the single best vintage for Barbaresco of all time. It is one of those truly are vintages where you might want to sell not just the shirt of your back to buy wines, but your pants and your underwear too (just don’t go calling me when you need someone to get you out of jail for indecent exposure in public).

2015

A year of generally very good weather, the 2015 Barbarescos are truly excellent wines. But while it is generally remembered as a hot vintage, the wines of 2015 are special because they boast not just lots of sweet flesh and ripe fruit, but (for the most part) lively acidities that keep them fresh and vibrant on the palate. The key difference between 2015 and other “hot” (and usually vastly overrated) Barbaresco vintages such as 1997, 2003, 2009 and 2017 is that though days were warm (when not downright hot) nights were generally cool (especially in late summer and fall). It follows that 2015 is not at all a typical “hot year” like the others were. The best 2015s are full-bodied ripe wines that enter broad and luscious and stay that way from start to finish (for comparison’s sake, the 2009 Barbarescos were all fairly thin in the middle), and most are also beautifully perfumed and lively. Without doubt, they are wines that are very easy to like already at a young age.

I tasted all of these wines during trips to Barbaresco in January, February, July August and early September. As is my usual custom, I also tasted many other wines in my Rome office while I was still living in Italy and then more still in my new Shanghai office, the city where I live now. As releases are quite a bit staggered among Barbaresco producers, you will find a bunch of different vintages reviewed in this article, though clearly most of the wines written about are those of the 2017 vintage, just released this year (in 2020).

The wines and the producers 

Ada Nada.

In 1989, Giancarlo, son of Giovanni, creates the Ada Nada estate by joining his family name with his wife’s (in previous times the estate was previously called just Nada or Giovanni Nada; in fact, in 1989 bottles were still being labeled as Giovanni Nada. The estate owns nine hectares and produces about 50,000 bottles/year from typical Piedmont grape staples such as Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Sauvignon, and Barbera, and launched a brand new bubbly as well.

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Walking the vineyards at Ada Nada

2017 Barbaresco Valeirano        93

Luminious dark red. Perfumed aromas and flavors of red berries, flowers, and minerals are pure, precise and very lifted. A really beautiful wine that is like a red berry cocktail with a little alcohol. Finishes long and suave, at once light and lively but with sneaky Barbaresco power lurking underneath the airy, breezy façade. Very well done. This Nebbiolo plot in the Valeirano cru was planted in 1971, where there had previously used to be a grassy area; in Nada’s estimation and experience, it has never given, by Barbaresco’s more typical standards, extremely big or especially full-bodied wines, but rather wines that are always open before all her other Barbarescos. Aged in large oak barrels (30 Hl) for 20 months, this is a truly lovely Barbaresco that is easy to like and to drink.  Drinking window: 2023-2033.

2017    Barbaresco Rombone Elisa           92

Deep red. This is characterized by darker red and black fruit on the nose and in the mouth than Ada Nada’s Barbaresco Valeirano, further darkened by hints of coffee and cocoa that the Valeirano really does not have much of. Enters fairly big, rich, and dense, then tight and structured in the middle with still noteworthy youthful tannic bite on the finish, which is long and clean. This deep complex concentrated wine is the product of old vines (planted in 1947).  Drinking window: 2025-2034.

2017     Barbaresco Riserva Rombone Cichin                                      89+

Deep red with ruby tinges. Rose and apricot on the nose and in the mouth, but with more obvious hints of underbrush and coffee on the palate. Leaves a very ripe sensation on the medium-long aftertaste, but also a sense of drying tannins which I don’t believe will ever resolve fully, so it might not be simply a matter of how long you cellar this. I may be yet be proven wrong, and nothing would make me happier, but giving this five, six years in the cellar won’t hurt it any and it will no doubt smoothen over to a degree. Arm yourself with patience and see what happens. Drinking window: 2025-2032.

2015 Barbaresco Valeirano               92+

Bright red, this Barbaresco Valeirano showcases well why 2015 is such a great vintage: the better wines are ripe yet juicy, fresh yet creamy, just like this one is. The finish is clean and with precise Nebbiolo aromas and flavors. Even better, this pretty medium-bodied wine is not especially fleshy as wines from the Valeirano cru in Treiso commune always ought to be (to be clear, a Barbaresco from Valeirano that tastes like one from Rabajà would be a subversion of terroir, if not a downright travesty, much as a Musigny that tastes like a Pommard would be as well). So well done. Drinking window: 2022-2035.

2015      Barbaresco Rombone Elisa                      93+

The warmer site that Rombone is compared to Valeirano is well showcased by this wine, a true lesson in terroir if there was ever one: the 2015 Barbaresco Rombone Elisa’s dominant aromas and flavors (rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, with ripe, almost jammy red fruit lost somewhere in the background) are more reminiscent of southern France’s garrigue than they are of Nebbiolo and the Langhe. More typical red cherry and violet nuances emerge with prolonged aeration. Importantly, the tannins are smooth and provide excellent backbone to what is a very delicious wine that speaks of the vintage it was born in, and that too is terroir (after all, a 2015 Barbaresco should not taste exactly the same as a 2014 or 2012, and if it does, ask yourself, and everyone else, why that might be). Once again, bravi!  Drinking window: now-2033.

2013      Barbaresco Riserva Rombone Cichin                  95+

This Barbaresco is a knockout, and a real superb showing for Ada Nada, from what is a very classic, cooler-styled, Barbaresco vintage. This is only the second vintage of Cichin to be labeled a Riserva (the 2012 was the first), this wine is a considerable step up from that one (and as the 2012 was pretty darn good, you realize how good this is). The 2013 Barbaresco Riserva Rombone Cichin literally bursts at the seams with taut, pure notes of sour red cherry, raspberry, violet, rose, cinnamon, minerals and white pepper, while maintaining a remarkably refined personality throughout. The cool, vibrant finish is marked by noteworthy precision and focus and lasts several minutes. Even better, the 2013 Barbaresco Riserva Rombone Cichin is an essence of what great Nebbiolo is about, a real benchmark example for all those who want to learn what a great Barbaresco from a classic vintage weather-wise might taste like. Furthermore, it showcases just that the Rombone vineyard can in fact produce elegant wines in slightly cooler years (not just the fleshy, balsamic-accented wines most typically associated with this site, that while powerful and certainly quite showy, are not exactly poster children for refinement). The 2013 Barbaresco Riserva Rombone Cichin is a beautiful wine and I absolutely loved it! Drinking window: now-2040.

Adriano Marco e Vittorio.

2017 Barbaresco Sanadaive                                  94

Bright red with a garnet tinge. Floral nuances (violet, rose) mingle with blue fruit and red cherry on the nose and in the mouth. Showcases tight if noble tannins and balanced acidity nicely extending the flavours on the juicy, fresh finish. A lovely Sanadaive in the making; this is a very underrated Barbaresco given the quality it delivers in practically every vintage. Given that excellent Barbaresco can be pricey, I find this to be of Italy’s best red wine buys.Drinking Window 2024 – 2032.

2017 Barbaresco Basarin                                        94

Luminous deep red. Camphor and menthol complicate blue and red fruit aromas and flvours of noteworthy complexity. Fine-grained tannins are assertive and nicely support the ripe fruit present. The finish is long and spicy, featuring an emerging note of licorice. Drinking window: 2024–2034.

Albino Rocca.

This well-known Barbaresco estate owns eighteen hectares of which well over half is planted to Nebbiolo; more importantly, at Albino Rocca they boast vineyards in some of the denomination’s best sites, including Ovello, Ronchi, Montersino and Cottà.

The Barbaresco classico wines are made mostly with grapes from Meruzzano and Montersino and those of the younger vines of Ronchi and Ovello (the estate chooses to use only Nebbiolo vines that are at least twenty years old to make their crus). Although they could certainly bottle a Barbaresco cru from the Meruzzano site in the commune of Treiso, they have no intention of doing so as they need those grapes to make a better (and more of) classic Barbaresco.

