Thursday, June 3, 2010

The 2007 Vintage in Roero and Barbaresco

As I was saying yesterday, the large scale, focused format of the blind tastings at Nebbiolo Prima provided some definite insights into the qualities of vintage — with 2007 being the primary focus in Roero and Barbaresco — and of the broad sense of terroir associated with the various communes/municipalities of production.

Day one was devoted entirely to Nebbioli from the Roero as well as from the Alba, Treiso and Barbaresco municipalities within the Barbaresco production zone. We tasted sixteen wines from the 2007 vintage in Roero and fourteen 2006 Roero Riservas, followed by forty-eight Barbaresco from 2007 and five 2005 Barbaresco Riservas.

The second day of the event was split between Barbaresco and Barolo. We'll get to the Barolo on another day. This time it was all about Neive, with thirty-two Barbaresco "normale" from the 2007 vintage and three Riserva bottlings hailing from 2005 lined up on the big tasting table.

Getting straight to the fine details, here's the short list of wines that grabbed me.

Roero (commune):

  • Roero, Cornarea 2007 (Canale) – spicy, ripe, integrated
  • Roero "Bric Valdiana," Giovanni Almondo 2007 (Montà) – high-toned, minty, muscular
  • Roero "Bricco Medica," Cascina Val del Prete 2007 (Priocca) – ripe yet solid vintage expression
  • Roero Riserva "S. Francesco," Negro Lorenzo 2006 (Monteu Roero) – judicious wood; forward, pretty fruit

Of the wines that inspired me on the first day of blind tasting at Nebbiolo Prima, Giovanni and Domenico Almondo's Roero "Bric Valdiana" was the only one that I'd already been a regular admirer of in the past — unblinded and at home, albeit in earlier vintages.

Barbaresco (commune):
  • Barbaresco "Vallegrande," Fratelli Grasso 2007 (Treiso) – dark but well done
  • Barbaresco "Tre Stelle," Cascina delle Rose 2007 (Barbaresco) – classic, delicate, floral
  • Barbaresco "Campo Quadro," Punset 2007 (Neive) – burly but complete, balanced

The 2007 Barbaresco "Tre Stelle" from Cascina delle Rose was a real stand-out for me, while the "Campo Quadro" from Punset pleasantly surprised.

Barbaresco Riserva (commune):
  • Barbaresco Riserva "Nervo Vigna Giaia," Piazzo Armando 2005 (Treiso) – fine structure, elegant
  • Barbaresco Riserva "Serraboella," Massimo Rivetti 2005 (Neive) – prettiest nose of the day

Not a bad little list, one that offered up some nice discoveries for me. When you look at what it took to cull it, though, those are some pretty slim pickings.

I didn't invite you here to put you through basic arithmetic exercises, so I'll crunch the numbers for you. That list represents a meager selection of nine wines out of the 118 tasted. It looks even starker when you break it down. Four out of thirty wines in Roero; actually, that's not all that bad. But that leaves only five wines from Barbaresco out of 88 wines tasted. And only three of those five were from 2007, which was the main vintage we were invited to Alba to taste, at least in terms of Roero and Barbaresco.

The translation? The 2007 vintage was presented to us, in day one's opening presentation by Enzo Brezza, current president of the Albeisa producer's consortium, as a year that started with a mild winter and early budding, followed by a dry, hot growing season and a relatively early harvest. Not as extreme as 2003 but still a hot, dry year that produced higher alcohol levels and lower acidity than typical.

In the Roero, generally speaking, I didn't find the difficulties of the vintage to be a tremendous issue. Most of the 2007's I tasted were fruitier, slightly more alcoholic and, indeed, lower in acid and more softly structured than their 2006 counterparts. But overall, the wines fared reasonably well, as reflected in my findings with our sample population.

My general experience in Barbaresco, however, is that 2007 proved, as shown in the large number of wines tasted, to be quite a difficult vintage.

Over and over again, particularly in Treiso and Barbaresco, I encountered wines that displayed very ripe, flamboyant fruit along with sweet, herbal and weedy aromatics and flavors. My impression was that sugar content had surged to levels that required harvesting before the other aspects of the grapes had a chance to catch up and create any possibility of completion and harmony. When asked of my experiences, at our dinners or during winery visits, I shared this interpretation with several producers, none of whom came right out and agreed but none of whom said much if anything to dispel the idea, either. What I did hear repeatedly, from producers throughout the various regions, is that 2007 was a great vintage for Barbera (a variety that is more naturally inclined to thrive in such climatic conditions).

Moving ahead to day two and the wines of the Neive commune of Barbaresco, I can't say that I found the big picture any more to my liking. Though the sweet-and-sour signature I'd found in so many of the wines from Treiso and, to a slightly lesser extent, Barbaresco wasn't quite as obvious, there was a much higher prevalence of over-extraction, heavy oak treatment and high alcohol. Again and again, words like "jammy," "bourbon," "sweet," "overripe" and "forced" appear in my notes.

I'll be curious to see how the mainstream press reacts to the 2007 vintage in Barbaresco, as I expect it stands a good chance of being well-received in a manner similar to other ripe, hot vintages in recent history, such as 1997, 2000 and 2003. For me, based at least on our rapid-fire albeit extensive tasting, 2007 will be a vintage where knowing your producer and selecting with care will be of utmost importance.

Fast-forwarding a year, it should also prove interesting to see how the same vintage characteristics affected the wines of Barolo. In the shorter term, stay tuned for my thoughts on the 2006 vintage in Barolo.

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