Sometimes, the most obvious things are unbeknownst to us, yet sitting right under our noses. After reviewing the results of yesterday’s Winter Olympic competition from Torino, Italy, I decided to head over to the Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas. I was going to get a bottle of Cabernet Franc as I thought it would be nice to review a good one for the web site, as some of you have asked for a Cab Franc review. I bought a few bottles, but on my way out, I spotted a collection of Produttori del Barbaresco 1997 Pora Riserva displayed in the Italian section. The Produttori is one of my favorite Italian wine producers, but you don’t see it around much. It is usually well priced for the high level of quality. My general rule of thumb regarding Produttori is “if you see it and you can afford it, buy it NOW”. I have never been disappointed, especially with a nicely aged Riserva from this producer.
Then on my way home it hit me: The Winter Olympics are currently going on in Torino, Italy, which is in the Piedmont (Piemonte) region. Barbaresco is one of the premier wine regions of Piemonte. Perhaps I should review a Piemonte wine while the Olympics are in Piemonte! I have one sitting in my car, so lets do it!
For those unfamiliar with this region, Piemonte (or Piedmont as it is often called in the USA), is in the north-west corner of Italy. It is a high altitude region, essentially at the foothills of the French, Italian, and Swiss Alps. This is the only place in the world where the great Nebbiolo grape flourishes. It has been grown here for hundreds of years. There are two major wine districts in Piemonte, Barolo and Barbaresco. Both are planted almost entirely in Nebbiolo. The areas are adjacent to each other, much like Napa and Sonoma in northern California. The grapes grown in the two regions are quite similar, but Barbaresco tends to be a little more fruit forward, and matures a little earlier. Barolo is rarely ready to drink within its first 10 years, whereas some Barbarescos are ready in 5 or 6 years. Sadly, since the quality of these wines are so high and inventories are so low, the prices are usually sky high for anything worth drinking. Produttori, however, has quality as good as anyone, yet still sells their wines at reasonable prices.
The Produttori del Barbaresco is a “wine cooperative” that was started in 1894 by the Priest of Barbaresco who encouraged 19 local growers to pool their grapes to make a 100% Barbaresco wine. Prior to that, all the local grape growers sold their grapes to wine makers in Barolo and elsewhere. The problem was that each of the local grape growers produced too few grapes to have a functional winery of their own. When the Priest combined their efforts, the volume was sufficient to start their own winery. Thus, the birth of Barbaresco as it’s own wine region. The Produttori del Barbaresco is no longer a product of the local Priest, but is its own self-governing wine co-op. It was temporarily shut down in the 1930’s by the fascist government of Italy, and subsequently re-opened. It’s current iteration was started in 1958, and currently takes in grapes from 60 members (vineyard owners). The Produttori decided at the onset that they would only take in the best quality grapes. What separates the Produttori from most wine co-ops, is that they pay the grape growers differing rates depending on the quality of grapes provided, so the vineyard owners really do strive for the highest possible quality. This is in contradistinction to most wine co-ops that are in existence today that simply pay by the ton, without regards to quality. Roughly half the vineyard acreage of Barbaresco is committed to the Produttori.
In extra-special years where the quality is higher than normal, the Produttori takes the grapes from it’s 9 most storied vineyards, and bottles them as single vineyard Reserva wines. Each of these is special, and each is good. Each is a distinct expression of terroir. These Riserva wines are aged for 3 years in oak barrels, then 8 months in the bottle before they are released. The wine currently being sold at Meritage Wine Market is from the Pora Vineyard. Although my personal favorites are the Asili, Rabaja, and Montestefano Vineyards, the Pora is good too. 1997 is felt by many to be the best year in Piedmont in over a decade. When I saw this wine from this vintage, it was a situation I could not refuse. After all, the wine is 9 years old. It should be ready to drink. No cellaring needed on this one.
The wine opens with some interesting aromatics, at least for those not accustomed to Barbaresco. Rather than the crushed blackberries and truffles one would find in a Bordeaux or Cabernet, this wine hits the nose with cinnamon and cut leather. A hint of tobacco hides behind the bouquet. It has a pleasant earthiness. The acidity is well matched by the fruit and tannin. The wine seems to be almost hitting it’s full stride now. I had it a year or so ago, and it wasn’t quite ready then, but is getting close now. The tannins have softened, and the wine is taking on a silky smoothness. It has a nice color, but don’t expect a deep purple-black like a Cabernet. This wine, like most Barbarescos, is a little lighter due to the slightly lighter skin of the Nebbiolo grape. The wine is a beautiful garnet color, slightly amber at the edges. You can drink it now, but I think it will hit its peak in a year or so.
I liked this wine a lot. It drinks better with food than it does as a stand alone wine. When I drank it without food, it seemed a little tart on the finish. With a hearty tomato based Italian food, it came to life wonderfully, and the tartness went away. Many Italian wines are like that. It makes sense, since wine in Italy is usually integrated into the meals. Drink this wine with Italian food and you’ll be in heaven.
To keep with our Olympic theme, we will forgo the usual one star to five star rating and give the wine a medal if it is worthy. If this wine were competing in the VinoCritic’s Torino Winter Olympics, this judge would give it a very solid silver medal. But it has to be entered in the right event (doubles competition paired with Italian food). Enjoy.
I purchased this wine at the Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas at 162 S. Rancho Santa Fe Rd (at the intersection of Manchester, Encinitas Blvd, and S. Rancho Santa Fe Rd). I paid 46 dollars for the wine. This is a pretty good price for a 9 year old Barbaresco Riserva.
* Prior Wine of the Week Winner!