2018 Barbaresco Montersino              93

Beautiful red color. A very typical, very likeable Montersino Barbaresco, boasting a fruit cocktail-like quality to its red berry, cherry nectar and botanical herb aromas and flavors. Bright, long and clean, this is fresh and beautiful wine that is simply irresistible right now, but will offer delicious drinking over the next fifteen years. First made in 2012, this is only the third vintage of this wine made by Albino Rocca. Drinking window: 2025-2032.

2018 Barbaresco Cottà                       93

Luminous red with darker ruby tinges. Lively aromas of red cherry and fresh berries, with a complicating note of herbs and balsamic oils. Very lively on entry too, then pure and fleshy in the middle, with a tight core of chiseled red and darker fruit flavors that linger nicely on the suave rich back end. Strikes me as a less fleshy and round wine than is usual from Cottà, a site that most often tends to give richer, riper wines than this one; chalk it up to the 2018 vintage.  Drinking window: 2025-2032.

2018 Barbaresco Ovello Vigna Loreto                    92

Deep red-ruby. Faded flowers, balsamic oils, Oriental wood and red cherry juice on the nose. Then precise and clean in the mouth, with a strong chewy connotation to the red fruit and spice flavours. Finishes long and clean, with a fleshy texture. Not surprisingly, this is much better than Albino Rocca’s 2017 Ovello, the latter a more difficult, hotter year in which Ovello’s sandier soil palced the site at a disadvantage. Albino Rocca’s Ovello holding is only 0.5 hectares large, almost entirely planted in the 1970s, with a small section of the vineyard planted more recently (those grapes of which are blended into the Barbaresco classico).  Drinking window: 2025-2032.

2018 Barbaresco Ronchi                    93

Dark red-ruby. Camphor and sassafrass complement discreet red cherry and berries on the layered nose. Enters sweet, then balsamic and tarry, but finishes clean with a strong presence of herbs and spices. Very pure and vibrant, this is a lighter-styled but refined Ronchi from Albino Rocca. Albino Rocca’s oldest Nebbiolo vines grow in Ronchi; many of the vines are about eighty years old (they were planted in the 1940s), but the average vine age hovers closer to the 60 years mark (still very impressive and a fact that goes along way in explaining why the Barbaresco Ronchi is, in my opinion, almost always this winery’s best wine). Drinking window: 2025-2032.

2017 Barbaresco                          91

Luminous red. Ripe red cherry with some smoke and minerals for added complexity. Very smooth and with a glycerol, easygoing sweetness that makes it utterly irresistible: this offers a nice mouthful of fresh ripe fruit and lovely balancing acidity. Even though this is not a Barbaresco that stands out for especially noteworthy length or complexity, it’s an absolutely delightful drink.  Drinking window: 2022-2027

2017 Barbaresco Montersino                      92

Vivid red. Small red fruit, chalk, flint, and rare meat on the nose and in the mouth. A fresh and piercing Barbaresco that finishes long and steely (not surprisingly, this is born off Serravalian soils) and that will please all those who like a more elegant, refined style of Barbaresco than a more voluptuous, obviously fruity and fleshy one.  Drinking window: 2024-2033.

2017  Barbaresco Cottà                             93

Good full red. Aromas and flavours of red fruit and sweet spices plus a hint of underbrush are associated with noteworthy tannic backbone, but the wine comes across as mostly rich and fleshy rather than tough and rigid. The fleshiness and breadth are benchmark characteristics of the Cottà terroir, so this tells you just what a tour de force Albino Rocca pulled off in the hot and dry 2017 vintage (in hot vintages, signature of site is usually lost, or greatly attenuated). An excellent Barbaresco that on the one hand is archetypal of what the Cottà cru can deliver, and on the other showcases the uncommon levels of talent of a family of vignaioli such as the ladies at Albino Rocca (because making a wine this good in the tough 2017 vintage was no easy feat). A slight hint of dilution on the finish drops my score, but this is a wonderful red wine.  Drinking window: 2024-2035

2017 Barbaresco Ovello Vigna Loreto                               89

Solid red. The nose is floral and fruity (rose, violet, red cherry, strawberry). Then fresh clean flavours similar to the aromas on entry, but turns grippier on the back end, finishing clean and juicy but with less overall balance than Rocca’s Montersino (Ovello is always worse off in droughty years such as 2017 because of the noteworthy sand content throughout sections of it). Albino Rocca’s owns only 0.5 hectares in Ovello, a small plot almost entirely planted in the 1970s, with a small section planted more recently (the fruit of these younger vines is blended into the Barbaresco classico).  Drinking window: 2024-2030

2017 Barbaresco Ronchi                               95

Deep, pure red. Very deep nose but currently youthfully reticent (rather than aromatically compressed because of the hot year) then pure saline red currants and herbs emerge with aeration. Clean with smooth tannins on the long fresh close, this hints at a multilayered personality and serious future development. A very deep wine that you can tell is going to be really great.  Drinking window: 2024-2030

2017  Barbaresco Angelo                         94+

Deep red-ruby. Dark red cherry, orange peel, camphor, star fruit and tobacco on the nose and in the mouth, plus hints of lavender and mint for added interest. Closes long and with noteworthy tannic bite; the tannins strike me as noble and only need more time in the cellar to smoothen out. Vinification is in 28 Hl Stockinger vats using the classic cappello sommerso technique; excellent, but currently less refined than Rocca’s Barbaresco Ronchi (the Angelo undergoes a much longer maceration -roughly 40-55 days on the skins- while the crus no more than eighteen, usually). The Angelo is made with a blend of wines from the Ronchi (50%), Montersino (25%) and Ovello (25%) crus. In general, at Albino Rocca they choose not to make too many Riserva wines (they did do so in ’04,’06, ‘11 and ’16), and in 2017 they made the Angelo. Not much to say here except that it’s a great wine, and those lucky enough to latch onto a bottle will be nothing but very happy indeed. Well done!  Drinking window: 2027- 2037.

2016  Barbaresco Ronchi Riserva                          96

Vibrant red. Crispy raspberry and red cherry aromas are complemented by herbs and a balsamic note. Very deep, rich and with insidious sweetness, this finishes long and powerful, with elements of red cherry nectar and blackberry cordial dominating. A touch of botanical herbs adds further complexity. The finish is saline and very long. This very ripe wine has an edgy freshness to it, and will develop splendidly. First made in 2004, the Ronchi Riserva is the result of the selection of the best barrels. Drinking window: 2026- 2040.

Bel Colle.

2017  Barbaresco Pajorè                          91

Luminous light to medium red. Small red berries, cherries, iron shavings, and rose petals on the nose. Then vertical and steely, with rich, penetrating flavours similar to the aromas. Closes fresh, long and refined. This might not be the last word in concentration and complexity compared to other Barbarescos, but I like its easy drinking charm and even more so how the greatness of this cru shines bright here.  Drinking window: 2024-2032.

Boffa.

2017  Barbaresco Pajè                            91

Bright red. Slightly subdued on the nose where there are hints of red fruit, flowers and sweet spices. Then rich and round, with mounting but polished tannins with very good balance to the fruit and spice flavours. An excellent wine from a difficult year, but the 14.5 % alcohol weights it down a little on the back end.  Drinking window:  2024-2032.

Bruno Giacosa.

Bruno Giacosa’s internal winemaker Giuseppe Tartaglino followed a number of harvests during his wine school days with Dante Scaglione, Giacosa’s historic consultant winemaker, and this background shows in the wise being made at the winery today. During my visit at the winery, Bruna Giacosa told me that, like many others, she believes 2016 to be a very great year for Barbaresco, am and that you really couldn’t help but make a great wine. In her estimation and her words, she views the best 2016 Barbarescos to be ideally an 80-20 blend of the 2001 Barbarescos (80%) and those of 2000 (20%). Very interestingly, Giacosa recognizes that the 2017 vintage was not just hot but also very dry, and told me that though she likes the vintage overall and believes it to have been successful in both Barolo and Barbaresco, she finds 2017 to be more successful in the latter denomination. That said, she believes the 2017 will end up turning out like the estate’s 2000, so that’s high praise indeed. By contrast, she doesn’t think that either 2018 or 2019 are especially great or fantastic vintages, even though the latter one at least is already getting good press. I had a really great time tasting with Bruna and her staff, and truly loved all the wines (don’t miss out on the 2018 Roero Arneis, a real gem, and at 150,000 bottles, you can find it without too much hardship). That fact recognized, I will say that one of the new releases of Barbaresco is without question the best Italian wine I tasted all year.

