Saturday, June 20, 2009 at Sociale, San Francisco, California

It’s rare that anyone has the chance to taste twenty iconic Barbarescos spanning six of Piedmont’s greatest vintages.

But in June 2009,  The Rare Wine Co. hosted a retrospective tasting of a number of the cooperative's most important wines: 19 single-cru Barbaresco Riservas and the legendary 1990 Barbaresco Centenario.

While a few of the bottles came from Produttori's own cellar, most were painstakingly acquired by The Rare Wine Co. from private cellars, mostly in Europe, over the past several years. But regardless of provenance, the wines were consistently in remarkable condition for their age.

Some showed youthful berry flavors, others an earthy power, and still others the characteristic autumnal notes of mature Barbaresco. And what the older wines lacked in concentration, they made up for with their ethereal perfume. Every wine spoke of its vintage, place, and the cantina's brilliantly undercrafted traditionalism. Indeed, the minimal wine-making style gives great transparency to both the vintages and the crus.

Thoughts on the Vintages

1990: All of the wines were there for the taking. They were forward, lush, fruit-driven and marked with the classic accents of licorice and forest floor. A pleasure to drink now, each should age effortless for years to come.

1982 The '82s are a wonder. Amazingly bright, powerful, and dense, while still having youthful charm, they will easily provide years of delicious, refreshing, seductive pleasure. Is this the year to rival '96 for complexity and brilliance?

1979: These wines showed softer fruit, a velvety acidity, and very fine tannins. Lost in the shadow of 1978, this is an under-appreciated vintage for Produttori. The '79s have complexity and richness, but with real elegance. At present, they're giving much hedonistic pleasure.

1971 The heralded '71 vintage did not disappoint, especially with its heady perfumes and fascinating transition of flavors. Still showing fruit but with more emphasis on the earthy, truffley, autumnal potpourri, these wines continue to deliver thanks in part to their sound frame of acidity and tannin.

1970: The sleeper vintage of the tasting. Who knew these wines had so much in common with the '71s? Freshness, acidity, fruit, and elegance are abundant. Perhaps not as concentrated as 1971, but nonetheless, the '70s have depth, and are very impressive.

1967 Another vintage that tends to be overlooked, but this is an important one for Produttori, since this was the first harvest in which the cantina bottled single-cru wines. Produttori's 1967's are at their peak of maturity. Perfumes of truffle, aged tea, spice, and warm earth are intriguing and complex. The flavors, too, have evolved and show layers fresh, classic Barbaresco fruit. Stunning wines.

Impressions of the Crus

All of Produttori's nine crus were exhibited at the tasting, which offered a unique opportunity to understand not only their differences, but how traditional Langhe winemaking can bring out the essence of each site.

Asili proudly displayed its characteristic richness while showing the warm growing conditions of its site. It's easy to see why this cru is so well loved.

Moccagatta showed excellent balance in the ripe 1967 vintage, thanks mostly to its cooler microclimate.

Montefico showed characteristics of its calcium-rich site, where the sun rises late in the morning. Bright acidity and freshness of fruit go with it and give the wines a youthfulness, even in their maturity.

Montestefano had its signature too: a wonderful floral intensity, at times reminiscent of violets. Its soil shares the higher calcium content of Montefico, as well as the nice acidity, but with a more tannic structure.

Ovello, like Moccagatta, proved that its site gives excellent balance and freshness in the warmer, riper vintages. It delivers roundness and elegance.

Pora showed more truffles and earthiness but with a lush, fruity mid-palate that transitioned back to the subtleties of the soil; a fascinating flavor profile for a cru.

Paje, located next to Gaja's iconic Sori San Lorenzo, offered an outstanding balance of sweetness and acidity, with excellent length.

Rabajà is one of the warmer sites, giving the wines a riper, more concentrated feel, with a good amount of tannin to help focus the flavors. There was a persistence and strength to the Rabajà wines that reminded me of Asili's richness. The complexity from this site is really excellent.

Finally, perhaps the least-known Produttori cruRio Sordo, was an epiphany. A slightly cooler site, set within a bit of a geographic bowl, it warms more slowly and retains acidity in the fruit. While not as muscular, Rio Sordo is all about the freshness, balance, and purity; restraint definitely has its place in the Barbaresco pantheon.

