Nebbiolo Prima 2016: making new friends

Last May was my third go-round at Nebbiolo Prima, one of the most important Italian wine summits of the year. At this annual blind tasting and pre-marketing event, Albeisa, the Unione Produttori Vini Albesi (Union of Producers of wines from the Alba area), hosts about 100 journalists from all over the world for one week to review nearly 500 newly-released Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero wines.

Up for examination at Nebbiolo Prima 2016 were the following wines: Barolo (2012 and 2010 Riserva), Barbaresco (2013 and 2011 Riserva), as well as Roero (2013 and 2012 Riserva). While the entire tasting is done blind (producer names are not given until the end of each tasting day), the village denominations are grouped and revealed to the journalists before the event so we know what we are in for each day.

Some of my favorite sommeliers—and new friends!—the ones who made it all possible for us journalists!

Some of my favorite sommeliers—and new friends!—the ones who made it all possible for us journalists!

With over 100 wines to taste each morning—no time to deeply analyze each and every one—my strategy has become to focus on getting an overall impression of each vintage for each denomination and the villages within, while noting obvious standouts. I make brief tasting notes for each wine and score my top wines with three stars down to 2.5, and so on to 0.5 stars. I don’t give any stars to wines that are acceptable, however not spectacular in any way. Go here for a more in-depth explanation of my star rating system.

This year I tallied all of my star points for each village and list results starting from top scoring village to lowest within in each zone (Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero). I also call out my favorite wines.

Barolo vineyards of La Morra, September 2012

Barolo vineyards of La Morra, September 2012

If you’d like to hunt down some of these fantastic wines, there are two easy ways to do it. Earlier this month I released a report for wine.com highlighting many of these wines available through their online retail space. Otherwise you can always do a wine-searcher.com search for availability in virtually any country or state.

Barolo

I was excited about the 2012 vintage but in all honesty it isn’t consistently “classic” like 2010; 2012 was all over the place. The 2012 growing season started with a very wet winter and spring. Warm temperatures and continued precipitation in June contributed to vegetative growth but reduced berry set. Neither was a huge concern since less compact clusters help prevent disease and the soil’s water reserves helped the vines survive a very hot late summer. Though results for 2012 Barolo were mixed, some villages—and wines—were real standouts!

Within the 2012 vintage, I awarded the most points to wines in the Barolo “più communi” (many villages) category. These show big, sweet, dense, red cherry, cinnamon, marzipan, potpourri, chalky but ripe tannins, and are quite balanced overall with integrated floral notes. The best example of of the 2012 Barolo comes from Roddi. They categorized some of the smaller villages in with this category and Roddi performed very well. Negretti Bricco Ambrogio was my top scoring wine in the category and shows cooked cherry, plum, cocoa, a beautiful texture & complexity, integrated floral notes with cocoa, rustic tannins and a huge potential for aging.★★☆.

(39 wines; 18 total stars for the category)

Barolos at Nebbiolo Prima 2016

Barolos at Nebbiolo Prima 2016

Barolo from the village of La Morra scored highest of all of the single villages. The best 2012 La Morra Barolos reveal pretty mint and rose, sweet aromas of wild strawberry, and a polished texture; others are huge in structure with tannins that need to resolve. But even some of the more challenged samples retain enough fruit and non-fruit characters to support the power. One particularly striking example of the potential of this vintage was Renato Ratti‘s Barolo from the Conca cru. Intense and gorgeous aromas of rose, licorice, and fresh herbs pop out of the glass. This complex young wine is already in balance, showing potential for a long life ahead.★★★

(57 wines; 32.5 stars)

La Morra Barolo vineyards Sep 2012

La Morra Barolo vineyards Sep 2012

Ripe red cherries, smoke, dark earth, and sweet tannins characterize the best Barolos from the Verduno village. One of my favorites was Paolo Scavino‘s Monvigliero. Monvigliero is a special vineyard, consistently one of my favorites regardless of producer, and undoubtedly one of the best from the village. Paolo Scavino‘s shows sweet aromas of red cherry and spice; it is lush, feminine, bright, and focused.★★

(14 wines; 6 stars)

The Castiglione Barolos show a concentration of ripe unctuous black cherry; they have bold structure and sweet perfume. My highest scoring wine was the Monchiero Fratelli Rocche di Castiglione. It has a lovely perfumed nose, tons of ripe unctuous black fruit, and forward but ripe tannins.★★ This was my first experience with this producer. The wine spends three years in large botti before bottling, so I imagine it is in a release schedule behind most of its comrades and was fresh out the big barrels for this tasting. (Most Barolo spends 2 years in barrel and approximately another year in bottle.) The Rocche di Castiglione vineyard runs NE to SW along the road heading south out of the village of Castiglione Falletto and is steeply sloped down with a SE exposure. I know this one from working harvest the fall of 2012 for Oddero and picked Nebbiolo from their plot right around the same time the grapes in this bottle were harvested.:)

(18 wines; 7.5 stars)

From the Barolo village in the vintage of 2012, I describe the best of the bunch with smoke, tar, earth, and rose with ripe red and blackberry, marked aromatics, a juicy mid-palate, and polished tannins. Many examples from the village come from the Cannubi cru (no surprise given its size) and while some of those scored high with me, for many I wrote “bitter tannins and tertiary on the nose.” I’ll be curious to see how various 2012 Cannubi bottlings shape up in the next few years. My top wines were Sylla Sebaste Bussia (never had their wines before)★★☆, Brezza Cannubi ★★, GD Vajra Bricco delle Viole ★★, and Borgogno, the Cannubi★☆ and Fossati★★. The Cannubi shows lovely aromatics of mint and cherry whereas the Fossati, while also pretty on the nose, shows a bitter spice quality that isn’t unpleasant—both still prominently showing their youth. (41 wines; 16.5 stars)

