Brett happens

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Tasting with Aldo Vacca

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Aldo Vacca, the managing director of Produttori del Barbaresco, was in Quebec recently to attend a series of events. One of them was a trade tasting of eight PdB wines – the 2010 Langhe and seven 2007 Barbarescos, including six single-vineyard wines. I was lucky enough to be offered a place and ended up sitting immediately to Aldo’s left. Many thanks to oenopole for this rare opportunity to taste these wines – long among my favourites – and to spend time chatting with Aldo, a man very much like the wines of the cooperative he heads: down-to-earth, dapper, focused, eloquent and ultimately inspiring.

Considered by many to be the top wine-growers’ cooperative in the world, Produttori del Barbaresco made its first wines in 1960. That, however, was a “terrible vintage” (quoting Aldo) in the region, so the first wines that bore the PdB’s label were the 1961s. In 1967 the co-op and Gaja became the first winemakers to produce single-vineyard bottlings. The co-op currently has 52 members.

Aldo says there are four keys to the co-op’s high quality and reputation:

  1. The region. All the grapes, even those in the entry-level Langhe, come from the Barbaresco DOC.
  2. Co-op members must sell all the Nebbiolo grapes they grow to the co-op – “100% belonging,” as Aldo puts it – though they’re free to do whatever they want with the other grapes they grow (usually Barbera and Dolcetto).
  3. Each load of grapes is evaluated and paid for based on its quality (sugar, colour and tannins are the current evaluation criteria). In 2012, the prices ranged from €2.00 to €5.20 a kilo and averaged €4.20.
  4. Most importantly, in Aldo’s opinion, are the single-vineyard bottlings.

Not only are the Produttori admired for making some of the most classic and beguiling Barbarescos, their wines are also seen as delivering unbeatable QPR. As I wrote of the 2001 Rio Sordo a few years back, “It may seem odd to refer to a $50 bottle as a bargain, but that’s exactly what this is.” When I asked Aldo why the co-op didn’t raise its prices, he shrugged and said the members make a good living as it is and “they’re not greedy.”

All of PdB’s Barbarescos are made the same way. Fermentation takes place in large, temperature-controlled cement and stainless steel vats using cultivated “Barolo” yeasts and lasts about three weeks. It is followed by lengthy maceration with regular pump-overs and punch-downs of the cap. The wines are then transferred to Slavonian oak botti for 36 months’ maturation, after which they are bottled unfiltered and with a small squirt of sulphur dioxide and laid down another six or more months before release.

There are nine single-vineyard bottlings. As all are made exactly the same way, the only difference between them is the vineyards the grapes were grown in. This makes a horizontal tasting an opportunity to taste the influence of terroir.

The Barbaresco vineyards run from fertile land near the Tanaro River to vineyards higher up the slopes of the valley, where the soil is less rich and more limestoney. The lower vineyards produce fruitier, more forward wines, the higher vineyards wines with more depth and power.

2007 was a mild winter with early bud break; the growers were afraid of frost damage but the temperature never went below freezing. The summer was also mild. Rain was manageable. The fall was near ideal and the harvest was the longest on record. Aldo feels the single-vineyard wines from this vintage should peak at “seven to ten years of life.”

Aldo characterized the most recent vintages as follows: 2010 “light,” 2011 “extremely ripe” and 2012 “ideal, between the two.”

You’ll find my tasting notes after the jump.

Barbaresco 2007, Produttori del Barbaresco ($35.50, 10858182)
A blend of Nebbiolo from the various named vineyards. In less than ideal vintages, such as 2006, all the single vineyard grapes go into this wine.
Graphite, savoury herbs, strong fruit (strawberry), bright acid, present tannins. Pure, vibrant and delicious but, inevitably, without the dimension, finesse or complexity of the single-vineyard wines.

Barbaresco 2007, Riserva, Pora, Produttori del Barbaresco ($49.00, 11214469)
A west- and south-facing vineyard located southwest of the village on a hill just east of the river. Valley-floor warmth, higher humidty and slightly more fertile soil.
Deeper, darker and gamier than the generic  Barbaresco, with prominent cherry and herb aromas. Earthier, richer and more structured, too, though still medium-bodied. Mouth-filling, with amped-up astringency. Finely structured and quite accessible. Lovely.

Barbaresco 2007, Riserva, Rio Sordo, Produttori del Barbaresco ($49.00, 11725470)
A long, relatively narrow, southwest-facing 6.0-hectare vineyard, the southernmost in the Produttori stable. Light limestone soil with relatively low calcium content.
Cherry, red and black licorice and eventually tar. The fruit is sweet and pure and slightly juicier, the texture slightly thicker though equally smooth, polished, elegant. The tannins are rounder and not in short supply. A vanilla note lingers on the finish.

Barbaresco 2007, Riserva, Asili, Produttori del Barbaresco ($49.75, 11601531)
Adjacent to, higher than and east of Pora, i.e. farther from the river and the valley floor. Much of the 3.5-hectare vineyard is a southwest-facing bowl, with a warmer, less breezy microclimate.
Beautiful nose. Soft berries, undergrowth, slate, wood. Elegant, structured, balanced. Fine tannins. Long. Firmer and leaner than the two preceding yet also somehow more intense. Will bloom in a few years.

