Barbaresco’s Stellar 2011s
The 2011 Barbarescos have turned out beautifully. Racy and pliant, the best 2011s are gorgeous and will drink well early.
The 2011 Growing
As Piedmont fans know by now, the 2011 growing season in
northern Italy was characterized by a warm spring that led to a very early
flowering. On average, temperatures were higher than normal, with very little
rain, until early summer, when conditions became a bit more moderate. Warm
weather returned during the second half of August, accelerating the final phase
of ripening and causing issues with dehydration.
Castello di Neive’s
oldest bottles date back to 1904
Unfortunately, Barbaresco almost always gets lumped in with
Barolo rather than being considered on its own, which is a real disservice to
the consumer and wine lover. Rarely has that been so obvious than with the 2010
and 2011 vintages. In 2010, late-season rains compromised the harvest in some
spots in Barbaresco. But Barbaresco may have gotten its revenge in 2011.
Barbaresco has several distinct advantages over Barolo.
Those differences are particularly evident in warm years. In 2011, the late-season heat wave was much
less of an issue in Barbaresco, as the fruit was much closer to being
harvested, so the warmth just slightly accelerated the final phase of ripening.
But in Barolo, where the fruit ripens one to two weeks later, the vines got the
full impact of the unusually higher temperatures, which is why some wines are
Bruno Rocca’s parcel in Rabajà is on the border with Asili
Barbarescos are also generally 0.5-1.0% lower in alcohol
than Barolos. A little more heat can flesh out the wines nicely without making
them hot, flabby or alcoholic. In Barolo, however, where so many wines are
already around 14.5% or higher, that extra period of prolonged heat had the
potential to distort some wines to the point that site-specific nuances became
Moreover, growers are only required to age Barbaresco nine
months in barrel, which provides an opportunity to limit the oxidative effects
of oak. Most top estates favor longer elevage of 12-18 months in barrel, which
is still shorter than the norm in Barolo.
Marchesi di Gresy’s
Martinenga estate as seen from across the valley
The 2011 Barbarescos
Overall, the 2011 Barbarescos are racy and seductive. The
richness and intensity of the year are perceptible, but the wines retain plenty
of site-specific signatures, albeit with softer edges than is typically the
case. My impression is that the 2011s will drink well pretty much out of the
gate, which should be welcomed by readers cellaring wines from more structured
Barbaresco and Barolo vintages.
The cellars at Paitin,
It is a bit early to render a more conclusive opinion on the
2011 Barbarescos and Barolos because the Barbarescos have been in bottle for
some time, while most of the Barolos I tasted over the summer were still in
barrel or had literally just been bottled. It is quite possible, however, that 2011
will turn out to be a better and more consistent vintage in Barbaresco than
I was also able to taste a number of 2012 Barbarescos, most
of which have just been bottled. Overall, 2012 looks like a pretty vintage with
considerable near and medium-term appeal. The wines show good, ripe fruit and
mid-weight personalities. Interestingly, 2012 is also regarded as a warm
vintage, with higher readings of heat degree days than 2011 in some places. But
the season was also marked by cooling temperatures during September. Overall,
the 2012 Barbarescos have less extract and lower polyphenols than the 2011s.
Gaja’s Sorì San Lorenzo, Barbaresco
Based on what I have tasted so far, 2012 is not a profound
vintage, nor is it marked by any particularly significant challenges (as was
the case in 2009), rather it is a solid year with a number of gorgeous,
mid-weight wines that combine a classic sense of structure with the pliant
fruit of a warm vintage, a pretty attractive combination in my book.
Barbaresco coverage will continue over the coming weeks as
we post vineyard videos to our Interactive Barbaresco
Map. An extensive vertical of Gaja’s Sorì San Lorenzo is next, followed
by more affordable new releases of Dolcetto, Barbera and Langhe Nebbiolo. All
of the wines in this article were tasted in July and August 2014. Readers
should note that several benchmark producers including Produttori del
Barbaresco and Cantina del Pino did not have new releases to show at the time
of my tastings.
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-- Antonio Galloni