Ahead of next month’s specialist tasting in London of over 100 wines from some of the finest and most sought-after crus of Barolo and Barbaresco we talk to Matteo Ascheri, president of the Consortium for the Protection of Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe and Dogliani, about this iconic, world famous wine region, and the challenges and opportunities there are in ensuring its wines are as relevant and coveted as they have always been, whilst also keeping ahead of changes in viticulture and winemaking styles to ensure it is making wines the market and consumers want to drink.
The September 15 tasting will be the first time that UK wine buyers will have the opportunity to taste the Barolo 2017 and Barbaresco 2018 vintages as well as catch up on the latest releases of Langhe Nebbiolo. The event is being organised by Walter Speller and Jane Hunt MW in partnership with the Consorzio of Barolo, Barbaresco, Langhe & Dogliani. You can register for the event here.
Thanks to the imagination, passion, and get up and go mentality of the Consorzio of Barolo, Barbaresco, Langhe & Dogliani, UK wine buyers will have the opportunity to taste over 100 highly prized wines from Barolo and Barbaresco at what will be one of the first official large scale trade tastings there has been in the UK since the Covid-19 lockdowns.
Great credit also has to go to Italian wine expert Walter Speller and the highly respected UK wine event organiser Jane Hunt MW, for putting on an ambitious event at this time and giving buyers the chance to not only taste such important wines, but also get back to some sort of normality and share part of our lives amongst trestle tables and spittoons again.
How it will work
The September 15 event is being held over an extended period between 10am to 9pm to give as many people as possible the chance to take part in what will be carefully organised pre-booked two-hour sessions where you will be able to choose from three sets of 40 wines, each individually served by a team of sommeliers at at Covid-secure sit-down tasting. Demand is already high for places to be able to taste the latest Barolo, Barbaresco and Langhe Nebbiolo vintages. To register click here.
What to expect from the vintage
To help better understand what buyers will have the chance to taste The Buyer talked to local producer Matteo Ascheri, who earlier this summer was reconfirmed at president of the Consortium for the Protection of Barolo, Barbaresco Alba, Langhe and Dogliani.
His role is to know what is going across the consortium’s 527 plus wineries, covering some 10,000 hectares of vineyards, producing, on average, 63 million bottles of wine a year. Within that are the 10 protected denominations of: Barolo, with its 2,184 hectares of vines; Barbaresco,725 hectares; Dogliani 813; Diano d’Alba, 216; Barbera d’Alba 1,630; Nebbiolo d’Alba,1,020; Dolcetto d’Alba, 1,013; and Langhe and 2,051, including 734 hectares of Langhe Nebbiolo.
Ascheri says he effectively has two key roles. Manage everything there is to do with producing the wine and then work out how to market and promote it around the world.
Ahead of the London tasting he is making sure everything is ready to go for the highly anticipated release of Barolo 2017 and Barbaresco 2018 – the two flagship wines of the region.
“They are so important for us,” he says with every one of the 14 million bottles of Barolo and 5m of Barbaresco produced every year targeted at key customers around the world.
But crucially the focus is now very much on ensuring all the wines produced in the 10 denominations are given their fair share of voice which is why there is a particular focus on Langhe Nebbiolo at the London tasting. “From now on it will be important to face the challenges of all the denominations we represent,” says Ascheri. “It will be really interesting to show our Langhe wines at the tasting.”
He says it is also a chance for buyers to see wines that are made with a bit more freedom, and certainly less rules and regulations than there are for Barbaresco and Barolo. “Producers have more flexibility and can express more of their own style and use more varieties in Langhe. Prices are also good and competitive too.”
Ascheri says Piemonte has worked hard over the decades to keep its premium status, with an unfaltering focus on only using its local grape varieties. Grapes, that for Piemonte’s benefit admits Ascheri, have not gone on to do well in other premium wine producing regions.
But it is the expertise and individual touches that each grower brings to these grape varieties, like Nebbiolo, that help make such a wide range of diverse styles of wine, says Ascheri.
“These are all small family businesses each with their own different approach. This is key to the success of the region. It is that individual and personal each grower has to the variety they are working with.”
Asheri says buyers can look forward to a very good quality Barolo vintage thanks to what was a very warm year which has helped make the wines far more immediately approachable than other vintages. “The 2017 wines are balanced and very elegant,” says Ascheri. “It it the perfect vintage to get to know and introduce yourself to Barolo. They are powerful, but elegant at the same time.”
The wines will age and be better for those that can wait at least a couple of years, but in keeping with the viticultural changes taking place across Piemonte are also ready to drink now.
The 2018 Barbaresco is what Ascheri calls a “more classical” wine where the fruit and acidity work well together. Together they are both quality vintages the region and its buyers can be proud of.
Both vintages reflect, he says, the changes taking place across Piemonte where producers are looking to tackle climate change. The warm vintages certainly help with that, he adds, but it is also a case of producers getting used to different growing and maturing conditions so that they are doing what they need to do both in the vineyards an in the winery to make solid, interesting and market relevant wines.
Be it careful canopy management where producers are doing the opposite to what they used to do by doing all they can to keep their grapes in the shade as much as possible. But with high humidity in the area and its proximity to the mountains means it is a fine balancing act between protection and exposure to the sun.
Ascheri says the signs are good that Piemonte will enjoy a solid 2021 harvest. He is quick, though, to pay his dues to those areas of Europe that have not been as lucky, particularly the regions of France that were hit so hard by frost in the spring. Instead it has received around the right level of rain and sunshine in spring and summer to look forward to a healthy harvest, with the caveat of any late hail storms coming to the party.
“At the moment we are happy as we skipped the problems that France had, but we are still aware of the risk of hail. We are, though, extremely positive. It won’t be an exceptional harvest, but it will be good, regular one and that is what we want. The quality is also good.”
Coping with Covid-19
Piemonte is certainly coming to the London tasting on the front foot, for whilst the region, as Asheri says, was faced with the same issues and concerns of all major wine regions during the pandemic it has been able to come through as strongly as it could.
“Sales were still positive during lockdown,” says Ascheri. “We are starting from a solid base: in fact, in the first five months of 2021 our denominations recorded very good results, up 19.7% on bottled and peaks of 26-28% for Barolo and Barbaresco.”
It was able to switch its supply to cope with the increased demand from supermarkets and the off-trade to make up for the on-trade being closed. “We lost a little value as the off-trade channel is more competitive, but compared to when everything happened in March 2020, we have seen a great recovery. Now we are very happy and are seeing double digit growth growth compared to 2020.”
Ascheri says the London tasting could not have come at a better time. Not only is the UK such an important market for Piemonte, Barolo and Barbaresco as a whole it also sends a message to the rest of the world, that it is open and ready to take on our new vintages in what is such an intensely competitive market.
“It’s so important that we are able to show the market what we are doing. Our world is very complex and not always that easy to understand which is why we are so keen to be able to show our wines in this way,” he adds. “It is also nice to be back in the market after 18 months away.”
Ascheri hopes to be in London working also with Enotria&Coe, distributors of his own family’s wines.
“Over the last two years we have seen a lot of dramatic changes. First with Covid and then with Brexit. We need to do all we can to get back to normal trading and normality. The wines will be there in London which is the most important thing.”
- To find our more about the vintage launch of Barbaresco, Barolo, Langhe Nebbiolo on September 15 at Church House Westminster, Deans Yard, London, SW1P 3NZ then click here to register. Places are limited.