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Ian with Bruna Giacosa at the winery

2017 Barbaresco Asili (Etichetta Bianca)                           98

Vibrant deep red. A simply superlative Barbaresco that exudes very pure, powerful and precise aromas and flavours of clean fresh red cherry, Oriental herbs, tar, underbrush and minerals. Extremely well-balanced, multilayered and refined, this fantastic wine is an essence of Nebbiolo. The finish is long and suave, with a deceptively easy to drink quality and a complex personality that speaks of depth and concentration. One of the worst things in life is being great and having nobody recognize just how great: this is exactly the fate that befalls Giacosa’s Etichetta Bianca (white label) wines that are often overlooked by collectors and wine lovers alike who all clamor for, and run after, the Riserva or Etichetta Rossa (red label) wines. So I can’t help but think that if Giacosa’s Etichetta Bianca wines were people, they’d all be in therapy! All kidding aside, this 2017 Barbaresco Asili is a simply superb wine that, made in a relatively difficult year, is a testament to the skill of Bruna Giacosa and her viticultural and winemaking teams. About 13,000 bottles and 500 magnums made. Very, very well done, bravissimi! Drinking window: 2025-2047.

2017 Barbaresco Rabajà (Etichetta Bianca)                                 95

Vivid deep red. Intensely floral (lavender, gardenia, cherry, peony) on the exuberant nose. Then long and powerful, with a strong tannic backbone providing support to the rich red fruit and spice flavours. The tannins build on the long back end, and though very assertive, are not gritty. This really developed in the glass as the tasting wore on, gaining in complexity, power and depth. Bruna Giacosa told me that this wine was almost going to become a red label, but I think her decision not to go that route was very wise; you can tell that 2017 was a hot dry year, as this wine’s tannins are not quite of the level of her best wines, especially on the finish. But I am splitting hairs here, for this would be a fantastic wine by anyone else’s standards. Drinking window: 2027-2044

2016 Barbaresco Rabajà (Etichetta Bianca)                                   97+

Deep red. Ripe red cherry and strawberry aromas are complicated by leather and tobacco nuances on the expressive nose. Then bright and clean, with a big-bodied, muscular texture and tobacco and leathery echoes to the mineral-accented red fruit flavours. With its almost meaty fleshy texture, this boasts a decadent quality thanks to its softer, suave mouthfeel. A mineral tinge adds complexity on the finish. Currently comes across as more herbal than fruity, but I believe it has currently entered into a shut down phase from which it will no doubt come out with flying colours. Drinking window: 2026-2055.

2016 Barbaresco Asili Riserva (Etichetta Rossa)                                             100

Deep luminous red. Captivating aromas of sour red cherry, raspberry nectar, sweet spices, lifted by a penetratingly intense floral note. Then ripe and smooth, but with a strong mineral underpinning leaving a very refined impression on the complex, still remarkably youthful and austere finish. Boasts a panoply of fresh red fruit flavours (raspberry, cranberry, blueberry, red cherry) along with hints of orchard fruit (peach and apricot), complicated by nuances of cinnamon, nutmeg, and sandalwood. A simply fantastic red wine that is the perfect liquid embodiment of wine-related power, style, balance and depth. You really haven’t got any idea of the heights Barbaresco can achieve until you taste one that is this good. About 11,000 normal size bottles, 1200 magnums, and 200 double magnums were made; this wine will be released some time in 2021. Drinking window: 2028-2056.

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The new vintages at Bruno Giacosa

Bruno Rocca.

Francesco Rocca, Bruno’s son and now making the wines, is a talented and likeable young man who is producing more refined, less showy wines than his father but that are just as great, if different. Differently from his father, who generally liked to harvest a little early and green harvested a lot, then used plenty of new oak to fix colour, Francesco looks to improve the polyphenol extract by leaving the grapes hanging out on the vines a little longer and green harvests less looking to make perhaps slightly less powerful but hopefully more elegant wines. There is also much less new oak used than before (now down to less than 10% new oak plus ) and also a different source of the oak. The winery has moved away from Allier oak (which they felt imparted too much flesh and sweetness), preferring to use the oak from forests in northern France, where the oak grows in a colder climate and is characterized by a tighter grain (and so the wines turn out less round and sweet).

2019 Barbaresco                                    92

Bright medium red. Fresh, clean pure red fruit and orange peel complemented by spices on the nose and in the mouth. A politely styled Barbaresco that will prove a very good “wine by the glass” number in bistros and restaurants. Still has a long way to go before hitting the markets, so it will be fun to see how this promising wine develops over the next eighteen months.

2019 Barbaresco Rabajà                                        93+

Deep red. Cocoa and sweet spices plus a touch of underbrush. In a big, fat, ripe style that is not especially elegant but opulent and smooth. Think Mae West, not Gwineth Paltrow: but clearly, just as each one of those two movie star icons has more than her share of admiring fans, so will this showy wine.

2019 Barbaresco Currà                                       95+

Vibrant red. Very clean, very fresh, very long Barbaresco that showcases the pristine red fruit and mineral bent that typifies the Currà cru and all the best wines made from grapes grown there. A simply beautiful, extremely promising wine.

2019 Barbaresco Currà Riserva                                   97+

Good fully saturated red. Deep, concentrated aromas and flavours of Nebbiolo (think red cherry, raspberry, camphor, underbrush, violet, cinnamon) and polished tannins. A magnificent wine in the making, rich dense and focused, with a multilayered personality. Amazingly more concentrated than the entry level 2019 Barbaresco and the non-Riserva Currà (and given that the latter is an outstanding wine, it tells up just how good this Riserva is, and is going to be).

2019 Barbaresco Rabajà Riserva                               93+

Deep red-ruby. As is always the case, the biggest, fleshiest wine in the lineup of Barbarescos from Bruno Rocca, a wine that will appeal most to those who like their Barbarescos in such a larger, broader style. Saline hints of oyster shells really stand out on the long, concentrated finish, but their rising presence becomes almost too much of a good thing on the back end, which tastes almost shockingly salty (at least, it did on this day). Clearly, this wine is a couple of years removed from hitting store shelves and has all the time in the world ahead of it to blossom fully. I think it will be a really beautiful wine, and my score in two years time is bound to be much higher than it is now, hence the plus sign.

2018 Barbaresco                                  92

Luminous red. Clean and fresh, this strikes me as a considerably deeper wine than the somewhat simple 2017 Barbaresco from Bruno Rocca. Then very smooth and clean on the palate too, with a saline nuance that emerges on the long aftertaste. Another politely-styled Barbaresco from Bruno Rocca that will function nicely as a “wine by the glass” in bistros, wine bars and restaurants. This Barbaresco is a blend of grapes from the crus of San Cristoforo, Marcorino, Fausoni, and the low part of Currà. Drinking window: 2024-2038

2018 Barbaresco Currà                                 91

Bright pale red: I am not surprised at all by this wine’s relatively pale colour (and you shouldn’t be either) as I know from experience that the wines from Currà, short of bouts of enological alchemy, are always less dark than those of many other Barbaresco crus. Wine lovers need to be aware of this because the lighter colour does not imply that the wines of Currà are less concentrated or dense, but rather speak (allow me to add: quite correctly) of the specific place they are from, rather than of a formulaic winemaking method replicable from Napa to Langhe to Barossa to right bank Bordeaux. Aromas and flavours will remind you of redcurrants, strawberry, steel, flint, lavender and balsamic oils. The 2018 Barbaresco Currà enters slightly fatter than is usual for this site, with sharper tannins made that more obvious by piercing acidity and a hint of greenness in the middle, then finishes long, vibrant and steely. Or very Currà. Most likely, the green streak present is due to a July hail episode (July 18) that affected quality more than quantity (besides the risk of not sorting carefully and pressing damaged grapes, hail is a huge stress for plants; in this specific occasion it led to a plant metabolic blockade that lasted about 7-10 days and really made a difference in Currà wines this vintage relative to say those of  Rabajà (that do not exhibit any greenness). Still, this is a lovely wine that will match extremely well with juicy grilled slightly fatty cuts of meat. Drinking window: 2025-2037

