Wine Spectator senior editor Bruce Sanderson is blogging from Italy's Piedmont region, where he is visiting growers and tasting the new vintages that will be released in the United States in 2014.
I met with Pio Boffa and Cesare Benvenuto at Pio Cesare in the center of Alba. Boffa organized a tasting from cask of the 2010 and 2011 Barbarescos and Barolos with his team: enologist and chief winemaker Paolo Fenocchio, agronomist and vineyard manager Claudio Pirra, and cellarmaster Beppe Natta. The wines had not been blended, but the differences in the vintages were clear, as were the differences between Pio Cesare's Barbaresco classico and the single-vineyard Il Bricco and the Barolo classico and Ornato, also a single-vineyard. All were tasted from 3,600- to 5,600-liter casks.
The Barbaresco 2010 comes from parcels in Il Bricco and San Stefanetto, both located in the Treiso commune of Barbaresco. It was pure, fresh and elegant, offering white pepper, flowers and strawberry flavors. The Barbaresco Il Bricco 2010, though less aromatic, exhibited submerged fruit and spice notes in a linear frame. It was longer and more refined than the classico and sweeter on the finish.
The Barolo 2010 delivered a hint of chocolate on the nose, along with spice and cherry. Big and rich, with dense tannins, it was nonetheless fresh and vibrant, with mineral on the long aftertaste. It is mostly comprised of Serralunga fruit and the final blend will contain about 10 to 12 percent Nebbiolo aged in barrique.
The Barolo Ornato 2010, by contrast, has about 20 percent of the final blend from barrique. The sample we tasted, from a 5,000-liter cask, was fresh, with ample cherry, sweet spices and mineral flavors. Like the Barbarescos, it showed greater harmony and finesse than the classico bottling.
The 2011s, from a warmer growing season, were rounder and richer, delivering a lot of fruit. The two Barolos showed more power, and the single vineyards a little more length than their classico counterparts.
I met with Giorgio Rivetti, proprietor and winemaker at La Spinetta, earlier this year in New York to taste three of his four 2010 Barbaresco crus: Gallina, Starderi and Valeirano. Gallina is the most elegant, Starderi dense and muscular and Valeirano airy, yet firm, tensile and linear due to its 1,000-foot-plus elevation in Treiso.
At La Spinetta's winery in Grinzane Cavour, Rivetti showed me his Barbaresco Vigneto Bordini 2010, which he had just bottled, and his two Barolos from 2010, Vigneto Garreti and Vigneto Campè that were bottled in July.
The Vigneto Bordini 2010, from a sandy site, was a little awkward from its bottling, with cherry, tobacco, balsamic and earth notes matched to an elegant frame and ending with a mouthwatering impression. It's a lower-priced Barbaresco in the range that rivetti ages a little longer, and it's approachable on release.
The Barolo Garreti 2010 comes from the lower portion of the vineyard behind the winery. The vines there are 30 years old. A rich style, it displayed cherry, plum, tobacco and earth flavors, moderate power and density. The Barolo Campè 2010, from 50- tp 55-year-old vines at the top of the hill, was fragrant, boasting floral, raspberry and tobacco aromas, loads of intense, sweet raspberry and licorice flavors and a touch of sandalwood on the long finish.
We also tasted his 2004s from a riserva program that will be released in magnum only next year on their 10th anniversary. Rivetti makes the riservas in top vintages from select parcels of his oldest vines in the vineyards. He started in 2000, followed by 2001, but the 2004s are the first to be released after 10 years of aging. Two and a half to three years of that aging takes place in 100 percent new French oak barriques.
The Vigneto Gallina Riserva 2004 was all perfume—rose, peony, raspberry and bilberry—on an elegant, silky frame with great harmony and length. The Vigneto Starderi Riserva 2004 evoked macerated cherry, slightly decaying fruit and truffle bouquet, very dense and muscular. The long finish suggested licorice and sandalwood. The Vigneto Valeirano Riserva 2004 showed an exotic, fruit compote character of cassis, raspberry and bilberry, allied to a compact, linear profile with resonant tannins.
The La Spinetta wines are sexy and modern, with plenty of berry fruit and spice notes. With age, they turn supple and silky, but there are always the Nebbiolo tannins lurking underneath.
I also tasted the new vintages from Cigliuti, with sisters Claudia and Silvia Cigliuti. This is truly a family winery, the two sisters and their parents, Renato and Dina, performing all the vineyard and cellar work. The wines are beautiful and expressive, with the top Barbaresco cru Serraboella revealing deep fruit and subtle power from its calcareous marl soils. Yields here are always low, roughly half what the appellation regulations allow.
All the new vintages were bottled at the end of August 2013. There was a very fresh, vibrant, cherry- and almond-flavored Dolcetto d'Alba Vigna Serraboella 2012, all from stainless steel, and a rich black currant-laced Barbera d'Alba Vigna Serraboella 2011 that spent 18 months in used barriques.
The Barbera d'Alba Campass 2011 comes from 25-year-old vines in a vineyard in Serraboella. It also sees 18 months in barrique, but 50 percent is new oak. It was more polished than its sibling Barbera, offering rich black cherry, vanilla and chocolate flavors, yet maintained a racy, mouthwatering impression.
There is a Langhe Nebbiolo 2012, aged five months in stainless steel tanks and five months in Slavonian oak cask that delivered cherry, strawberry and floral notes in a very pure, elegant way.
The Barbaresco Vie Erte 2010 aligned its cherry, spice, tobacco aromas and flavors with a linear frame. Intense, with a firm base of tannins, it possessed ample fruit, with fine structure. It's very long, but will need five to seven years of aging. The Barbaresco Serraboella 2010 was really powerful, featuring cherry, raspberry and a touch of spice layered over dense, assertive tannins. It was less expressive than the Vie Erte, but long, fine and fresh. Both wines spend 26 months in wood, the former in large cask, the latter in both cask (60 percent) and a mix of tonneaux and barrique (40 percent) of which 10 percent is new.
The most modern wine in the Cigliuti cellar is the Langhe Rosso Briccoserra 2011. Made from half each Nebbiolo and Barbera, it's aged in 100 percent new barriques. A rich, powerful red, it sported black cherry, tobacco and spice flavors, with the fruity Barbera punctuated by Nebbiolo's tannins.