The 2013 Produttori del Barbaresco Cru Tasting
I talk a lot about people, families, terroir, and tradition. I touch on these topics in nearly everything that I write, which makes sense when you consider the raw ingredients that have proven time and time again to be the foundations of creating great wine. I also write a good amount about the ideals of staying small, and that it is the spirit of the artisan producer that has an insight into creating something which takes us to another level, beyond the fact that we are simply drinking fermented grape juice. There are larger operations that are able to capture that special something, but they are in the minority, and often guided by one dynamic individual who is able to motivate others and properly communicate their passion.
In Piedmont, a place where small is the norm and the preference, where case productions hardly ever exceed four digits, and winemakers often share both the work in the vineyards as well as the winery, it’s hard to imagine that a Cooperative would be making some of the best wine in the region. Especially a cooperative that is made up of 54 different families, all with their own individual holdings, traditions, ideals and needs. Yet that is exactly what we find in the Produttori del Barbaresco.
A Short History of Produttori del Barbaresco
The Produttori del Barbaresco was founded in 1958, combining the holdings and growing capabilities of nineteen families. That number has nearly tripled today, yet the goal remains the same, to produce traditionally-styled Barbaresco from Nebbiolo grapes grown around the town of Barbaresco. The concept of the winery was very unique at the time, focusing on quality over quantity, yet those efforts have undoubtedly paid off.
It wasn’t always so, as I think back and regret how many vintages of their highly sought-after Riservas that I’ve passed up over the years. In today’s market, the wines disappear fast, with new vintages being gobbled up by collectors upon arrival, but also back vintages, which sell for 3-4 times of what they were released at. The reason for the demand and excitement over these wines came from their performance over the decades. As we know, it can take 20 to 30 years for a bottle of Barolo or Barbaresco to truly shine, and over the last ten years, that’s exactly what back vintages of Produttori del Barbaresco have done. And I’m not just talking about the Riservas, as even the Barbaresco normale has earned the respect of collectors around the world for being one of the most dependable values in age-worthy Nebbiolo.
The Fundamental: Quality over Quantity
Today, the Produttori continues to emphasize quality over all else, insisting to pay their member growers on the sugar levels, color and tannins (phenolic ripeness) of the grapes which are delivered. The harder each grower works, the better the payout will be later, and no grower is allowed to hold back any fruit; they either work solely with the Produttori–or not at all. At harvest time, each grower collects their grapes over the course of days or weeks, assuring that the individual parcels reach ideal ripeness, yet each year are placed into the same containers that are used to deliver the grapes to the winery, which assures that the bunches aren’t handled any more than necessary.
Once all of the fruit has been harvested and combined, the winemaking process begins. Each individual cru is treated in the exact same manner from maceration, fermentation and aging in large neutral barrels. The difficult part is deciding if the vintage is fit to release all nine Riserva Crus, or to put all of the juice into one Barbaresco Normale. In the end, it’s the quality of the Normale, on its own, which makes the decision, because the Produttori sees it as their flagship wine and places the most importance on its ability to please their customers.
A Perfect Representation of Terroir
The Barbaresco normale from the Produttori continues to be one of the most important wines being made in Piedmont today, yet any collector will tell you that it is the production of the single vineyard cru Riservas that really gets them excited. There are nine individual vineyards, all located within the commune of Barbaresco, and nearly all of them considered to be among the top-ranking crus in the region.
When the Riservas are produced, they are all made in the exact same way, so that what we are delivered in the bottle is a perfect representation of terroir. Each wine sees five weeks of maceration before being placed into stainless steel tanks through the winter. After malolactic fermentation, the wines are racked and moved into large barrels, where they will rest for 36 months prior to release–meaning that a Produttori del Barbaresco Riserva is aged in the same fashion as a Barolo. As they should be, considering that these are wines that will often give Barolo a run for its money.
All Crus Are Created Equal: 2013 Riserva Tasting
Each year that the nine cru Riservas are released, members of the trade and media look forward to the day that they are able to taste the wines together (as they should be) to begin to understand the vintage, the individual terroir, and the character of each wine.
