When it comes to any number of topics, the word underrated has a different meaning in different people. Take baseball for example; no one would argue that Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels or Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets are underrated, as they are two of the best players in the game today. But there are certainly dozens of players who excel in their position who don’t make the headlines that the two players mentioned above receive.
It’s the same for just about any subject. Take Italian wine, specifically Barbaresco, one of Piedmont’s most famous reds. Angelo Gaja is world famous for his diverse examples of Barbaresco for many reasons, including the work Gaja himself has done to promote his wines, so no one would ever consider his wines underrated.
But there are several Barbaresco producers making top-notch examples that aren’t as well-known as they should be. It’s the same with Barolo, and a few other wines from Piedmont, while it’s the same with Tuscany, and indeed, all over Italy. So for now, let’s look at what I consider to be the most underrated Barbaresco producers (I’ll do the same for other Italian wines in future articles).
Cascina delle Rose (Barbareco) – This craft estate, located in the Tre Stelle sottozone in the municipality of Barbaresco, is a real family business, run by Giovanna Rizzolio, her husband Italo Sobrino and their sons Davide and Riccardo. The first wines date from 1992 and show Giovanna’s preference for making wines that are as pure and natural as possible. Today, her sons are primarily responsible for running the winery and have continued their mother’s philosophy. Their two examples of Barbaresco, Rio Sordo and Tre Stelle, all made from fruit on the estate (they own only three hectares – around seven and a half acres of vines), are as pure as you can find in Barbaresco, a combination of excellent work in the vineyards and work in the minimalist cellar; each Barbaresco is unfiltered and then aged in large Slavonian oak barrels. The 2019 versions of these wines have just been released; the 2018s offer remarkable harmony and nebbiolo character; the Rio Sordo is slightly richer on the palate; both wines will peak in seven to ten years.
Other highlights include an extremely delicious Dolcetto d’Alba, bursting with aromas of black raspberry and dark plum, and a beautifully rendered Langhe Nebbiolo that is fermented and aged in cement vats; there is no oak treatment with this wine. The 2020 Langhe Nebbiolo displays lovely strawberry and pink rose scents, as well as excellent varietal character; accessible now, with a peak of consumption in ten years, it is Nebbiolo at its most charming and elegant!
Paitin (Neive) – If Cascina delle Rose represents the charm and subtleties of Barbaresco, Paitin displays a more powerful and slightly rough style of Barbaresco. This meticulous estate, located on the Serraboella cru in Neive, produced its first Barbaresco fifty years ago, although the families who run the property have been producing dry Nebbiolo since the 1840s.
Although I describe the wines as more powerful and robust than Cascina delle Rose, make no mistake, these are wines that respect Barbaresco’s heritage, and are traditionally made, aged in large oak barrels of Slavonia and Austria. There are three different examples of Barbaresco de Serraboella produced here: Serraboella, Sorì Paitin Serraboella (Sorì refers to the top of the hill, where the grapes receive maximum exposure to the sun) and Sorì Paitin Serraboella Riserva Vecchie Vigne; this last term means “old vines”; in this case, the fruit comes from vines planted here between 1948 and 1953; this wine is produced only in the best vintages. Alongside these wines, Paitin also produces a Barbaresco from the Basarin vineyard in Neive, and for the first time from the 2019 vintage, a Faset Barbaresco from the site of the municipality of Barbaresco.
The 2018s were beautiful expressions of their site and offered exceptional harmony; the newly released 2019s are even more remarkable. Luca Pasquero Elia at the winery comments that “the conditions were optimal…this can be considered a classic vintage at harvest”.
My tasting notes on the 2019 Serraboella mention aromas of bing strawberry and cherry, as well as hints of orange peel and balsamic on the finish. Offering impressive structure and a sense of place, this should evolve beautifully over the next 12-15 years – this is truly a classic Old World Barbaresco!
Piero Busso (Neive) – There are dozens of Barbaresco producers who make wines that aren’t flashy or draw attention to themselves; Instead, these winemakers simply and honestly craft wines that reflect a sense of place. At Piero Busso in Neive, the wines strongly display this approach; unfined and unfiltered, they magnificently reveal the local character.
There are six different examples of Barbaresco made here, ranging from Mondino, the most accessible on the way out, to Albesani Viti Vecchie. riserva, produced from vines planted in the 1940s. There are two Barbaresco from the Gallina vineyard, one from old vines, as well as one from the San Stunet site in the municipality of Treiso. Each of the wines is aged in large barrels, and offers well-rounded tannins and excellent persistence; the 2016s were top notch, while the 2018s come highly recommended for their elegance and charm.
Marco and Vittorio Adriano (San Rocco Seno d’Elvio) – Location may have a lot to do with this estate not being more well known, as it is located in the small area of San Rocco Seno d’Elvio, just outside the town of Alba. Sustainable viticulture is practiced here, and it shows in the wines; there are three versions of Barbaresco, each offering excellent harmony and finesse. The Sanadaive, a blend of two vineyards, is the most accessible, while the two offerings from the Basarin vineyard – one a riserva – are more complex and age-worthy. These wines need several years after release to round out, but they are classic Barbarescos with notes of tobacco and dark spice. Another Adriano recommendation is the series of short videos narrated by Michaela Adriano, as she talks about several members of her family, including her mother, father, and grandparents, Maddalena and Aldo (see here).
Piazza Armando (San Rocco Seno d’Elvio) – Barbaresco was first produced in this beautiful winery in 1982, and today there are three different versions. Argè, a blend of vineyards, is the most accessible; Fratìn, from a vineyard (this one is part of the Rizzi cru) located next to the beautiful winery building, and Nervo riserva “Vigna Giaia. This latter wine, aged in barrels, is powerful with distinct notes of tobacco and spice, and generally offers excellent aging potential. The Fratìn, also matured in small barrels, is quite rich on the palate and displays intense floral aromas. There is also excellent Barolo produced here from the Sottocastello vineyard in Novello.
Cascina Roccalini (Barbareco) – At Cascina Roccalini, just outside the town of Barbaresco, winemaker Paolo Veglio keeps it simple, producing a Barbaresco (and in the best vintages, a Barbaresco riser) of his prized wine estate. What is special about this vineyard? He used to sell the grapes to Bruno Giacosa – arguably Barbaresco’s top producer – but for over fifteen years now he has been using these grapes to produce his own wine, what a wine! Veglio practices biodynamic principles in his farming, and combined with a minimalist approach in the winery (he was aided in his craft as a winemaker for years by winemaker Giacosa Dante Scaglione), the wine is simply stellar! Aging the wine in large Slavonian oak barrels brings out the beautiful cherry and strawberry fruit, while the silky tannins help the wine glide across the palate. This is a Barbaresco of astonishing varietal purity, exceptional harmony and incredible charm. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this is Barbaresco at its best.