New Releases from Piedmont

By Antonio Galloni

2007 Barbaresco

Vintage 2007 will be remembered for a freakish set of weather conditions that have never been seen before. The winter was unusually warm and dry, with virtually no precipitation, a stark contrast to the norm in these parts. To be sure, rain and snow during the winter have been in decline in Piedmont for more than two decades, but 2007 was unusually dry, even by modern-day standards. Flowering took place a full month ahead of schedule. The spring and summer were warmer than normal, but without the heat spikes of truly hot years such as 2003. Temperatures moderated towards the end of the growing season, slowing down maturation and allowing the plants to gain additional time on the vine. Most growers harvested a few weeks early, but not as early as originally expected. Essentially the entire growing season was moved up in the calendar, but the cycle from flowering to harvest turned out to be close to normal. These conditions resulted in wines that combine elements of warm and cool vintages to an extent I have never seen previously. The 2007 Barbareschi possess dazzling aromatics, silky tannins and generous, at times explosive, fruit. Although 2007 was a warm year, temperatures were remarkably stable throughout most of the summer, which allowed for full ripening, even in less well-exposed vineyards. As a result, many entry-level Barbareschi are unusually delicious. In particular the straight Barbareschi from Cantina del Pino, Castello di Neive and Bruno Rocca are all exceptional. One of the defining characteristics of the vintage is that the differences from vineyard to vineyard are more attenuated in 2007 than they were in more typical, cooler years such as 2001 and 2004. A number of wines from the south-facing vineyards that usually perform best are a touch overdone. Two thousand seven is a year in which the personality of the vintage dominates the wines more than any single element, followed by house style and then vineyard. A perfect example is found at Produttori del Barbaresco, where the Riservas are very strongly marked by the vintage. The nine single-vineyard Riservas are different, but not as distinctive and transparent to site as they were in 2004 and 2005. In general the 2007s are flashy, opulent wines that will drink well right out of the gate and that have the potential to continue to evolve for at least another decade-plus.

 Savvy readers will note the increase in single-vineyard designate wines in Barbaresco, which is the result of a long study into the region’s vineyards and microclimates. In today’s world the updating of vineyard boundaries is a highly politicized effort that requires considerable compromise. I am not sure if all of the new wines from Barbaresco’s updated sottozone (sub-zones) are worthy of being bottled separately, but only time will tell.

More on 2006 Barolo

I continue to be impressed with the 2006 Baroli. Over the summer and fall I tasted and re-tasted a number of wines that seem to be gaining depth and volume in the bottle. The 2006 Baroli are powerful and tannic today, and most of the top examples will require considerable cellaring. Quality is perhaps a touch more producer-specific and localized than it was in either 2001 or 2004, but the finest bottles are truly exceptional. There is no question that overall 2006 is much stronger in Barolo than Barbaresco. For more on the 2006 vintage in Barolo, readers may want to take a look ar my article in Issue 187.

New Dolcetto and Barbera Releases

The current vintage for Dolcetto, 2009, yielded a number of attractive, fleshy wines well worth considering. It is a very good year for the entry-level Piedmontese red wine that never seems to get the attention it deserves. The best Dolcetti show plenty of regional and vineyard character, they just need a little more love from the trade and consumers. The 2008 vintage for Barbera yielded a crop of mid-weight, linear wines. This isn’t a great vintage for Barbera, so readers need to be especially selective. Still, the finest 2008s offer gorgeous, mineral-laced fruit and fabulous overall balance in a style that will appeal to reads who may have found the 2007s too opulent and rich.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how surprised I was when I came across a handful of entry-level Dolcetti and Barbere from well-known producers that had serious technical flaws. I hope these wines are isolated cases rather than an emerging trend. I can imagine that the temptation might exist for producers to pay less attention to their entry-level wines given their relatively modest cost and the uncertain economic environment, but this is hardly the time to become complacent. If anything, this is a time when quality across the entire range counts more than ever. Of course consistency is standard operating procedure for the region’s elite producers, but there is ample room for improvement at many properties.