Produttori del Barbaresco recently unveiled its 2011 single-vineyard wines in New York with a tasting and seminar conducted by its managing director, Aldo Vacca. It was a significant event, considering no single-vineyard wines were made from the 2010 harvest, nor will there be any from 2012. The next release of the series will be in 2018, with the 2013 vintage.
The cooperative, founded in 1958, produces some of the top wines of the region, made in a traditional style. Part of its success is the continuity of management: Both of Aldo Vacca's grandfathers were founders of the Produttori, and his father ran it from 1958 until 1984. Vacca took the helm in 1991.
Another factor in Produttori del Barbaresco's success is the focus on Nebbiolo. The best grapes go into the single-vineyard riservas, only in top vintages. "In the past, we didn't make the single vineyards because the vintage was bad," says Vacca. "Now, we don't make the single vineyards, even if a vintage is good, unless everything is perfect." Nebbiolo grapes that don't make the cut for the crus go into the Barbaresco, an excellent wine on its own (the 2012, $37, rated 93 points) or may be declassified into the Nebbiolo Langhe.
The Produttori's 64 farmer members are paid based on quality, measured by the sugar content of the grapes at delivery, color and tannin levels. There are 31 different pay scales ranging from $1.25 to $2.50 per pound. "Every little effort to improve quality is rewarded," explains Vacca.
Spring 2011 was warm and the vines got off to a good start, but slowed down due to a cooler-than-usual June and July. August experienced some hot temperatures, up to 95° F, but water reserves in the soil nourished the vines. Then the weather changed, ushering in warm days and cool nights during the first three weeks of September, with a little rain at the right times, ideal for the late-ripening Nebbiolo. "It reminds me of 1990," he says, "a vintage that opened the door for Piedmontese wines."
The wines show a lot of flesh, sweet fruit and submerged tannins, with good structures, particularly for the Montefico and Montestefano. This is a contrast to more classic vintages of Barbaresco, where the tannins dominate.
The Pora, from a warm site close to the Tanaro River was the most open and fruity. Pajè, from a cooler spot, offers strawberry, cherry and currant flavors focused by its bright acidity. Ovello is also cooler, due to elevation and exposure to north winds, and its higher clay content produces a chunky Barbaresco, with assertive tannins. Rio Sordo is lush, round and juicy, while Asili is all about elegance and finesse, slightly austere with a mineral element and fine complexity. All these can be enjoyed now, but will develop over the next 10 to 15 years.
The final four are the "heavyweights" in the group, based on the higher calcium content in the vineyards that translates into more structure and power. Rabajà is the most complete, boasting pure cherry, strawberry, licorice and chalk flavors matched to a firm, intense structure. Muncagota is dense, powerful and square, slightly herbal and with dusty tannins. Montefico reveals fine purity to its cherry, tobacco and underbrush notes along with a stony, chalky intensity and Montestefano is the most reserved of the range, tight, dense and spicy. These wines could benefit from a few years in the cellar and will evolve over the next 15 to 20 years.