WineLeaks #19 - Top Barbaresco Crus
The second part of the Nebbiolo Edition
Good morning wine lovers,
I had promised the second part of the Nebbiolo edition, focussing on Barbaresco this time. So here it is.
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The Market Take
📅 Week 45
Markets in a Minute
Inflation (CPI) 12-M to October:
US +7.7% ↓ / UK +9.6% ↑ / Euro +10.7% ↑
Interest Rates (Bank Rates):
US +3.75 - 4.00% / UK +3.00% / Euro +1.5 - 2.25%
S&P 500 (5D):
Crude Oil WTI (5D):
CBOE Volatility Index VIX (5D):
US$ Index DXY (5D):
What happened in the markets last week?
▪️Last week, everyone that hates crypto came out of their hole to do a good old I told you so. Charlie Munger (Warren Buffett’s right-hand man) said “crypto is a bad combo of fraud and delusion”.
Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari said it's not just FTX: crypto in its entirety is “nonsense”, pushing back on some of the merits most-cited by crypto adherents:
▪️Stocks looked fine last week. As long as you look away from the energy sector. Lower prices for oil and gas, however, meant a 1.7% decline across energy stocks.
Oil traders have pulled back because of weak demand from Asia, and China is grappling with a new surge in Covid-19 cases, slowing its pandemic reopening and tempering optimism about global demand.
▪️The yield curve is highly inverted. Two-year yields have risen much higher than 10-year yields, a dynamic that has, in the past, preceded a recession.
The Wine Market Update
(MoM = month on month)
Livex 50 (MoM):
Livex 100 (MoM):
Livex 1000 (MoM):
What happened in the fine wine markets last week?
▪️Liv-ex reported a widening of the gap between first growths wines and their respective second wines.
▪️Last week, the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino hosted the first 2018 Brunello di Montalcino En Primeur in London. If you want a candid opinion about the vintage look no further than's substack.
I’ll let you make up your mind on the quality, but want to draw your attention to value.
Nonetheless, the Consorzio has rated this vintage with four stars out of five and we all know what that means: the prices will stay high.
▪️Moving northwards, Piemonte (Piedmont) is gaining ground in terms of trade share; however, on the thinnest of margins, commanding no more than 3% of overall trade between July to September.
I hope that this WineLeaks will support the continued share increase in favour of the fantastic wines from Piemonte.
Barbaresco Best Crus
In the first part of the Nebbiolo edition, I looked at six wonderful Barolos. If you are interested, you can read it here:
In this edition, I want to draw your attention to Barolo’s lesser-known cousin — Barbaresco.
What’s the difference between Barolo & Barbaresco?
Let’s start with what’s the same.
▪️Both wines are made with 100% Nebbiolo.
▪️In addition, during the Barolo & Barbaresco Academy, Sandro Minella, a representative of Langhe Vini, debunked the biggest myth about the difference between Barolo and Barbaresco.
Many wine critics (and producers!) think that the biggest difference between the two is about the soil. You can see in the maps below that the laminated Sant’Agata Marls (marls are rocks made of clay and limestone) are present in the geological composition of Barbaresco (especially for crus around the River Tanaro) as in the south-eastern and central region of Barolo. This limestone-clay-based soil is ideal for Nebbiolo.
There are two main differences:
▪️There is, on average, 30% less rainfall in Barbaresco than in Barolo. Barbaresco’s proximity to the Tanaro River creates warmer morning temperatures during the growing season and cool evening breezes that keep vines refreshed and healthy — showing a greater diurnal range. Barbaresco vineyards facing the Tanaro River the harvest will start on average 7 to 10 days earlier than in Barolo. Thanks to this, its structure is more refined and Barbaresco can generally be enjoyed earlier than Barolo.
▪️Ageing requirements are shorter for Barbaresco (2 years) than for Barolo (3 years).
In his Pocket Guide, Hugh Johnson writes of Barbaresco:
Often better than Barolo, Barbaresco’s lesser reputation is undeserved. When spot on, the gracefulness, age-worthiness and perfumed intensity are like that of no other wine in Italy — the world, really.
