Nebbiolo Prima 2014 – [nĕ-bē-‘yōh-lōh prē-‘mŭh ‘twĕn-tē fôr-‘tēn n]
- 400 wines from
- 230 different producers tasted blindly in
- 5 days by
- 90 journalists from
- 25 different countries.
- All Nebbiolo. “Solo Nebbiolo.”
Every morning from May 12-16, all ninety of us, from different corners of the world, assembled in the Palazzo Mostre e Congressi in Alba and blindly, but diligently, tasted and reviewed all 400 of the wines presented in the following categories: 2010 Barolo and 2008 Barolo Riserva, 2011 Barbaresco and 2009 Barbaresco Riserva, 2011 Roero and 2010 Roero Riserva.
Since it was my first time, I didn’t entirely know what to expect. And upon finishing the week, while I knew I had learned something, I wasn’t quite sure what it was yet. I was still in a Nebbiolo-haze; I needed fresh air. I needed to go out and see my precious budding Nebbiolo vines.
I needed to hang out with friends and enjoy some Barolo without picking it apart with my eyes closed.
And, that’s when I realized that I felt like I had just spent a week at Disneyland, blindfolded, with my hands tied behind my back!
Would you go to Disneyland if you couldn’t see or touch anything but had to visit every land, ride every ride, and make note of every detail: every turn, spin, whirl, the smoothness of the tracks, as well as all the sounds, smells, and other intricacies of special interest?
It’s a rhetorical question and to tell you the truth, I’ve actually never been to Disneyland. (We didn’t get those kinds of vacations when I was kid.) So I wouldn’t know. I’m just guessing. But I have been to Piemonte, and I have spent many, many weeks taking in the sites, smells, tastes, sounds, feelings, and overall magic that Piemonte affords. Distilling this majestic place down to 400 wines tasted blindly in one stark white room, with 89 other people over the course of five days was, well, … challenging.
But it’s not a challenge I wouldn’t welcome again.
I can put a lab coat on when I need to. In fact, I’ve always excelled more in science and math than reading and writing. But Piemonte made me a writer and Italian wines have taught me quite a bit about emotions, sensations, intuitions, and things that cannot be proven with formulas.
Spending five days in that room, swirling, sniffing, sipping, spitting, and surmising almost sucked the enchantment out of being in Piemonte. But I say “almost” because it didn’t entirely. By the second day, I felt like I knew where I was and could take little tours around the villages in my head.
Since I’ve spent so much time in those Langhe hills, I could easily imagine whether I was popping in and out of the foresty area above Bricco delle Viole near La Morra, or whether it was the one in Meriame in Serralunga, or perhaps I was on that big hot slope they call Rocche dell’Annunziata, or I was strolling through Cannubi in Barolo, or escaping the sun in Ginestra in Monforte.
So Nebbiolo Prima? Yes, I’d like to do that again. But you won’t catch me in that neck of the woods without also exploring them and taking some extra time to enjoy the Piemontese life. And anyway, Nebbiolo needs time. Whether it’s in your glass or in your cellar, if you don’t give it time, you’ll surely miss the best part of its story.
Disclaimers: I didn’t try all of the wines. Gasp! … I wish I could have given my time, attention, and contemplations to 80 new-release Nebbiolo wines every day for five days straight and keep my mind clear. Not to mention, stay alert through the other 30-40+ wines we were presented with through afternoon visits and evening dinners. But I just couldn’t do it all. (Judging from the capacity of the rooms at the end of the week, neither could most.)
So there are some wines out there, which I didn’t try, that I am certain would have made it to my lists of top-picks. But there are also other fantastic wines, which I did try, that I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. So it’s a winning situation.
Below is my summary of each category of wine tasted on each day and my top-picks among them. The words in parentheses following each of the wines are lightly edited versions of my exact notes from tasting these blind. The lists of wines were revealed to us the day after we tasted them so I matched my notes up and I give you the report here. I list only the wines to which I gave ★★☆—★★★, except for in a couple of instances where no wines in a category got that many. (Click here for more about my star ratings.)
Barolo DOCG 2010 and Barbaresco DOCG 2011
“Classico” (i.o.w. not vineyard or village designated)
Despite a good deal of variation from producer to producer, 2010 is a solid vintage for Barolo; the wines show layers of perfume and sturdy tannins. My standouts were Pio Cesare Barolo (coffee citrus strawberry floral violets pretty velveteen tannins)★★★ and Francone Francone Barolo (pretty vanilla red berry pine herbs cinnamon, feminine citrus flavor, very little tannins)★★☆.
Overall the 2011 Barbaresco wines seem on the ripe and husky side, but regardless, there are some great wines in the bunch! The only real standout for me was Piazzo Armondo Barbaresco (sweetish cherry wine-soaked cask but actually nice floral quality, a lot going on in aromas, velveteen tannins, balanced but young)★★★.