2018 Barbaresco Rabajà                             94

Deep red. Aromas and flavours of red cherry, balsamic oils, cocoa and rose. Very smooth and round, with building complexity on the suave and long Nebbiolo aftertaste that showcases flavours similar to the aromas. This is the best Rocca wine of 2018: it is richer and fleshier than other wines in the portfolio of outstanding Barbarescos. Drinking window: 2024-2040

2017 Barbaresco                                    91

Bright red. Perfumed nose and palate of sweet red cherry and berries, plus a welcome smidge of botanical herbs. Fleshy and round in keeping with the vintage’s signature of riper-styled wines, but a little green nuance on the long finish (the droughty conditions led to a block in tannin maturation) leads me to lower my score. On the plus side, this is a relatively fresh wine for the year (in fact it has a relatively low pH) and it will likely age better than might be expected from a 2017 Barbaresco. Given the incredibly difficult weather during the growing season with hail and frost episodes hitting throughout the denomination at the worst possible times, this is the only Barbaresco made by Bruno Rocca in 2017 and though not the most concentrated or complex wine from this estate that you’ll have ever tasted, it’s a lovely wine for drinking over the short term. Drinking window: 2024-2037

2015 Barbaresco Currà Riserva                                96+

Vibrant good full red. Refined and elegant, with Currà’s telltale metallic nuance complementing the bright red fruit and floral aromas and flavours. A truly lovely, precise, focused wine that enters large and broad, and stays so in the middle while tapering on the finish thanks to rapier-like acidity and insidious sweetness. Another outstanding Barbaresco from Bruno Rocca and even more meritoriously, very Currà. Even better, though already excellent right now, I think this wine has margins for further improvement (and my score is already high, so imagine in a few years time). Drinking window: 2025-2045

2015 Barbaresco Rabajà Riserva                             95+

Another standout 2015 Barbaresco from Bruno Rocca: on the one hand longer, richer and fleshier than the 2015 Currà but on the other also (currently?) less complex and vibrant than that also magnificent wine. As always, the Rabajà is characterized by darker fruit aromas and flavours and is a touch more herbal and saline than the Currà. There is a real note here of “sea shells by the shore” that I found in a number of Bruno Rocca wines this year that, if not taken to an extreme, can add complexity and freshness to the wines, but it can be problematic should it slide over the edge into outright saltiness. Drinking window: 2025-2045

2013 Barbaresco Maria Adelaide                              94+

Notes of red and blue fruit, herbs, spices, licorice and rose petals are captivating. Lovely acidity (typical of the year) further extends these nuances on the long and still youthfully rigid aftertaste that features a slightly spicy and herbal edge, accented by bright citrus fruits. Very 2013 in its austere personality, yet there’s sneaky fleshy and elegance here. Made mostly with grapes from Currà and Rabajà vinified and aged separately (each spent one year in barrique, then the wines from the barriques they liked best spend another year in large oak barrels). Drinking window: 2024-2043

Ca’ del Baio.

I have been following this high quality winery and its wines very closely for at least twenty years now and firmly believe it to be one of Barbaresco’s top dozen producers. The estate owns 25 hectares between the communes of Treiso and Barbaresco and another five hectares in Alta Langa. Ca de Baio is owned by the Grasso family and was founded in 1938; the family is closely related to a number of other wine producers also carrying the family name of Grasso (including Silvio Grasso of La Morra, a very well-known Barolo producer and Pierpaolo Grasso of Cascina Pier in Treiso. Clearly the situation was a confusing one for everyone (“especially the postman, who could never get his deliveries right” jokes Valentina Grasso) and this ultimately led to the name of the winery being changed from the original Ernesto Grasso (or Cascina Vallegrande di Ernesto Grasso) to the current Ca’ del Baio (which translates to the “house of the horse”). Few people know that the estate actually began its life by farming grapes from Treiso, not Barbaresco, where they bought land in the 1980s. Ultimately their desire to bottle their own wine from the prestigious Asili cru pushed them to estate bottle rather than sell grapes to the cooperative (the 2018 vintage will be the 30 year anniversary as they first made a Ca del Baio Barbaresco Asili in 1988). Unlike a minority of other local producers I spoke with in 2020 during the close to three full weeks I spent in Barbaresco (and this in spite of the COVID-19 plague), at Ca’ del Baio they believe the 2019 vintage to be unequivocally fantastic, citing their Barbaresco Vallegrande to be the best wine they have made in many years from that area.

2018 Barbaresco Vallegrande                            92

Much deeper color than that of Ca’ del Baio’s 2017 Vallegrande. Reductive odors, earth and tar dominate the nose initially: needs time in the glass to show all it’s got to offer (I point out that, generally speaking, such a result is typical of Barbarescos when they haven’t finished the first year of life in bottle: tasted prior to that date, they invariably taste closed and shut down). Pure flavours similar to the aromas are nicely textured and last long on the clean aftertaste. Good news for wine lovers is that Valentina Grasso told me that they are so happy with their 2019s that they fully expect to release a Barbaresco Vallegrande Riserva in that vintage. This will prove super fun for wine geeks and wine lovers everywhere, for it will enable the comparison between two different Riserva wines, one from vineyards in Barbaresco (the Asili) and one from Treiso (the Vallegrande), a completely different terroir. Say what you will, but for me, this means fun times ahead! Drinking window: 2024-2036

2018  Barbaresco Asili                      94

Moderately saturated, bright red. Outstanding Barbaresco: rich and dense, boasting noteworthy sweetness of red cherry fruit and sweet spices, this is long and clean with a perfumed late floral kick rising. Fairly Pinot Noir-like. The tannins start smooth then turn just a tad grainy, but I think proper time in the cellar will help resolve them. Drinking window: 2026-2043

2017  Barbaresco Autimbej                    91

Bright red. Easygoing aromas and flavours of red fruit, lavender, leather, tobacco and woodsy underbrush. Offers early appeal and accessibility: I think this will accompany well pastas with tomato-based sauces and simple beef dishes splendidly (hamburgers, here I come!). Drinking window: 2024-2035

2017 Barbaresco Vallegrande                       88

Good full red. Rich and ripe on entry, but then turns tough, with slightly gritty tannins. Vallegrande usually has an easy to drink quality but not so much in 2017, the hot and dry weather posing a tough problem. I wonder excessive deleafing contributed somewhat? For what it’s worth, this has 0.5% alcohol more than Ca’ del Baio’s 2017 Barbaresco Asili, a wine that has smoother tannins as well (differently from Vallegrande, the team chose not to deleaf in Asili to the same extent: the oak regimen of the two wines is the same). At least for me, the wines are noticeably different in their taste profiles, and more so than just what you’d expect because of site-related differences (due to its relatively high sand content, sites such as Vallegrande are at a slight disadvantage in warmer, but especially drier, vintages like 2017). Drinking window: 2026-2036

2017  Barbaresco Asili                               92

Good full red. Minty balsamic nose and palate, plus the usual array of red and black cherry, rose, violet and balsamic oils. Very suave, this spent 22 months in large 25-30 hectoliter oak barrels (this regimen will change in 2019 when 50 hectoliter barrels will be used). This wine proves why there is real meaning to the world “terroir”: Asili, a true grand cru if there ever was one, showcased all its infinite class in the difficult 2017 vintage, with wines that on the average are much better balanced than those of most other sites of the area. Drinking window: 2024-2040