The Serralunga Barolos are profoundly structured with distinct aromas of tobacco and fireplace. The best ones integrate rose petal, potpourri, and forest aromatics with ripe red cherry fruit and refined tannins; on the other hand, some are thwarted by oak. To one wine I gave many stars on the basis of its bouquet alone (though on the palate it was just fine too)! This is what I wrote about Riverdito Michele‘s Badarina: “This smells like a romantic night with a huge bouquet of roses and a bowl of red cherries in front of a crackling fireplace; a hint of sweet truffle, sweet on the palate, big structure.★★☆ Other standouts included GD Vajra‘s Baudana, which is a gorgeous wine with mixed berry compote in the mid-palate, scents of perfume and ash, and a linear, powerful finish. I also need to mention the extraordinary Pio Cesare Ornato, which gives off the canonical tar and roses, with a hint of fireplace. It is clean, pure, on point, and balanced.★★

(46 wines; 16.5 stars)

The Monforte wines in general had aromas of candied fruit and cocoa, were concentrated with super ripe blackberry, raspberry, and black plum on the palate, and the tannins were strong and rough in many cases—a bit disjointed but we shall see. The Pecchenino San Giuseppe was the prettiest with currant, blackberry, eucalyptus, and silky tannins.★★ Sorì Ginestra from Conterno Fantino was an outstanding example of the best from the village in 2012; while fleshy and certainly in its adolescence, it isn’t coarse like some.★☆

(43 wines; 9.5 stars)

Barbaresco

The 2013 growing season in Piemonte was a funny one in that everything was delayed by about two weeks. Low temperatures slowed the vegetative cycle in the spring and while cool weather can lead to good acidity levels in resultant wines, it also necessitated longer hang time in the fall, which led to a vintage with mixed results. While aromatics could be lovely, some wines were herbal and thin. Some examples seemed too advanced or were thick with bitter tannins. The best 2013 Barbarescos find a nice balance in range of aromas and flavors. The wines came in all over the board.

Albino Rocca‘s single cru Angelo Barbaresco was my highest scoring 2013 Barbaresco from the Barbaresco village. Its engaging bouquet of ripe, red cherry, smoke, dried violets, and sweet rose surprised me and stood out among the other 100 wines that Tuesday; the palate is juicy and finish, long and fine-tuned.★★☆

(33 wines; 16.5 stars)

Barbarescos at Nebbiolo Prima 2016

Barbarescos at Nebbiolo Prima 2016

Among the 2013s from Treiso, many were smoky, tight and rustic with some problems of overoakiness. But some of the better ones showed elegance. Oddero‘s Rombone was one of those in fact.★★☆ I also thought the Vallegrande bottlings from Ca’ del Baio and Fratelli Grasso were lovely. I gave both ★☆

(19 wines; 11 stars)

One of the best examples among the 2013 Neive Barbarescos was Moccagatta‘s Basarin. Scents of camp fire, cinnamon, black cherry, and fresh herbs reveal themselves, leading to a wine that is both delightful and supple on the palate. ★★

(39 wines; 19.5 stars)

The Barbaresco “più communi” (many villages) category didn’t show so well overall. Though the Produttori del Barbaresco‘s 2013 Barbaresco comes forward a little too bold, it shows consistency and balance of ripe fruit through to the finish.★ The Giuseppe Negro Pian Cavallo was also balanced but not super expressive.★☆

(12 wines; 3 stars)

Roero

The 2013 vintage of Roero and 2012 Roero Riserva, as a whole, were the best I’ve ever tasted! Normally as a category Roero can be a mixed bag but not in these vintages; overall they were some of the best wines of the week. The best 2013s did an amazing job showing off pretty Roero aromatics, redolent of orange peel, strawberry candy, and mint or sometimes a mix of dark fruit, forest and cocoa. Either way the wines are perfumed, lush, and charming.

Some of my highest scoring 2013 Roero wines were from producers I’ve never heard of so I have a list of new ones to check out on my next visit. Malabaila di Canale is one of them. Their 2013 Bric Volta and Cascina Chicco Montespinato both got a score of ★★☆. They are both the pretty, minty, and fresh Roero style laced with fresh wild strawberry fruit. Another new producer for me is Generaj di Viglione Giuseppe; their Bric Aut was a little candied but also full and dark.★★ Other top 2013 Roeros came from Negro Angelo (Prachiosso)★★, Massucco★★, Cascina Val del Prete (Bricco Medica)★★, and also Deltetto, Matteo Correggia (La Val dei Preti), Malvira, and Monchiero Carbone (Srü)—all ★☆.

(23 wines; 19 stars)

Roeros at Nebbiolo Prima 2016

Roeros at Nebbiolo Prima 2016

My favorite Roero Riserva 2012 was Matteo Correggia‘s Roche d’Ampsej as usual! Aromas of candied red cherries and baking spice jump out of the glass; on the palate this wine is never shy but always refined. It is consistent through the long finish.★★ Other impressive Riservas came from Malvirà (all single vineyards), Demarie, Pace, and Deltetto—all ★. (24 wines; 16 stars)

There were 66 wines in the Barolo 2010 Riserva and Barbaresco 2011 Riserva categories, though overall I scored them low in stars. The same can be said for the Barolos from Novello (14 wines) and Barbarescos from Alba (4 wines).

Epilogue

After a few years of attending various press trips with a similar set of international journalists, and needless to say, lots of wine, you end up making good friends! In this space I will link to what some of the other journalists have to say about the event. My friend, Matthias Stelzig, from Germany wrote this particular masterpiece.

Matthias, me, and Rita Toth from Hungary

Matthias, me, and Rita Toth from Hungary

More to come!