Barolo DOCG 2010 from the following villages:
Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d’Alba, and Serralunga d’Alba
The 2010 Castiglione Falletto Baroli are pretty and show very fine tannins. On the nose, I notice cinnamon, mint, and rose. On the palate they are full of ripe fruit and earth with an elegant structure on the finish. This turned out to be my favorite day with lots of top picks. Among the ones from Castiglione were Sobrero Ciabot Tanasio (pot pourri cedar rose super fresh fruit on second smell, almost green but still lovely elegant tannins, structure, almost sweet like natural licorice root in the mouth)★★☆, RoccheViberti Rocche di Castglione (pretty sweet cinnamon and oregano plus stewed & dried cherry, rose stem, yum! balanced with silty tannins)★★☆, Monchiero Fratelli Rocche di Castglione (figs baking spices menthol strawberry candy, full ripe mid palate with mix of red fruits & limestone tannins)★★☆, and Brovia Rocche di Castglione (leathery and sweet mint turnip, spicy on the palate! sweet cherry cinnamon)★★☆.
Monforte d’Alba wines show solid power, making me confident that 2010 is a classic vintage. In some cases the fruit is so ripe, it almost seems candied but other strong characteristics, like aromas of espresso and gritty tannins in the end, serve to balance these. The 2010 Monforte wines will need the most time out of all the Baroli to age, but once the tannins ripen, they’ll be awesome. My favorites among those tasted were Simone Scaletta Chirlet (cherry perfume & cellar floor, tons of fruit on the palate)★★★, Cascina Chicco Rocche di Castelletto (bitter herb strawberry vanilla fresh oregano, harmonious mouthfeel, coffee caramel spice tar, ripe red fruit)★★☆, Conterno Fantino Sori Ginestra (sweet candy cherry cocoa, pie including the crust, my God! lemon & tree bark even on my lips, probably awesome in 15 years, no faults just huge like Rocche dell’Annunziata x 10)★★☆, and Pecchenino Le Coste (bright red cherry & a little bitter herb/green vegetable + baking spice, nice! (the grissini are starting to taste very good right about now) full of cherry pomegranate cranberry with cinnamon, roasted almonds and stewed cherries, … or plum jam on grilled bread with butter & perhaps Bresaola —um yes, that sounds good right about now! Hungry.)★★☆.
From Serralunga d’Alba, the wines are bold and brilliantly balanced with characteristics of kirsch, roasting coffee beans, river cobble, and pine forest. Of the 20+ of these that I tried, these stood out the most: Cascina Luisin Leon Del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba (potpourri sweet herbs dried fruit toasted almonds finesse)★★☆, Cascina Cucco Cerrati Vigne Cucco (chocolate coffee, toast with cherry jam, ok breakfast is served!)★★☆, and Sukula Riikka Meriame (sweet vanilla red cherry cut grass forest perfect bark-like tannins, lovely fruit & structure)★★☆.
Barolo DOCG 2010 from the following villages:
Barolo and La Morra
La Morra Barolo will charm the pants off of anyone but the 2010 La Morra Baroli are real heart-throbs! The best ones have remarkable freshness and an intricate perfume character of rose, fresh herbs, wet forest, or any combination of those. Peculiarly, they possess dark fruit components of black plums, licorice, and jam (normally La Morra Barolo will express more of a red fruit character in my opinion) but in this vintage, even the darker character harmonizes well with the dead-giveaway La Morra bouquet.
My top picks were Vietti Brunate (sweet cherries & wet forest floor—lovely!)★★★, Silvio Grasso Bricco Luciani (yum! nose is sweet fresh clean & enticing with herbs mint cocoa cherry, perfect structure (a little kerosene) oooh this one is nice!—a fave!)★★★, Serradenari Barolo Serradenari (cherry pie perfume vanilla, sweet fruit, dry elevated finish, herbal, very nice!)★★☆, Monfalletto-Cordero Di Montezemolo Monfalletto (sweet red candied fruit with wet forest perfume super fruit intense bright feminine tannins)★★☆, Curto Marco La Foia Arborina (coca cola root black plum strawberry, lovely clay tannins, lots of plum, fresh bright & more cola)★★☆.
From the Barolo village, the wines express qualities of fresh tobacco leaves, sweet baking spices, blue and black fruits, and gravel. I enjoyed most the Cascina Adelaide Cannubi (cinnamon wet earth forest floor cooking meat chocolate strong intense masculine, harmonized integration of tannins)★★★.
Roero DOCG 2011, Roero Riserva DOCG 2010,
Barbaresco Riserva DOCG 2009, Barolo Riserva DOCG 2008
The 2011 Roero wines, as a category, is the most disjointed and has more faulty wines compared to the others, although a few good ones stood out. My favorite was Giovanni Almondo Bric Valdiana (cologne sweet strawberry herbs forest enticing balanced full fruity & crisp with cocoa powder tannins & a touch of citrus)★☆.