This year, the event in New York was held at Il Gattopardo, with Aldo Vacca, the Managing Director and driving force behind the Produttori del Barbaresco, walking us through the wines and terroir. Tasting them at this young stage isn’t easy, as very few of these wines are ever ready to drink upon release, but at the same time the experience is provides incredible insight. The last tasting I attended was the release of the 2011s, a vintage that was warmer, yielding darker, richer, more textural wines. With the 2013s, what we found was a selection of Barbaresco that are built for the long haul. They were classically structured, austere wines with masses of depth hidden under a cloak of tannin. It will be truly exciting to watch them mature over the coming decades.
About the 2013 vintage in Barbaresco
The 2013 vintage was excellent in Barbaresco, yet also bountiful, two things which hardly ever go hand in hand. It was also a vintage where both Barolo and Barbaresco excelled, yet the terroir is remarkably different, as in Barbaresco we find fertile soils that are heavy in clay and calcium, with moderating influences coming off the Tanaro River. The 2013 growing season started late, with cold temperatures from March through May, accompanied by rain. This delayed budbreak, which took place in mid-April. However, the summer brought regulating warm temperatures without any heat spikes; still, the vegetative cycle remained behind schedule until September, as warm days and cool nights gave the Nebbiolo the boost it needed. The harvest itself was considered late by modern standards, as picking began on October 10th and lasted through the 24th.
My Generalizations on the 2013 Produttori Riservas
The result of this long growing season, and variations between night and daytime temperatures, was fruit of amazing depth, classic tannin and widespread quality, which shows in the bottled 2013 Riservas. Each cru had its strong points and weaknesses (in some cases very few), yet overall these are some of the most age-worthy Produttori Riservas that I’ve ever had the chance to taste upon release.
With that said, I know that the impulse is to buy the top-scored wines in each vintage, yet I believe that by doing that we lose what the Produttori del Barbaresco has so perfectly created here, the ability to truly witness and understand the terroir and character of each vineyard within one vintage. Nowhere else in Barolo or Barbaresco can you achieve this. I highly recommend collecting them all.
On to the Tasting Notes
Along with brief descriptions of each Cru.
Pora is a south-to-southwest-facing site that is closest to the valley floor and most exposed to the Tanaro River. The tannins are present but not too strong, with a broad palate sensation. The Produttori has a large holding in Pora, and as the vines are aging, the wines have been gaining in complexity. The best grapes go to Pora, and the rest go to the Normale Barbaresco, and due to the size of their holdings in the vineyard, it makes up a large part of the Barbaresco Normale.
2013 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Pora – The nose was extroverted, showing sweet roses and bright cherry with hints of spice and dusty minerals. On the palate, I found silky, broad textures which were offset by tart bright cherry, hints of wild herbs, silty fine tannin and saline-minerals. The finish was long and youthfully dry with lingering black cherry, savory herbs and fine tannin. (92 points)
The Paje vineyard is more protected from outside influences than Pora, and is also a much smaller holding. It was one of the original vineyards, with its first released vintage being the 1967.
2013 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Paje – The nose was slightly restrained with dusty minerals up front, light cherry tones and hints of leather, growing darker over time. On the palate, I found a focused, lifted expression of fruit with tart cherry and inner florals on a feminine frame, as zesty acids and minerals set in. It finished long, showing cheek-puckering sour cherry, cranberry and saturating fine tannins. (94 points)
The Ovello vineyard has distinctive soils that are higher in clay, giving the wine more body but also broader shoulders. It’s located by the northern tip of the village and close to the river yet higher in elevation than most others. In Ovello, winds coming down from the Swiss Alps add a cooling influence, and often there is a later bud break as a result. A good amount of Ovello goes into the Barbaresco Normale.
