2017 Barolo, 2018 Barbaresco & Langhe Nebbiolo from a selection of vintages were the focus of an outstanding tasting last week at Westminster’s Church House writes Chris Wilson. In a week when many questioned how safe some of the larger portfolio tastings were being run, this one was impeccable in both its safety protocols and also its mix of producers from the well known dons of the region to lesser known estates. In addition Wilson picks his top 10 wines from the region to have on your radar.
“A wine that glistens in the glass and smacks of smoke and seaweed. There’s redcurrant fruit, shoe polish and cherry lozenge as it glides around the mouth. A tremendous wine,” Wilson writes about one of the 2017 Barolo.
In a week where there was a lot of chatter on Twitter about ‘unsafe’ wine tastings and crowded rooms full of spitters and swillers, this tasting of 2017 Barolo, 2018 Barbaresco & Langhe Nebbiolo – organised by Hunt & Speller alongside the Consorzio di Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe & Dogliani – was just the tonic.
Held at the ever-reliable Church House in Westminster the sit-down tasting saw 120 wines on show with an emphasis on the 2017 Barolo and 2018 Barbaresco vintages. It was a sommelier-served event held across a number of two-hour tasting windows in which each taster was poured 40 wines from the 120 and could then dip into some of the others if time permitted.
While narrowing the number of wines available this format worked nicely as each block of 40 wines was thoughtfully put together to showcase variety across the three zones (Barolo, Barbaresco & Langhe Nebbiolo) and covered a decent swathe of these Piedmont crus. Furthermore it was as ‘Covid-safe’ as I have seen; large individual tables in large, high-ceilinged room, open windows, no contact with bottles.
The Cathedral-like grandeur and silence made for a serious tasting, but then again these are serious wines. It was a nice idea to include a sprinkling of 2019 and 2020 Langhe Nebbiolos as these are generally more easy-drinking in style and can offer a clue as to what to expect when the 19/20 Barolo and Barbaresco wines are bottled and released. They also offered some respite from the tannic-burn that younger Barolo and Barbaresco wines are noted for. Plates of water biscuits on each table helped with this too, with one journalist rattling through the biscuits at an alarming pace.
Altogether a tight and interesting tasting which showed that there’s much to look forward to from the 2017 Barolo and 2018 Barbaresco releases from the well-known dons of the region as well as some lesser-known producers. Many wines followed the textbook path expected from the region, while others felt more ‘modern’ in approach with toned down tannins and acids and ramped up fruit and floral notes. The balance between the two is a huge positive for the region, the grape and – notably – the consumer.
Tasting highlights from across the zones: 10 to try
Renato Ratti, Ochetti Langhe Nebbiolo, 2019
Light of foot with perfumed, floral notes of violets and vanilla. Red liquorice, cherry and raspberry flood the mid-palate alongside chewy tannins. Lithe finish with a lick of dust. Drinking very well now.
Fratello Casetta, Langhe Nebbiolo, 2018
Wood smoke and dried leaves on the nose. Leather and mouth-drying tannins hit you first, then blue fruit and vanilla. All very savoury, but delicious with it. Decent structure, but the tannins cry out for some food.
Brezza, Langhe Nebbiolo, 2020
A breezy, creamy Nebbiolo studded with pomegranate and raspberry fruit. Wears its fruit on its sleeve but there’s just enough room for leather and tannic structure to poke through. Very easy drinking.
Cascina Vano Barbaresco Pilone nei Rivetti, 2018
A spicy and sweet Barbaresco with a warming mouthfeel. Rich fruit cake in the middle, lush acidity and a savoury note on the finish; cold pork pie. A serious wine.
Ressia, Barbareso Canova, 2018
Lean and focussed with bright cherry fruit and a hint of forest floor. Grippy tannins bite at the palate but the zingy fruit and acid bites back. Nicely balanced and leaves you wanting more.
Albino Rocca, Barbaresco Ronchi, 2018
Chewy and rich with delicate tertiary notes of earth and liquorice. Confected strawberry fruit and a dash of blackcurrant cordial. Wood smoke on the finish.
GB Burlotto, Barolo Acclivi, 2017
Smooth and full-bodied with fruits of the forest, tomato stem and bacon fat notes. Beautifully integrated with a broad mid-palate and a long, velvet-like finish. Will stretch its legs out further over time, but super right now.
Brezza, Barolo Sarmassa, 2017
An opulent and eminently savoury wine; the kind of wine that impresses at a dinner party. The savoury, chewy notes come in the form of Marmite and roasted duck skin. The fruit is bold – black and red berries – and needs to be but stands up well against the bitter tannins.
Vietti, Barolo Ravera, 2017
Floral and right with lovely poise and weight. The fruit is cherry-flecked but the heavy lifting is done by the violet and cherry blossom notes, creating a wine that’s delicately perfumed and silky.
Cascina Chicco, Barolo Rocche di Castelletto, 2017
A wine that glistens in the glass and smacks of smoke and seaweed. There’s redcurrant fruit, shoe polish and cherry lozenge as it glides around the mouth. A tremendous wine.