A Passageway to Italian Wine through Barbaresco

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I think my struggles finding value in Italian wine are well documented at this point.  Too often, I've laid down good money ($20-$50) for bottles that lack depth of flavor, offer limited fruit characteristics, and generally don't bring me excitement on par with the price paid.  However, I think I've had a breakthrough and I'm pumped to tell you about it.  The wine is Barbaresco, and here's more about how I wound up going berserk for these wines along with some specific recommendations for quality and value.

I've heard a lot of suggestions related to breaking through and learning to appreciate Italian wine.  I need to be spending more money, I need to seek out wines from a specific importer, I need to be trying wines from less famous regions, etc.  More than anything, I've been told that these are food wines and I shouldn't expect them to taste good on their own.  All of these suggestions are helpful, but I still find it difficult to find value in Italy.  I need specific examples of wines I can track down at good prices at retailers near me at reasonable prices!

One thing I don't like when aspiring to expand wine knowledge is when someone tries to put you in the dunce category.  For example: "Oh, you think Bordeaux is too tannic and Burgundy too earthy?  You should try wines from the Languedoc."  Or "If you don't want to spend a fortune on Brunello you should save your money and drink Nero D'Avola."  How are you supposed to learn more about the great wine regions of the world without experiencing them?

Okay Barbaresco.  It's a town and a DOCG in the Piedmont region so it's in northwest Italy- about an hour and a half by car northwest of Genova.  The grape used in Nebbiolo which is the same grape as is used in Barolo which is about a half hour away.  You can also find plain Nebbiolo from the region which could give a close approximation of the flavor profile of Barbaresco if you find a good producer.  I've enjoyed Nebbiolo from Vietti and Produttori del Barbaresco at around $20.  For me Nebbiolo-based wines are the Burgundy of Italy. I'm crazy for this stuff.

I thought @garyvee did a great job describing Barbaresco the other day on Wine Library TV.  I've frequently heard Barbaresco described simply as more feminine and elegant than Barolo, but check out what he has to say about this high end Barbaresco he rates 97 points.  The video should be cued right up to the Barbaresco he's reviewing:


Barbaresco: It's not inexpensive but it's an incredible wine I'd encourage you to check out, especially if you're like me and tend to gravitate towards new world wines most of the time.

The notes and ratings below are from non-blind consumption of bottles I've purchased in the past year.
  • 2004 Cigliuti Barbaresco Vigne Erte - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco (1/1/2010)
    A stunningly good Italian red wine. Medium-dark ruby color. Candy-like fruit on the nose- reminded me of Luden's Wild Cherry Cough Drops in a good way. Gets serious on the palate. Rustic in a good way but complex and balanced. Medium-high acidity makes it food-friendly but absolutely delicious and enjoyable on its own. Appreciated by everyone who tasted it. Highly recommended. (95 pts.)
    TOP PICK- the wine that sent me off on a Barbaresco binge that continues to this day.  Their "Serraboella" bottling is even better.
  • 2006 La Spinetta (Rivetti) Barbaresco Vigneto Bordini - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco (3/17/2010)
    It was amazing how concentrated the flavors were given how light in color this wine was. Beautiful nose of red raspberries, tar and earthy mushrooms. Very tannic at this point and quite acidic. Nice stuff. The kind of wine that you enjoy smelling the glass after the wine is gone. (93 pts.)
  • 2001 Cigliuti Barbaresco Vigne Erte - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco (5/17/2010)
    I was really looking forward to trying this 2001 after going so gonzo for the 2004. It was just about everything I hoped for. As expected the tannins have softened nicely, but there's still a good amount of grip. The flavor profile is what I really love about this wine. Cherries, rose petals, and just a hint of tar. Really beautiful wine. The kind of wine you want to seek out and buy more of before it's all gone. (93 pts.)
  • 2006 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco (7/31/2010)
    Based on its price and its youth, I was expecting this to be a thin, aromatically limited Barbaresco that I'd think and hope would be better with more age. I was so pleasantly surprised with this wine however- I think it's drinking beautifully NOW. It's thin visually (you can easily see your fingers through the glass) but it packs a flavorful punch that I found utterly enjoyable to drink. Ripe strawberries and cherries on the nose accompanied by some beautiful earthy floral components in the background. On the palate there's no denying its firm tannins but they're in harmony with the amply sweet flavors. Drinking this wine with food is a delight and it's not so bad on its own. A value at $30 and a steal around $20. Highly recommended Barbaresco. (92 pts.)
    TOP VALUE- read more here on why this wine in particular is a unique value play.
  • 2004 Cantina del Pino Barbaresco Ovello - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco (1/7/2010)
    Shades of greatness but fails to deliver to the high expectations I had for it. Opened the bottle for 4 hours prior to drinking. Off to a great start with its beautiful, complex nose. Elegant rose petals yet rustic at the same time. Things get rough on the palate and the grip on my teeth was just a little too much at this point in time. May improve as tannins fade and fruit steps up, but at this point I can't quite find my way to 90 points. But so close. (89 pts.)
  • 2004 Orlando Abrigo Barbaresco Vigna Montersino - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco (4/9/2010)
    Quite a bit of sediment. Compelling Barbaresco notes I enjoy (strawberry, rose petal, a hint of menthol) but would have enjoyed it more with more amplitude. (88 pts.)
  • 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco (4/23/2010)
    Nice core flavors but wow- quite a sharp, unapproachable, highly acidic wine. Needs time that decanting/aeration can't help with. (87 pts.)
  • 2005 Socre Barbaresco Roncaglie - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco (6/15/2010)
    Good enough wine, but kind of boring. Would have appreciated more personality in one direction or another. (87 pts.)
  • 2004 Pertinace Barbaresco - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco (11/27/2009)
    Extremely disappointing. For me, there wasn't anything wrong this wine but there wasn't much special about it. Thin and non-descript. Easily replicated for $10 in a blind tasting. A very poor value at $40. (82 pts.)
Posted from CellarTracker

The best way to find these wines?  Wine-Searcher.com
Photo Credit: habi

Who are some of your favorite Barbaresco producers?  Or some value plays in Italian red wine in general?

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