2016 Barbaresco Autimbej                             93

Luminous red. Perfumed aromas of red cherry, strawberry, balsamic oils and underbrush. Then similarly perfumed in the mouth, with a mineral tinge colouring the bright red fruit and sweet spice flavours. Easygoing and easy to like, I downed my bottle at dinner with almost embarrassing ease: mercifully, I have understanding friends. Drinking window: 2024-2040

2016 Barbaresco Pora                            97

Good full red. This is superb: finishes long with an amazing velvety, silky mouthfeel that is hard to forget. Not at all a blockbuster (and if you know the wines of the Pora cru at all then you know that is exactly the way it should be) this great wine was born balanced and downright marvelous. Aged in 500 liter tonneaux. This is not labeled as a Riserva wine, but the Grasso family keeps the wine one more year in oak than they need to prior to releasing it for sale, so for all other intents and purposes it’s essentially a Riserva wine. Only 1650 bottles made from 0.5 hectares, this was first made as a single cru wine in 2004. Drinking window: 2024-2050

2016 Barbaresco Asili                        96

Moderately saturated bright red. Knockout aromas and flavours of raspberry, red cherry syrup, cranberry jelly, marzipan, and cinnamon, all lifted and complicated by hints of soy sauce, rose and violet. Then dense, rich and deep, with pure flavours of spicy red fruit that showcase a mesmerizing multilayered quality. Closes long and suave, this is a really gorgeous wine. Drinking window: 2025-2050

2015 Barbaresco Asili Riserva                       92+

Deep red. Pure sour red cherry, herbs and minerals on the pungent floral/herbal nose (15% whole bunches used) and in the mouth, but I find this lacks just a little fruit for the sort of vinification and oak regimen chosen (cappello sommerso maceration and two years in new oak tonneaux, then one year in 500 ceramic tanks porous like cement and a further year in bottle (so in essence this comes out five years after the harvest). I have no doubt this wine will impress quite a few tasters who like big mouthfeels and aren’t bothered by worrisome tannic quality, this to me comes across as more skeletal than it should: I just didn’t find enough meat on the bones (you can tell 2015 was a hot year). Clearly, it’s such a young wine it might yet turn around with proper cellaring (hence the plus sign on my score). Nothing would make me happier, as I have bought some for my own cellar. Drinking window: 2028-2048

Ca’ Rome’.

Relatively young winery founded in 1980 by Romano Marengo who used to work at the Valfieri winery before starting his own estate, naming it Ca’ Rome’, or “casa di Romano” (which translates to “home of Romano”). He chose to establish his winery in what used to be his mother’s home. Maria de Brun (mother of Romano), must have been quite the lady, with the current family members crediting her with being the driving force and inspiration for Romano to start his own winery and in fact, the estate’s top wine is named after her the Nebbiolo grapes are sourced from the estate’s best vineyard, a south-facing plot characterized by the winery’s oldest vines from which they make only 3000 bottles a year and then only in the best vintages. Today the estate is run by Romano’s children, the sister and brother team of Paola Marengo (who has a background in tourism) and her brother Giuseppe (the winemaker). Though located in Barbaresco, the estate boasts vineyards not just in a prime cru of the latter denomination (Rio Sordo) but in the Barolo denomination too (Serralunga d’Alba’s Cerretta cru from where they make Barolo, clearly). Many wine lovers do not know or are aware that this estate was one of the first to experiment with the barrique in the area, not just with Nebbiolo but with Barbera as well. Both Ca’ Rome’s Barbaresco and Barolo age in barriques (only partly new oak) for a few months initially (mainly to help fix colour), after which the wine is moved into large Slavonian oak barrels (mostly 25 hectoliter large, though one is 49 hectoliters) where it spends its time prior to going into bottle.

2017  Barbaresco Chiaramanti                      91

Bright red. Very good, very fresh and very fruity at first, with lots of red cherry, cinnamon and herbal nuances. Beautiful and loaded with young Nebbiolo-typical peach notes that emerge on the long back end that finishes however a little tough and overly tannic. Drinking window: 2025-2038

2017 Barbaresco Rio Sordo                      92

Good full red. Boasts very bright aromas and flavours of red cherry, licorice and menthol, and tastes round, long and very clean. I especially like the pure and strongly red cherry presence, as well as that the wine speaks clearly of this part of the Rio Sordo terroir, known for giving elegant wines rather than concentrated brutes. That’s the way it should be, given it is wine we are talking about here and not an industrial soft drink replicable to be exactly the same everywhere. Drinking window: 2024-2038

2017 Barbaresco Riserva Maria de Brun                      95

Deep red. Perfumed, forward aromas of flavours of fresh red cherries, tobacco and sweet spices. Big, broad and quite tannic, but with good floral lift and concentration of fruit to stand up to the tannins. Forget about this baby in your cellar for the next ten years and then get ready to be rewarded for your patience. The grapes for this wine were actually harvested after the grapes used to make their Barolo! This is a major success in what was not an easy vintage, so well done!   Drinking window: 2027-2045

2012 Barbaresco Chiaramanti Riserva                 94

Very pretty wine. Bright red, then just as bright on the nose and on the palate too, with very clean, fresh and varietally accurate nuances on the long crisp finish. Nice balance here and plenty of stuffing. The tannins are quite silky, a feat of some bravura, given the tricky heat of the 2012 vintage. Well done. Drinking window: now-2038

Cantina del Glicine.

2016 Barbaresco Currà                               94

Dark red with ruby tinges, darker than the 2015 Marcorino from this estate (which is not at all surprising, as this is almost always the case when comparing the colours of the Barbarescos 2015 to those of 2016). Eucalyptus, red and black cherry, sweet spices, and underbrush notes dominate on the long, rich, dense aftertaste. Very noble tannins but with hints of youthful chewy bite that will resolve with time, I loved this Barbaresco’s long clean fresh delivery of Nebbiolo fruit. The 14.5% is not noticeable, telling you a little about this beauty’s balance. An absolute winner of a wine that finishes with a beautiful note of lavender. Drinking window: 2024-2044

2015 Barbaresco Marcorino                       94

Very focused, very clean and pure, it’s hard not to fall in love with this wine’s rich, ripe, long red cherry and sweet spice aromas and flavours. Downright archetypal, truly great Barbaresco from Treiso with its telltale steely core. Beautiful wine. Packs a ton of flavour and its 14% alcohol is not bothersome. Drinking window: 2024-2045

Cantina del Pino.

2016 Barbaresco                          93

When you taste a wine this good you realize: a. There is not necessarily a need for cru wines only b. The 2016 vintage truly is a stellar one and all it’s cracked up to be and c. The talent level at Cantina del Pino is noteworthy. Those three concepts just about sum up this wine, a beautiful potion of small and larger red fruits, minerals, sweet spices and almond paste that is remarkably easy to enjoy now but that will age twenty years without problems. Very well done here, this wine will cost a fraction of many others bearing names of MGAs on their labels and yet won’t be offering much more in pleasure or future development. Drinking window: 2024-2038

2016 Barbaresco Albesani                          94+

Medium dark ruby-red. Raspberry, minerals, bitter chocolate and musk on the nose, lifted by a lovely violet top note. Bright, well-integrated if high acidity provides verve to the red cherry, herb and violet flavours, nicely extending them on the slightly rigid close. This almost painfully young 2016 finishes with serious tannic structure and persistent black fruits. Needs plenty of time, but the nobility of the site is such that I have no doubts this wine will blossom into something special. Drinking window: 2026-2045

2016 Barbaresco Gallina                           94

The 2016 Barbaresco Gallina is immediately accessible to drink, which considering the vintage slightly surprised me, but the Gallina cru is known for giving polite Barbarescos of charm. This pretty wine from Cantina del Pino is all about suave red cherry and delicate sweet spices and flowers. It exudes considerable easy drinking appeal and will be best enjoyed over the next fifteen years or so. Drinking window: 2024-2036

Cascina Baricchi.