Riserva vs Standard Release
Barbaresco DOCG must be aged for at least two years and two months before release, with a minimum of nine months in oak. The mandatory ageing period for Barbaresco Riserva DOCG is 50 months starting November 1st of the harvesting year, ageing two more years, but not necessarily in oak. Not all winemakers produce a Riserva and most of the ones who do just make it in special years.
For example, in a French style, Gaja doesn’t produce any Riserva.
Others, many, instead decide to go out with a ‘standard release wine’ aged longer than the minimum, going to market when they believe the wine to be ready.
What are Barbaresco Best Crus?
MGA = Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva. Delineated place-name or, more simply, cru.
Note that I was cautioned against calling some MGAs better than others — and instead point at those more historical ones. In the map drawn by Renato Ratti in 1984, you can see which ones were considered “with special character”. This, of course, doesn't exclude others, especially in light of climate change and the new available technologies both in the vineyard and the cellar.
The Barbaresco DOCG production area includes the city of Barbaresco itself as well as the two neighbouring cities of Neive to the east and Treiso to the south. Hugh Johnson in his Pocket Wine Book summarises it well:
Barbaresco: most complete, balanced.
Treiso: freshest, most refined.
Neive: most powerful, fleshiest.
You can see that the historical maps focus on sites predominantly in the city of Barbaresco and the immediately adjacent areas in Neive and Treiso. Treiso, particularly, was mainly planted with Moscato and is one of the few areas in the Langhe where forests still grow tall and temperatures are noticeably cooler, especially at night. The best crus are all located to the north and west of the town. However, this coolness could become a godsend in an increasingly warmer earth in the years to come.
Until the 1960s, both Barolo and Barbaresco were blended wines, using fruit from different vineyards and sectors. Some producers, such as Bartolo Mascarello, still believe this is the best approach. The estate owns vines in Cannubi, so could theoretically produce a single-vineyard wine from this great site, but Maria Teresa Mascarello believes the blend is superior to the wine she could make from this single vineyard.
Among the most exciting crus in Barbaresco, I’ll explore the ones in the city of Barbaresco, Asili, Montestefano and Rabajà. However, that’s just because of length constraint — Martinenga, Montefico and Roncagliette are three more worth noting.
Before delving into the MGAs, let’s take a look at the most recent 2019 vintage data from Saturnalia.
A mild winter was followed by a rainy spring and the hottest June of the last decade. Temperatures cooled in rainy July and September/October offered large differences in temperature between days and nights — which rewarded grapes with plenty of fresh acidity, complexity and not excessive alcohol, one key requirement for high-class Nebbiolo.
“It is too early to assess the 2019 Barolos as they are not on the market yet, but the Barbarescos I have tasted look very exciting.” (TWI) ($)
As part of Susan Hulme’s Spin the Bottle piece on Barolo & Barbaresco 2017, 2018 and 2019 for The Wine Independent, she noticed that, when tasting the 2019 Barbarescos, her scores are higher on average than for 2017 and 2018.
“For the eighty 2019 Barbarescos I tasted, I gave an average score of 91. What is very attractive in the 2019s is the poise and brightness of the aromas and flavours. These are firmly structured wines with a very pure and pristine quality of fruit. They have plenty of firm tannins, but the tannins are polished and refined. They need more time to open and show their real potential, but they look like wines capable of long aging.”
Among the top scoring are the 2019 Gaja Barbaresco (£155/bottle) and 2019 Massolino Barbaresco Albesani.
Asili is the first ‘single vineyard’ to appear on wines in 1967 and since then the site was championed by Ceretto and, most famously, Bruno Giacosa. It is Bruno Giacosa that notoriously said:
“Even out of a lineup of dozens of Barbarescos, I can always pick out Asili, thanks to its intense floral perfume and its extraordinary elegance.”
2019 Ceretto Barbaresco Asili (£107/bottle)
This is an outstanding wine, Susan Hulme MW sang praises about Ceretto’s Asili and its longevity; Aldo Fiorelli at Decanter focused on the elegance of the MGA, which is most representative of Ceretto’s style. Poised, restrained strawberry, dried flowers and liquorice root wrapped up in ripe tannins and lifted acidity. Concentration, weight and balance make this a wine for the long haul. Both awarded it a 95-point score. For Monica Larner, at Robert Parker, it is ‘a special treat’ and awarded it a 96. It received 18 points from Walter Speller at Jancis Robinson. Although, for some reason, Kerin O’Keefe was the only wine critic to not believe in its longevity.
