BARBARESCO – the “other” wine from Piedmont

I bought some Barbaresco for my cellar this week, which is what gave me the idea for this blog. As the sometimes “poor cousin” of the more notable – and expensive – Barolo, it has been a favourite of mine for many years.

Barbaresco is from the Piedmont region of Italy and made from the Nebbiolo grape (the same as Barolo). When I talk to people about this wine, I often say it is “red wine lover’s” wine. That’s because it is not big on jammy fruit, and it is also quite dry and tannic when it is young. So you have to really like this style, and be willing to cellar it for a while, to enjoy Barbaresco.

But if you have the patience, it can really pay off. After 8 – 10 years, the best wines – from good vintages – can become wonderfully complex. Dark purple turns to beautiful shades of brick; the nose has an amazing mixture of dried, earthy cherries, herbs and – with a few more years – even a port-like sweetness to it. In the mouth, you can find virtually no evidence of the oak these wines are aged in. Instead, there are smooth, soft dried cherries, fully ripe, but not jammy.

There are two things I like best about Barbaresco . The first is that it is one of the few wines that, at least for me, taste so much better after a dozen or so years of aging. “Old wine” can often be an acquired taste, but in this case you don’t get a dried out mouth of wood. Instead, there are these wonderfully complex aromas and flavours that go great with hearty stews, meats and hard cheeses.

The other reason I love Barbaresco is, relatively speaking, it’s a great cellar value. Now don’t get me wrong – I love its bigger brother Barolo as well. But most of the best Barolos are now in the $100+++ range. And that is out of my price range.

Barbarescos can be that expensive – Gaja made his reputation on them, and his are well over $100 a bottle. But many others aren’t.

Case in point, the ones I just bought. Produttori del Barbaresco is a cooperative that makes a regular wine and a number of vineyard designated reserve Barbarescos. The regular wine is great in its own right! I have been cellaring and drinking it since the 1986 vintage, and it is a solid bet for 8 – 10 years of development in the cellar. At $43 in Canada, that is a cellar bargain.

But the vineyard designated reserve wines are incredible! Asili, Ovello, Rabaj, Montestefano and others are all big, brooding Barbarescos that can easily last 15 years or more. In fact, a bottle of the 1985 Asili Riserva I had at age 20 was one of the greatest red wines I have ever drunk! Almost port-like in its richness, it was smooth and still ripe, with nothing dried out. Considering I bought it for $35 when it came out, that was amazing!

My most recent purchases have, alas, gone up quite a bit. The 2007 vintages of all these wines are now around $60. And while I am the first to agree that isn’t cheap, they remain the standard bearers for this wine. And with Parker giving them 94 – 95 points and a life expectancy of 20+ years, they will help me celebrate my retirement some day!

If you haven’t tried Barbaresco, buy the regular bottle and stash it away for a few years. I can almost bet – at age 8 or so – you will be amazed what it tastes like. And that will send you looking for the latest vintages of the Asili, Ovello, Rabaja and Montestefano!



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