Founded in by the very energetic Natale Simonetta and his wife Francesca, the estate is rather unfortunately situated in the commune of Neviglie and not in Treiso: pure bad luck, as Neviglie is not (at least, not currently) one of the four communes of the Barbaresco denomination. Natale’s dad really loved Barbaresco, especially Gaja’s, and the Simonetta family has long had a close relationship with Angelo and his family. So much that Natale’s parents celebrated their 25th, 50th , and 60th marriage anniversaries with Gaja’s wines; and in the 1940s and 1950s, Angelo’s grandfather used to organize parties and reunions at the restaurant owned by the Simonetta family where they made wine for the restaurant and so developed a love for winemaking and wine in general. Today the estate owns six hectares in Neviglie, and 1.5 hectares rented in Neive and makes about 30-35,000 bottles a year. There are three Barbarescos made, the Cascina Baricchi, the Rosa delle Casasse and the 15 anni, all Barbaresco Riservas. When I visited the estate this past summer to taste the wines and check the vineyards out, owner Natale Simonetta was thinking of mixing things up in his portfolio of wines (introducing a new Barbaresco called Terre di Confine, and increasing production of the Rosa delle Casasse wine by adding Nebbiolo Michet to what has always been a 100% Nebbiolo Rosé wine). He has since changed his mind and I think it’s a good thing, given that the Rosa delle Casasse is one of the very few wines made with 100% Nebbiolo Rosé and it would have been a shame to lose that.

2014 Barbaresco Riserva Cascina Baricchi                              91

Bright red with a garnet rim. Has a beef bouillon quality to the red fruit, cumin, cardamom and other brown spice nuances (less cinnamon and more nutmeg, to be precise). Sweet, rich and dense with peppery and more cardamom nuances on the long, pungent close, this boasts considerable tannic clout. About 5% Nebbiolo Rosé here, but otherwise, this wine is mostly Nebbiolo Michet planted in 1947, 1949 and 1985. Drinking window: 2024-2036

2014 Barbaresco Riserva Rosa delle Casasse                            93+

Medium deep red colour. Herbs and brown spices dominate the nose, where floral and red cherry jelly aromas emerge only slowly. Then more woodsy underbrush on the palate, with building ripe red cherry and sweet spices with aeration, this finishes long and clean, but with a strong note of menthol and of herbs. I’d hold on to this big, strapping wine for at least another six years or so before pulling a cork. 100% Nebbiolo Rosé. Drinking window: 2024-2038

2013 Barbaresco Riserva Rosa delle Casasse                          94

Bright pale red with a garnet tinge throughout. Spicy, elegant nose of red cherry and berries. Clean long and coiled tight, almost laser-like in fact in its delivery of lots of brown spices, this comes across as both savory and sweet at the same time. A saline note hits late on the long juicy back end. 100% Nebbiolo Rosé. Drinking window: 2024-2042

Cascina Bruciata.

2015  Barbaresco Riserva Rio Sordo                       87

Bright, full red-ruby. Aromas and flavours of blackberry nectar, licorice, mocha, cloves and fig jam are at once roasted and slightly botanical. Fat and ripe but very extracted to the point of dryness in the mouth; closes with tongue-dusting tannins and an underlying green streak, plus notes of smoke and tobacco. Clearly, those who like their wines big, bold and mouthcoating and don’t mind a little over-extraction might actually like this. But if you want a truly great, great Cascina Bruciata wine, look for the spectacular 2011 Rio Sordo. Drinking window: 2025-2032

Cascina delle Rose.

2017 Barbaresco Rio Sordo                            93

Good full vibrant red. Precise aromas of red cherry, redcurrant, sweet spices and violet soar from the glass. Smooth but juicy on entry, with solid floral lift in the middle to the flavours of strawberry, licorice, minerals and herbs. Boasts better than average acidity for the year, not to mention noteworthy balance, closing nicely with rather supple tannins. Very attractive wine that’s quite easy to enjoy right now but that will repay three to four years of proper cellaring. Drinking window: 2024-2040

2017 Barbaresco Tre Stelle                               91

Unlike Cascina delle Rose’s Barbaresco Rio Sordo, the Tre Stelle bottling clearly tells that it is a product of a hot year. Very ripe red cherry, plum jam, kirsch, mint and woodsy underbrush dominate on the nose and in the mouth. That said, the wine boasts noteworthy harmonious acidity to keep it pliant and juicy, without any undue heaviness or angular aspects. Personally, I prefer the somewhat more restrained Rio Sordo, but I can see why some wine lovers might be smitten with this wine instead. Drinking window: 2024-2038

Cascina Luisin.

Officially founded in 1913, when current owner’s Roberto Minuto great-grandfather Luigi (nicknamed Luisin, hence the estate name) built the building the winery is housed in, it’s actually nine generations and counting that the Luisin clan was busy making wines in the area. This is one of the oldest winemaking families of Barbaresco (in fact, in the 1950s, Luigi and Mario Minuto split the family estate in two and so the Cascina Luisin and Moccagatta estates were born. At Cascina Luisin they are big believers in the importance of the Barbaresco classico, which was always the typical wine of the area (crus started appearing only in the 1960s) and also of the traditional winemaking practices. For this reason, the estate releases its wines one year later than most people in the area, and uses cement vats in which to carry out the alcoholic fermentation, aging the wines in large Slavonian oak 20-40 hectoliter barrels for a minimum of 30 months. The estate owns eight hectares practically all planted to old vines, and makes 45000 bottles a year. Most importantly, Cascina Luisin is, along with Bruno Giacosa, only one of two estates (the cooperative of Produttori di Barbaresco aside) in all of Barbaresco that makes wines from the commune’s two most prestigious sites, Asili (where the estate owns 0.5 hectares of roughly 58 years old vines) and Rabajà (Cascina Luisin owns 0.8 hectares of 43 years old vines). The Barbaresco Paolin is instead a blend of two other well-known Barbaresco crus (80% Basarin and 20% Muncagota).

2016 Barbaresco Paolin               92

Good full red. Clean fresh easygoing, with suave flavours of red fruit and minerals. A complicating note of spices adds interest on the medium-long finish. Lovely Barbaresco. Drinking window: 2024-2034

2016 Barbaresco Asili                     94

Deep red. Very steely and floral on the nose and in the mouth, this features a hint of mint on the long close. Lovely and refined, the 2016 Barbaresco Asili is a very perfumed Barbaresco that still boasts noteworthy size and flesh. Every time you drink a good wine from Asili you realize just how truly noble a site it is for Nebbiolo. In the words of George Orwell, we are all equal, but some are more equal than others, and Asili shows why it is a real grand cru in the true sense of those two words. Drinking window: 2024-2044

2016 Barbaresco Rabajà                  95

Moderately saturated bright red. Enticing aromas of red cherry, roses, violet, Oriental spices and leather. Boasts a very forthcoming, ripe and fleshy texture of herb-accented red fruit. An amazingly intense note of rosemary closes things out on the long suave finish. Strikes me as a bit deeper and richer than the other 2016s I tasted at the estate, which is saying something how good all the other 2016 Cascina Luisin wines are. Drinking window: 2025-2045

2015  Barbaresco Asili                           93+

An interesting wine that presents the dichotomy of a very exuberant and showy Asili-like nose (but that is actually almost Rabajà-like), then reverts back to a more Asili-like austerity on the palate where it is slightly less showy and taut. Closes with repeating pure red fruit nuances but a still fairly closed, reticent personality. But there’s good tannic support to the red fruit flavours, and this well-balanced wine will no doubt age very well. Drinking window: 2024-2042

2015  Barbaresco Rabajà                            93

Always a showstopper, but actually less exuberant and forward than might have been expected on the nose given the ripeness the year was characterized by. The almost austere nose by Rabajà standards is most likely the consequence of having picked the grapes much sooner than usual in 2015 fearing the season’s hot weather (the grapes were picked around October 5 in 2015, while in almost all other years, it is seven days or later than that). A touch of alcohol shows on the ripe, smooth long finish. Drinking window: 2024-2040

2015  Barbaresco Riserva                           96

Deep luminous red. Noble aromas and flavours of sour red cherry, raspberry, marzipan and cinnamon, with a dusting of minerals. This is excellent: long, rich and clean, a sweet, round, luscious, velvety, suave, truly fantastic wine. This is the first ever Riserva the estate has made, a wine that was born as an experiment (in fact only 1500 bottles were made), inasmuch they wanted to combine the grapes from a very fresh microclimate and then see how long they could keep the wine on the skins (up to 90 days!) The grapes are sourced from the estate’s two Rabajà plots. Drinking window: 2024-2048

Cascina Morassino.