2013 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Ovello – The nose was dark and savory with hints of green olive up front, followed by dried black cherry, roses, black soil and crushed stone. On the palate, I found soft, silky textures firmed up by spicy cherry, with brisk acidity and saturating fine tannin. The finish was long, structured, chewy and intense, as tart cherry and tannins lingered long. (93 points)
The Rio Sordo vineyard is located off the southern part of the village. It’s often more approachable when young with a velvety, silky, sensual character and well-integrated tannins.
2013 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Rio Sordo – The nose was dark and much richer than the wines surrounding it, with masses of black cherry, dark mineral tones and a hint of exotic spice. On the palate, I found silky textures with medium-weight showcasing cool-toned dark red fruits, along with hints of spice and exotic inner florals, as subtle tannin settled onto the senses. It finished long, dark and spicy with hints of bitter herbs, minerals and moderate tannin. (93 points)
The Asili parcel forms a bowl shape up to the top, forming into a bricco (the vineyard’s highest point). The Produttori has a total of three growers working throughout the vineyard. Asili is a textural and complex wine with fruit similar to Rio Sordo, yet with further depth.
2013 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Asili – Here I found a layered, dark and mineral-laden bouquet with black and red fruit, mint, dried roses, earth and hints of black tea. On the palate, I found velvety textures with cool-toned dark red fruit, inner floral tones and spice, yet youthfully compressed and structured It finished long, structured and spicy, as the fruit leaned toward tart raspberry with a coating of fine tannin. (95 points)
Rabaja, located next to Asili, is undoubtedly one of the Grands Crus of the region, with more compact soils of higher calcium, which adds more body to the wine. Rabaja is often savory, spicy, full-bodied, dark and complex.
2013 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja – The nose was dark with masses of mineral-encased black cherry, sweet spices, a hint of dried orange, floral tones and dusty minerality. On the palate, I found velvety dark textures, yet it seemed to hover on the senses, showing ripe black cherry and sweet spices, as fine tannin began to settle in. The finish was long and intense with sweet black fruits, minerals and balsamic spices, as a mix of fine tannin and lingering acidity clenched the senses. It’s an impeccably balanced wine that’s showing a beautiful early preview of what’s to come, yet I expect it will shut down for many years in the cellar. Wow. (97 points)
Muncagota has a southeast exposure with a high concentration of calcium in the soil, lending a more tannic character. The vineyard enjoys full sunshine in the morning with shade in the afternoon, and it is considered a cooler exposure. The wine was once defined for its minty character, but global warming has changed the wine over time. Aldo recognizes 2007 as the vintage that Muncagota began to show a marked difference.
2013 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Muncagota – Here I found tart red berry fruit with hints of wild herbs, cedar, dried roses and animal musk in an almost savory expression. On the palate, soft textures were quickly offset by a mix of tart red fruits, zesty spice, bitter herbs and brisk acidity. The finish was long and structured with saturating tart berry, zesty spice and fine tannin lingering long. (93 points)
Montefico is on the same ridge as Muncagota, facing full south with slightly lower elevation and whitish soils from high calcium. It has the same powerful tannins but more minerality with a drying finish. It’s a wine that matures wonderfully over decades.
2013 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Montefico – The nose was cool-toned with bright cherry giving way to dusty earth, minerals, and savory herbs. On the palate, I found silky, soft textures contrasted by bitter cherry, herbs and minerals, as sneaky tannins saturated the senses resulting in a structured finale. The finish was long with cheek-puckering cherry, lingering acids and fine tannin. I’m looking forward to revisiting the Montefico many years, or decades, down the road. (95 points)
The Montestefano vineyard has the same exposure and soil as the Montefico, but is warmer, as it’s more protected from northern winds. The hill is steeper though, providing excellent drainage, and resulting is a wine that is often chewier on the palate and fuller in the mid. Many people refer to Montestefano as the Barolo of Barbaresco.
2013 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Montestefano – The nose showed crushed stone minerality up front, as dusty florals, leather and tart cherry came forward. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by zesty cherry and spice, with brisk acidity adding energy before youthful tannin clamped down on the senses. It finished long and slightly chewy with lingering gruff tannins and tart red fruits. (92 points)