The 2010 Roero Riservas, on the other hand, are remarkable with balance and a classic Roero feminine expression of Nebbiolo including qualities of cherry candy, sweet citrus, chalky tannins, and fresh rose. My standout wines were: Casetta F. Lli Roero Riserva (ooh yum! super forest cherry candy dried cherry ruby port with aromatic pine, musty moss, just gorgeous nose, full spicy lush tannins pronounced cherry candy fruit—awesome!)★★★, Demarie Roero Riserva (cologne & sweet pine cool forest ruby port big bouquet of flowers, chalky structure)★★★, Matteo Correggia Roche d’Ampsej (sweet syrupy cherry, nice though, with rose grass cedar, kind of feminine with some citrus flavors, creamy not tart, sandy tannins)★★☆, La Contea Mai Vist (alluring, Ludens cough drops, floral rose fruity, a touch of vanilla)★★☆.
The 2009 Barbaresco Riservas are hefty and somewhat varied with forward fruit and an herbal quality of eucalyptus, mint, and licorice. My favorite was Produttori del Barbaresco Rio Sordo (minty feminine citrus fine intense dark fruit perfume & ashy tannins)★★.
The 2008 Barolo Riservas are intense and layered with great structure and length—perhaps a preview to what the 2010 Riservas will be like in a couple of years. I gave a lot of stars in this category. Rivetto dal 1902 Leon (clay, cooking veal, sweet cherry cake and hazelnut-pear-apple-must-skins (like cugna), like winter squash on second smell, austere, juicy tart walnuts)★★★, Germano Ettore Lazzarito (Old Spice cologne pomegranate raspberry cherry, lingering rose wildflower, beautiful well rounded fruit & perfume in this one, very very pretty, silty tannins)★★★, Casetta F.Lli Barolo Riserva (I cannot go on! They smell so good. I want to jump in! cocoa! cologne cherry cake cedar smoke dust gravel—everything you’d want—strong chalky structure, fresh rose, masculine but sensitive)★★★, Gagliasso Mario Barolo Riserva (smells a little of an older wine with sun dried tomato dried cherry port tobacco, smoky hills, lots of perfume, a pure joy to drink—reminds me of something like Giachini, Arborina, or Conca (the grapes come from Rocche and Torriglione; Torriglione is near the vineyards I named and has a similar exposure))★★☆, Cascina del Monastero Riund (sweet cherry perfume tobacco pungent herbs wet forest earth herbs, dried red fruit, elegant)★★☆, Paolo Scavino Rocche dell’Annunziata (sweet cherry candy—feeling a little dizzy from the strong perfume, like I’m at the perfume counter at a department store, dark & brooding, clay tannins, quite wonderful however)★★☆.
Barbaresco DOCG 2011
There is a great deal of variation among the Barbaresco 2011 wines. Sometimes the tannins show up bitter and the fruit tastes too old for wines this young. In some, too much new oak really kills them. (As a side note, after reading the productions notes on nearly all of the wines I list below, I discovered that almost all of them are aged, at least partially, in used and/or large oak barrels. I presume I prefer that style!)
The best Barbaresco wines from 2011 are exquisite and lush with tart cherry fruit, pleasant minerality, and cocoa-powder tannins. My standouts included Pietro Rinaldi San Cristoforo (rose stone cherry jam cranberry forest, with a touch of cedar smoke, spicy dusty sweet lush fruit, cocoa powder)★★★, Poderi Colla Roncaglie (sweet strawberry jam roses herbs, great on the palate, chalky sweet ripe tannins, gorgeous)★★★, Cascina Morassino Morassino (sweet cherry rose petal cocao vanilla bright cranberry sweet fine tannins, structure, ephemeral flavors)★★☆, Cà del Baio Asili (sweet light red berries vanilla juicy floral, very well-balanced)★★☆, Fontanabianca Bordini (bright classic dried cranberry rose, perfume stinging my nose, lovely & refined with good minerality, limestone)★★☆, Vigin Az. Agr. Noemy (cherry pie, cinnamon tannins lime peel & a tiny bit of tobacco smoke)★★☆.
In the end, it looks like I certainly sorted through my Nebbiolo haze. With my blindfold off, I see that 2010 was a stellar year for Barolo and Roero Riserva. 2008 is still impressing me. And my friends had to work extra hard in 2009 and 2011. In fact, I worked hard in 2011, doing harvest in Barolo in extreme “summer” temperatures in September and October. I remember it well.
So Disneyland? It’s only about a 7 hour drive from my house. But I have to admit, It’s looking like I’ll take my twelfth trip to Piemonte before my first to Disneyland …