2017  Barbaresco Morassino                      88

Deep red. A little too dominated by oak on the nose and in the mouth, with notes of ripe red cherries macerated in alcohol vying for attention with other oak-derived notes of chocolate and herbs. A big ripe style that needs some time to develop greater finesse but that is not wholly in my chords. The 14.5% alcohol tastes like it is even more than that; in any case, the alcohol clout is such that it blurs the fruit somewhat. Drinking window: 2024-2035

2017 Barbaresco Ovello                   91

Bright dark red, but less deep than the 2017 Morassino. Floral nuances to the red cherry and sweet spice notes have an herbal nuance and a considerable oaky overlay (a new cask was used). Then at once steely and fleshy, with hints of cinnamon complicating the red fruit notes. I liked this much much more than the Morassino, even though I find it’s 15% alcohol stands out somewhat on the aftertaste. Drinking window: 2024-2034

Cascina Occellini.

2017  Barbaresco Castellizzano                     90

Dark red. A little subtle on the nose, most likely the result of the aromatic compression typical of hot and dry years such as 2017. Well balanced if not particularly concentrated or complex but this is smooth and very easy to drink, offering pretty nuances of faded flowers and red fruits. This winery is located in Madonna di Como but the vines from where the grapes are sourced are in the Treiso area. Drinking window: 2024-2034

Cascina Rabaglio.

2017  Barbaresco Gaia Principe                            91

Dark red. Subdued perfume hints at roses and red cherry, with a dusting of herbs. Then rich, ripe and mountingly tannic, though it avoids becoming bitter or gritty thanks to just enough fruit to balance the rather assertive, youthfully chewy tannins. A dark fruit component with hints of balsamic oils, botanical herbs and even chocolate lingers on the finish. A distinctive Barbaresco, dominated more by herbal than fruity elements that I personally like as much as others might. That said, this is a fine wine that will have a lot of fans. A little time in the cellar will help it to develop more nuance. Drinking window: 2024-2035

Castello Di Neive.

This historic estate owns 27 hectares, eleven of which planted to Nebbiolo. It boasts ownership of what may well be the single greatest cru of all Barbaresco, the famous Santo Stefano, located within the larger Albesani MGA, but also makes a lovely Barbaresco from the Gallina cru. Grapes from crus such as Serracapelli and San Cristoforo are blended together with a little from both Gallina and Santo Stefano to make their Barbaresco Classico. The wines are always elegant and politely-styled and are good value for the money. Many wine lovers do not know that Castello di Neive was at the forefront of the rebirth of Arneis, the white grape typical of the Roero. While Bruno Giacosa and Alfredo Currado of Vietti deserve credit for having believed in Arneis’s potential, most of the modern-day clonal research was done at Castello di Neive and the clone most everyone has planted in the Langhe was developed at this estate.

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2018  Barbaresco                       91

Luminous red. Fresh and breezy, with very good, precise, clean aromas and flavours of red berries and plums nicely supported by some youthfully chewy tannin on the long, perfumed finish. This Barbaresco is a typical example Castello di Neive’s politely styled wines, that are neither dilute nor thin, but rather refined and graceful. Given this Barbaresco’s easy drinking charm and accessible cost, it represents a lovely “wine by the glass” possibility for restaurants, bistros and wine bars that in so doing will be giving wine lovers everywhere a chance to enjoy a really nice Barbaresco without having to mortgage the house. Drinking window: 2025-2038

2018  Barbaresco Gallina                          92

Good full red. Easygoing, politely styled Barbaresco that speaks of ripe red cherry, raspberry and violets. A hint of red rose petals emerges on the suave smooth and slightly saline, long, back end. Drinking window: 2024-2040

2018  Barbaresco Albesani Santo Stefano                                 94

Deep red. Beautifully balanced wine of great freshness and sweetness of fruit. Closes long and clean, with a nicely focused delivery of pure mineral-accented red berries. When you have a stellar site and a competent winemaker, the crystalline class of a great terroir unfailingly shines in the glass. Santo Stefano di Neive is one of Italy’s ten best vineyards of all, an utterly magical place in which to grow Nebbiolo, a reality a wine such as this one showcases clearly, and then some, at every sip. Drinking window: 2025-2045

2017  Barbaresco                             89

Good bright red. Herbs and tar on the nose complement red cherry, plums and violet aromas. Enters sweet and ripe, then turns mountingly tannic: I worry the polyphenols didn’t reach optimal ripeness in the problematically warm and droughty 2017 year. Aged in large 33-37 hectoliter oak barrels, wine lovers will like to know that there’s a lot more Santo Stefano fruit in this wine than usual, because in 2017 hail ravaged many of this estate’s vineyards. Drinking window: 2025-2035

2017  Barbaresco Gallina                            91+

Bright red. Enters clean and fresh, with good, insidious sweetness to the ripe red fruit, but risingly tannic on the long, tactile finish. A very pretty wine that punches way above its weight class, should those tannins resolve nicely with a little judicious cellaring, my score will look ungenerous (hence the plus sign indicating the score might be higher in the years to come). Drinking window: 2024-2038

2017 Barbaresco Albesani Santo Stefano                         94

Good full red. Perfumed aromas of ripe red cherry, balsamic oils, licorice, camphor, red rose and violet, complicated by hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. Well balanced and suave, the spicy red cherry flavours and the floral nuances gained noticeably in complexity with aeration. A very deep, rich, round and fleshy Barbaresco that is extremely impressive, and that finishes long and pure. The repeating floral and sweet brown spicy note speaks of the presence of Nebbiolo Rose’ in the blend. About 85% of the vineyard is fifty years old and he remaining 15% is nineteen years old. Drinking window: 2024-2046

2015  Barbaresco Riserva Albesani Santo Stefano                           95

Good medium red. Hints of leather and underbrush complement apricot and red cherry on the nose and in the mouth. Initially slightly reduced, then opens with aeration to reveal a nicely saline, interest-adding note to the tarry red fruit and herb flavours on the smooth long finish. A very complex, very traditional wine that needs air to show its best side, so decant at least two to three hours ahead. Drinking window: 2025-2048

Castello di Verduno.

The castle’s cellar was built at the end of the 16th century and the wine estate is now being run by the fourth generation her dad and the fifth generation, represented by Marcella. In 1953 the family opened a hotel and restaurant, then in the 1960s started to make wine. Today, m Castello di Verduno boasts twelve hectares and produces 80,000 bottles/year (amongst which there are, count’em, three different Barolos and three Barbarescsos). The estate owns vineyards in prime crus including Rabajà (1.2hectares), Rabajà-Bas (0.65 hectares), and Faset (0.9 hectares).

