The WanderCurtis team were delighted to have been invited to attend our first Barbaresco a Tavola dinner on Friday May 27th 2022. For the unacquainted, this is an annual tradition held by the region’s winemakers to showcase their latest bottled vintage. Held over three successive weekends in different restaurants, wine makers from across the area bring and pour their latest bottled vintage to other wine makers, members of the trade, journalists and others, to give a sense of how the vintage has turned out.
For those who have yet to encounter the Barbaresco region, well, the best thing to say is that what is commonly referred to as one region is comprised of the three regions of Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso, that collectively work under the single communal name of Barbaresco DOCG. While the star of the show must be made from 100% Nebbiolo, aged for a minimum of 12 months in oak with a further 9 months of bottle ageing, the region is also widely planted to Barbera, Dolcetto, Arneis and many other international varietals that can be bottled and sold under the Langhe DOC label. This affords the local winemakers an opportunity to honour more ancient traditions of blends, provides an outlet for the wines made from young vines and gives opportunities to experiment with more international varietals such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.
We attended the third of the three Tavola dinners, held at the restaurant Casa Nicolini in Tre Stelle. Set on one of many sensational ridges that run across the top of the vineyards, we were greeted with breath-taking views of key Barbaresco vineyards such as Asili, Rabaja, Rio Sordo and Martinenga. The potent aromas of ripe jasmine, although enticing, made it difficult find some of the finer edges of the aromas in these very young wines. We were the guests of Jeff Chilcott, Kiwi cellar master of Marchesi di Gresy, who we visited on Sunday for an amazing tasting (more on this later).
The format of the dinner is simple: 20 wines are set up on a central table, labelled 1-19, and you are invited to taste and score your way through the wines. Later in the evening, the wines are revealed, and you find out that most of people pouring the wines are the wine makers themselves. Over the course of the evening, we were served a typical and delicious multi-course regional meal. As the light faded, our palates tingling from the young vintage’s tannins and acidity, we left feeling full, fortunate to have taken part and maybe just a little tipsy.
Impression of the vintage
The 2019 vintage has been described by many as pure, energetic, and authentic with good fruit expression, fine abundant tannins and elevated levels of acidity – all typical characteristics of strong vintages. Our tasting left an impression of a vintage of balance, elegance and with good bones for the long haul. We would caveat this to say that with many having been bottled within a few weeks of the dinner, there was a high degree of wood on show, with many wines showing baking spice characteristics of cinnamon, and nutmeg, with a muted fruit expression. There were a range of wine making styles on show, with many made in the traditional neutral oaked manner and some showing the signs of flashy new barriques. We scored all the wines fully blind on a scale of 1-20, and frequently returned to wines that, on discussion, proved either hard to understand or sparked an interest.
I have put our scores together in a table by wine, with our average, maximum, minimum and standard deviation scores listed (for those who like a bit of statistical wine geekiness).
Tasting note comments
On balance, you will see that our average across all wines from the evening scores a 16.2 out of 20, which one could normally interpret as representing an average to good vintage. In context, however, given the extraordinarily young, freshly bottled wines, and examining the structural characteristics (acidity and tannin) and winemaking styles on show, I believe these wines will be showing beautifully in the medium term, and will reward the patient given their exquisite balance and structure.
In terms of individual wines, there was much debate on which of these was our favourite on the night. Initially, we were besotted with number 18 (Pelissero), a producer that clearly likes the full barrique approach, creating a ravishing, fuller bodied version of Barbaresco. On reflection and discussion, we marked it down on the basis that vanilla is not something that we feel belongs so overtly in Barbaresco of any age.
While our collective scores of number 12, the Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco Martinenga, was rather low, our tasting on Sunday showed just how wonderful their wines are with a bit more age, and we therefore conclude that this wine was being a little shy. We would say the same for number 3 from Ada Nada, which split opinions, and whom we visited the next afternoon and had a wonderful tasting.
Our clear favourite, number 2 from Silvia Rivella, shone out as both an approachable yet structured newer style barrique-aged wine with potential to age into something truly beautiful. Other strong showings included the Castello di Neive (6), the ever-dependable Produttori del Barbaresco (10) and the Francone (8) which all stood out.