Nebbiolo Prima: The Riservas

Posted on May 25, 2013 by Alan Tardi

The last day of Nebbiolo Prima was devoted to riserva wines from Roero, Barolo and Barbaresco, and offered some of the most interesting comparison tastings of the week. Not only were all three appellations pitched side by side, but there were also three different vintages.

2009 Roero Riserva

While the regular Roero requires 20 months of aging with at least six of those months in wood, Roero Riserva must age for at least 32 months (with many producers choosing to go beyond the minimum of six months in wood). According to Angelo Negro of Negro Angelo & Figli winery in Monteu Roero, 30-40% of the production of Roero DOCG is riserva, which means that a high percentage of the best grapes in any given year get used for the riserva. Perhaps this explains why the 2009 Roero Riservas were, overall, much more consistently balanced than the regular 2010s. The character of the Roero riservas was shaped by some of the same wet, hot conditions that affected the 2009 Barolos: They have very dark purple-black colors, a dense velvety palate, and slightly over-ripe fruit. But, perhaps because of the quality of the fruit, most of the 16 Roero Riservas sampled were able to pull it off. Out of curiosity, I took a look back at my notes from last year and, in fact, the majority of the regular Roero 2009s seemed dark, concentrated and a bit dull, not having enough polyphenolic structure to carry the weight, which would seem to support the Riserva theory. The solution to this problem (for those, like me, who see it as a problem) is not to make more riserva but rather less, leaving more of the higher quality grapes to make a better, more consistent regular Roero.

2008 Barbaresco Riserva

Barbaresco Riserva must age for at least 50 months, a full two years longer than the regular, with at least 9 months in wood (many producers allow more time). Of the 17 Barbaresco Riserva 2008s in the tasting, many were lackluster with only a few showing signs of real promise. 2008 was a very difficult year for growers, who were challenged by mildew, oidium and hail. This resulted in a significantly lower-than-usual quantity of grapes but, thanks to good conditions during the summer (apart from the hail) and a prolonged growing season, the quality was very good to excellent. The 2008 Barolos tasted last year (and now on the market) were well balanced with fresh aromas, ripe fruit and firm but very fine tannins, qualities that many of these Barbaresco Riservas from the same year were lacking. The only explanation I can come up with is that they are still in a state of hibernation from their 4-year gestation period and need a bit of time to blossom. Fingers crossed.

2007 Barolo Riserva

Following a moderate winter, the 2007 growing season began and ended early, with a high of ripeness and concentration of sugar, making for full-bodied, generously fruit-forward wines which are approachable in their youth. The 2007 Barolo Riservas confirmed this with intense fresh strawberry–raspberry flavors, rich textures and firm yet elastic tannins. Many showed pronounced alcohol while others showed sweet almost over-ripe macerated or dried fruit, or a touch of balsamic.

A good example of 2007 Barolo Riserva is the Sarmassa of Bergadano Cav. Enrico. The wine has a toasty aroma, rich dark red color and a full, mature fruit core with tart acidity. It’s quite long on the palate with ripe black cherry segueing into flavors of leather and candied violets.

While the riservas are more structured and compressed than the regular 2007 Barolos and could certainly use a bit more time, they too will probably reach their peak fairly early (around 2015-2017) and then, thanks to their solidity and concentration, hold it for some time. 

# # #

With the last of the 2007 Barolo Riservas, wine number 382, the five-day Nebbiolo Marathon was over. It was a great first-date with the three appellations and their respective vintages. Taking stock of the week, a few things people said bounced back into my head:

“We make different wines in different years. The challenge is knowing how to best express what a particular vintage has to offer.” (Gianni Testa, Produttori del Barbaresco)

Giancarlo Giordano (left) of AIS with one of the participating sommeliers
Giancarlo Giordano (left) of AIS with one of the participating sommeliers

“Everyone’s free to make the style of wine they want to, but for me it’s a mistake to try to be something you’re not. Wine should be true to the place it comes from.” (Angelo Negro, Negro Angelo e Figli)

After the last tasting I was chatting with Giancarlo Giordano, perennial presence on the local wine scene and coordinator of the AIS (Association of Italian Sommeliers) team that poured for us throughout the week. “All these wines are so young,” he said. “They need to breath and rest and mature. Here everybody analyzes and critiques them; fair enough. But they also should be approached with a certain amount of humility. What will they be like in a few years? We’ll see!”

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