2017 Barbaresco                93

Bright red. Captivating aromas of red rose petals and orange oil greet the nose. Then still more floral nuances in the mouth, along with notes of citrus fruits, red cherry and red berry flavours that are nicely supported by a strong acid spine and smooth tannins. Finishes with very good repeating rose petal reminders and an almost shrill high acid presence that leaves an impression of vibrancy and lift. This is a really lovely Barbaresco that will prove very easy to drink at a young age and that will match splendidly with many different dishes. Congratulations are in order for the deft cellar management of the tannins, but that were probably optimally ripe to begin with, and this despite the hot year. Bravi! Drinking window: 2024-2045

2017 Barbaresco Rabajà                     94

Luminous red with a pale rim. The enticing nose offers a panoply of Nebbiolo-related aromas including rose, yellow peach, cinnamon, cocoa and camphor. Ripe, rich and round on entry, then similarly luscious in the middle and on the long smooth finish, with flavours similar to the aromas. This Barbaresco Rabajà embodies the positives of a hot and dry vintage such as 2017 (ripe fruit and fleshiness) without any of the potentially devastating negatives (gritty tannins, too high alcohol and loss of site-specificity). Closes long and juicy, boasting plenty of early appeal and an easy to drink quality, despite sneaky concentration and real underlying power, that is truly hard not to like. Bravi! Drinking window: 2025-2042

2017 Barbaresco Rabajà-Bas                          93

Bright red. Not quite as powerful as the Rabajà but a very pretty wine that speaks of a different terroir. This midweight, extremely well-balanced wine is a testament to the quality that this often overlooked cru can deliver, especially in these times of climate change. Youthfully chewy but noble tannins provide plenty of support to the ripe red cherry, herb and floral flavours on the long juicy aftertaste. Though this lovely wine offers plenty of early appeal and is easily accessible already now, cellaring it for three or four years more will go along way in allowing you to enjoy it at its fullest. Drinking window: 2024-2037

2016 Barbaresco                       93

Good full medium red. Surprisingly big Barbaresco that is almost Barolo-like in some of its textural traits. Noteworthy saline strokes color the aromas and flavours of red and blue fruit, complicated by herbs and camphor. An impressive Barbaresco that has the density and concentration of the top wines of some other estates, this speaks not just of the talent at Castello di Verduno but of the greatness of the vintage too. There’s a lot of wine for the money here.  Drinking window: 2024-2038

2016 Barbaresco Rabaja Bas                     94

Deep red. Very spicy aromas and flavours of red cherry and balsamic herbs have an insidiousness sweetness and noteworthy purity. Not surprisingly, this is much richer and denser than the 2016 Barbaresco (and keep in mind that that’s an outstanding wine, so it tells you just how good this wine is). Finishes long and suave, with reverberating hints of balsamic oils. Drinking window: 2024-2036

2016 Barbaresco Rabajà                   95

Deep saturated red. Captivating aromas of red berries, cherries and spices. Smooth and lively on the palate, with similar flavours to the aromas on the long aftertaste. Seems fresher and lighter on its feet than the almost Barolo-like Rabajà-Bas, but also a touch more mineral and spicy. Drinking window: 2024-2045

Ceretto.      

2017  Barbaresco                        91

Luminous red. Ripe aromas and flavours of red cherry, sweet spices and orange cordial. Rather generous and low acid in the mouth, with a suave, almost opulent mouthfeel, but with just enough acidity to keep it lively and interesting on the long ripely fruity finish. A wine that is very much a product of the 2017 vintage, but very successful given the difficulties the vintage posed. So easy to like, that I could drink this by the bucket! Drinking window: 2024-2035

2017  Barbaresco Bernadot                           94

Bright medium red. A very typical Bernardot on the nose and in the mouth, with an utterly pure, steely, juicy red fruit cocktail note that is at once very refined and austere. Truly lovely and I stress also archetypal of this specific Treiso cru, a wine that currently offers more on the palate than on the nose but that will develop splendidly. Ceretto first made this wine in 1997: it is the least well-known and most underrated Nebbiolo wine in their portfolio: smart wine lovers who value finesse over size know to zero in on it especially in warmer vintages such as 2017, when the cooler Treiso mesoclimate offers respite from the otherwise hot weather. Another thing worth keeping in mind is that Bernadot, for now at least, also costs a fraction of Ceretto’s wines carrying the name of better known crus. Drinking window: 2026-2042

2017  Barbaresco Asili                          95

Deep red. Closed initially on the nose, but develops quickly in the glass with aeration like 2017 Bernadot does not. Very clean and rich, this dense, fleshy Barbaresco showcases great refinement and a savory, saline nuance to the red cherry and mineral flavours. Unlike the steely, more reserved Bernadot, this offers plenty of sweet flesh and smooth tannins. The fifty years old Nebbiolo vines have long rooting systems so they never suffer much in hot years (witness for example Ceretto’s 2011 Barbaresco Asili, another hot vintage). Drinking window: 2025-2044

Cigliuti.

Like many other Neive producers, Cigliuti (one of the top estates in all of Barbaresco), was very unlucky in 2017. On April 15 a hail episode ravaged their holdings with only a small part in Bricco di Neive that saved itself from damage. While the Barberas managed well, the Nebbiolos were hard hit and production off the damaged first shoots was minimal to nil. Cigliuti chose to make some wines from second generation fruit (given that 2017 was a hot year, risk of the Nebbiolo not ripening fully was lessened). During my very interesting visit at the winery last August, Claudia Cigliuti told me that in her estimation this made for smaller volumes (still they lost about 80% of their Nebbiolo production) but better quality of wines. What they did harvest was healthy: according to Claudia, “… a year of nice perfume but not so much structure”. The estate owns six hectares in Serraboella (situated in the commune of Neive, it is one of the greatest sites in which make wine in Barbaresco denomination) and 1.5 hectares in Bricco di Neive. The bestate chooses not to make any Riservas but they will, once in a while, release ten years old library releases.

2017 Barbaresco Vie Erte                     88

Bright red. Very spicy nose of cloves, cardamom and cumin, plus red cherry and roses. Then much more savory and almost soupy in the mouth, with strong saline and markedly herbal notes to the subdued red fruit flavours. Finishes with a mouthcoating presence of youthfully chewy tannins and building hints of licorice. I normally love Cigliuti’s wines, but this one left me a touch perplexed, as I wasn’t too keen on its underlying green edge and the soupy, almost monosodium glutamate (MSG)-like note that emerged with aeration. Maybe I just caught it at an awkward stage. Made with grapes from the Bricco di Neive, this Barbaresco was originally called Vigne Erte (beginning with the 2000) but became Vie Erte in 2009. Drinking window: 2024-2033

2017  Barbaresco Serraboella                           94

Bright red with a pale rim. Intense aromas and flavours of red cherry and berries are complicated by minerals and herbs. Nicely textured and suave, with scintillating acid-fruit-tannin balance, this offers lovely delicate herbal nuances on the nicely ripe red fruit finish. Very refined in an almost austere kind of way, I quite liked this. Cigliuti’s Serraboella vines grow on mostly calcareous-marly soils and are now roughly sixty years old; they give wines that are more concentrated and persistent than those of the Bricco di Neive (a shining example of the importance of terroir, as the two plots are very close to each other). I have always thought Cigliuti’s Serraboella to give one of the denomination’s best Barbarescos: this wine is a very good example of what this high quality, downright magical vineyard site can deliver even in less than ideal vintages such as the hot and droughty 2017. Drinking window: 2024-2042

2016 Barbaresco Serraboella                        96

Bright red. Captivating aromas of smoky plum, red cherry, cocoa, and sweet spices. Round and smooth in the mouth, with magically mouthcoating, highly polished, tannins providing ample backbone to the rich ripe red fruit and sweet spice flavours. Beautiful, clean and deep wine of uncommon complexity, this is really a knockout. Drinking window: 2024-2045

Continue to read Part Ⅱ of this Region Report of Barbaresco

Ian D'Agata
Ian D'Agata

Editor-in-Chief of Terroir Sense Wine Review
President of Terroir Sense Academy
Vice President of Association Internationale des Terroirs
Chief Scientific Officer of TasteSpirit

Ian D’Agata has been writing and educating about wines for over thirty years. Internationally recognized as an distinguished expert, critic and writer on many wine regions, his two most recent, award winning books Native Wine Grapes of Italy and Italy's Native Wine Grape Terroirs (both published by University of California Press) are widely viewed as the "state of the art" textbooks on the subject. The former book won the Louis Roederer International Wine Awards Book of the Year in 2015 and was ranked as the top wine books of the year for the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times and the New York Times, while the latter was named among the best wine books of the year by Food & Wine Magazine and the NY Times.

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