Barbaresco 2007, Riserva, Pajè, Produttori del Barbaresco ($49.75, 11601557)
Located north of Asili and south of the village. Another bowl-shaped vineyard (3.0 hectares) but slightly lower and more open to the Tanaro, giving it a cooler microclimate. Limestone soil with a high calcium content.
Burgundian. Red berries upfront, polished stone, forest canopy and floor, kirsch overtone. Light but intense, with “brighter fruit” (Aldo’s description). Very structured and still astringent. Long, tarry/slatey finish.

Barbaresco 2007, Riserva, Ovello, Produttori del Barbaresco ($49.00, 11214469)
The northernmost vineyard of the Produttori vineyards. Large (8.0 hectares), high (about 100 m above the river), mostly west and east-facing. Calcareous soil rich in clay. Cooler microclimate.
If the Pajè were, say, a Nuits-St-Georges, this would be a Pommard. Red fruit with red-meat and smoked tea notes. Rich, deep and dense, with rounder, slightly more rustic tannins and a lingering astringency. A bit untamed now; give it a few years to mellow into a classic.

Barbaresco 2007, Riserva, Montestefano, Produttori del Barbaresco ($49.00, 11262647)
Located east of the village. 5.0 hectares in size. South-facing slope and quite warm. High concentration of calcium. The most rain-resistant of the vineyards and usually the last to be picked.
Far more closed than the others. Darker fruit and a hint of kirsch. Core of ripe, pure, plush fruit. Round, ripe but very present tannins: teeth-coating astringency. The richest, densest and most powerful of all, and the most in need of time. Very much like a young Barolo.

As the tasting drew to an end, I asked Aldo about the Produttori’s logo, which appears on the labels of the single vineyard wines and on his business card. Who was the man leaning on the coat of arms, and what is his significance? “Oh, that’s Gianduia,” he replied. “You know, like the paste of chocolate and hazelnuts.” Turns out he’s a local legend, a member of the guard who was known for his overindulgence of food and drink.

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Written by carswell

December 10, 2012 at 19:23

Posted in Tasting notes

Tagged with ,

9 Responses

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  1. hi, we tested several bottles of barbaresco 2007 few days ago. Ovello was one of the bottles and had a very bretty smell and taste. No one of the 10 people around the table was pleased by it.

    katy weiss

    December 18, 2012 at 11:29

    • Hi, Katy. Thanks for your input. Our bottle was pristine — no brett that I could detect. But, as I wrote when explaining the origin of this blog’s name (http://wp.me/P16vFN-17), “it’s something of a crap shoot. Last year I bought two bottles of a 1999 Gigondas from Château Raspail. The first, opened at a tasting, reeked to high heaven (one taster memorably described it as like a donkey defecating into a vat of blue cheese) though it tasted fine. The second bottle, opened a few weeks later, was clean as a whistle. Same wine, same vintage, same case. Brett happens.”

      carswell

      December 18, 2012 at 11:42

      • This is the only explanation I came up to, on why brett happens:
        1-Brett happens because brettanomyces end up, unwanted, in the wine.
        2-Brett is there because some winery ad brettanomyces to their wine, looking for a wider complexity.
        Situation 1; one barrique could be infested by brettanomyces and spread it to the wine, other barriques won’t. In this case some bottle could be bretty other not.
        Situation 2; all the bottle should have the same bretty taste.

        katy weiss

        December 18, 2012 at 14:22

      • While a few winemakers are rumoured to have introduced brett into their wineries (most notably Robert Mondavi, reportedly to give his wines a more Old World character), I very much doubt that the Produttori del Barbaresco are among them. I’ve been drinking their wines since the 1980s and have never encountered a bretty bottle.

        If your wine was indeed brett-affected, the contamination could have come from any of a number of sources, not just a barrel. It’s also possible that the defect was caused by a contaminant other than brett.

        It’s always good to bear in mind that wine is a living — and thus highly variable — thing, whence the adage “There are no great wines, only great bottles.”

        carswell

        December 18, 2012 at 17:45

  2. […] their various wines, including notes on most of the other 2007 single-vineyard bottlings, see the Tasting with Aldo Vacca […]

  3. […] of savoury aromas that include spice box, autumn leaves, brick dust, dried herbs, slate and earth. In December, the cooperative’s managing director Aldo Vacca described the 2011 vintage as […]

  4. […] 11214469) (For background information on the Produttori and their wines, see last December’s Tasting with Aldo Vacca report.) 100% Nebbiolo from the Pora vineyard. Fermented with cultivated “Barolo” […]

  5. […] a tasting a little more than a year ago, the Produttori’s general manager, Aldo Vacca, mentioned that […]

  6. […] + uve italiane (the 2011) – We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming (the 2011) – Tasting with Aldo Vacca – Nebbiolo and quail (the 2010 + recipe) – The Schwartza as miracle fruit (the […]


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