Despite this, 2019 is considered a great vintage. David Fletcher, who has been making wine for Ceretto and under his own label, believes that 2019 is better than both 2010 and 2016 because it has a less generous mouthfeel and is more elegant. He told Walter Speller at Jancis Robinson:
“2019 is better because of the exceptional purity of the fruit. It is like a cross between 2013 and 2016. It is very refined and structured even if right now still a little aggressive.”
At the top end of Asili sits Bruno Giacosa (£138 / bottle). Bruno himself passed away in 2018, but his daughter Barbara has ensured continuity in always crafting wines with a beautiful embracing velvety texture with buried dense, rich, tannins like a little full stop of crushed chalk firmness. Their 2016 Asili Riserva (£350 / bottle), which was scored 100 by many wine critics, is among the world’s top wines. Another interesting winemaker is Roagna, producing some of the most convincing Barbaresco crus, in tiny quantities, with maniacal attention to details; and the cooperative Produttori del Barbaresco (for Asili in Riserva) offers truly unmatched value for money.
Finding information about Italian MGAs is very hard. Nonetheless, Rabajà borders Asili to the east. It is known to deliver elegant yet muscular wines that age well, although they can certainly be appreciated when young.
“Rabajà is, along Martinenga and Asili, an authentic grand cru, the same as Chambertin and Chambertin Clos de Béze in Gevrey Chambertin are. The difference is that in Burgundy this is officially recognised whereas in Italy it almost seems to be a secret among sector operators. The most authentic Rabajà winemaker is Giuseppe Cortese whose Barbaresco is tradition in a bottle.“
Walter Speller awarded it an 18 and defined it as a “thoroughbred”.
Aldo Vacca, the long-term director of Produttori del Barbaresco, believes this vineyard gives the most Barolo-like wine from Barbaresco. The steep site and the high calcium content in the soil deliver a weighty yet classic style of Nebbiolo that, with time, develops secondary aromas of leather and tobacco.
La Ca’ Nova’s cru of Montestefano is approximately 270 metres above sea level and facing south, which enables them to produce more powerful, deeper styles. They not only make some of the most breathtaking Barbaresco, but they make some of the most reasonably priced. Savoury and structured, the palate shows raspberry compote, juicy Morello cherry and baking spice alongside taut, refined tannins and fresh acidity. Very long and captivating and can already be approached. 97 points from Kerin O’Keefe (WE), and 17++ from Walter Speller (JR), this is the best Barbaresco that you’ve never heard of. 2019 is, alongside 2016, one of the top vintages of the Rocca family.
To conclude, a word of warning about MGAs. Some winemakers — such as Gaja in this instance, produce a wine with grapes from a particular cru but some vintages declassify it from Barbaresco DOCG to Langhe DOC (before 2014), but the wine can still include the MGA name on the bottle.
The requirements for Langhe DOC are less stringent, as other grapes can be incorporated into the blend and there is no minimum ageing requirement.
For example, I found the listing of 2014 Barbaresco, Sorì Tildìn, Gaja, Piedmont, Italy on the BBR website quite confusing:
While it says Barbaresco, Sorì Tildìn, and the price is that of the Barbaresco DOCG, the label clearly shows the Langhe DOC version. In addition, the description doesn’t mention whether the appellation is Barbaresco DOCG or Langhe DOC.
Here’s instead an example where it’s clearly stated.
This may be obvious to you, but it was quite confusing to me.
I hope you found this useful. If you did, why not share it?
PS: I’ll be in Sicily over the next week to taste some delicious wines with the Consorzio Sicilia DOC. I’ll report back to you soon!
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My investment thesis, risk appetite, and time frames are strictly my own and significantly different from my readership's. As such, the investments covered in this publication and in this article are not to be considered investment advice nor do they represent an offer to buy or sell securities or services, and should be regarded as information only.