The Wines

1990 Asili Riserva: Beef blood, black pepper, and a hint of menthol framed the ripe red fruit aromas. A lithe entry gave way to a complexity of mature flavors with characteristic Asili richness. The ever-changing aromas and flavors suggest that this wine will continue to develop while maintaining the forwardness of the vintage.

1990 Rabajà Riserva Dusty, slightly musty aromas with a hint of forest floor transition to flavors of black licorice and ripe black fruits, suggesting the general warmth of this site. Perhaps a bit more advanced than the '90 Asili but with a long, captivating finish.

1990 Rio Sordo Riserva
A dark brick color forecasts the youthful, bright, and perfumed aromas. Seemingly younger and fresher than the '90 Rabajà and '90 Asili, with a pure Nebbiolo flavor profile. Being from one of the slightly cooler growing sites, this is one of the highlights of the vintage. Vibrant with pinpoint balance.

1990 Montestefano Riserva: Earthy, slightly meaty aromas, with a hint of licorice. As aromas transitioned into flavors, a violet floral theme showed. The wine is bright and youthful with nice acids. Has the strength and weight of the cru. A favorite in the making.

1990 Centenario: A special bottling, in magnums only, combining all nine crus to commemorate the creation of Barbaresco” wine in 1894. Concentrated aromas and flavors of blood sausage, licorice, and ripe red fruits with a complex, forest-like note. A muscular wine that will enjoy a long life. Classic Nebbiolo.

1982 Montestefano Riserva A fountain of powerful aromatics ranging from dusty, bitter herbs and iron to notes of salve, violets, and raspberries. Bold, rich, youthful flavors with great acidity and finish. Powerful and delicious. Somehow combines concentration with elegance. Wow!

1982 Pora Riserva: Floral, fruity, high-toned notes that moved to anise and a slight nuttiness. A subtly soft entry led to mouth-filling fruit preserves balanced by great acidity and good tannin. Dances from overt and opulent to focused, intense Barbaresco. Earthy and mushroom notes, too. (See similarities in notes for '71 and '67 Pora Riservas.)

1982 Montefico Riserva Opening with an earthiness and a hint of herbs, the nose developed complexity and revealed sour cherries and sandalwood. With a powerful entry, this young wine's flavors were reminiscent of its nose with sour cherries and spices being predominant. Bright acidity made for a very long finish. Amazing!

1982 Paje Riserva: A rich, complex nose beginning to show some maturity. On the palate, a superb balance of fruit and acidity, with tannins that are slightly drying, but providing good support. Delicious now, but should drink well for a few more years.

1982 Ovello Riserva Slightly advanced brick color. The sweet fruit-cake nose was a pleasant surprise, while the palate was buoyed by bittersweet chocolate notes. A slightly lower acidity compared to the other '82s makes it weighty and velvety. A pleasure.

1979 Asili Riserva Wonderful bouquet of dried fruits with notes of strawberry, sassafras, loam and a touch of anise. On the palate, the wine showed strawberry and sassafras framed by nice tannins and the signature richness that is Asili. Very enjoyable.

1979 Montefico Riserva: High-toned, mushroom and earth aromas. A strawberry-like floral quality evolved and the nose became fresher than the other '79s. Montefico's good acidity is there but the earthy, forest potpourri flavors were not quite as delineated.

1979 Ovello Riserva: Captivating perfume of warm earth, strawberry, and classic rose water. The palate is bright and firm, with saddle leather, brown butter, spice and good acidity, all focused nicely by the tannins. The complex, mature flavors are intense but with a seemingly paradoxical satin-like delicacy.

1971 Rabajà Riserva: Baked plum, allspice, warm apple donut aromas are quite enticing. Nice acidity and woodsiness on the entry with saddle leather and spicy flavors, finished with a cran-cherry note on the long, focused finish. Supple, elegant, and surprisingly fresh. Really nice.

1971 Montestefano Riserva: Wonderful baking aromas, freshly roasted almonds, with the signature floral-violet note typical of this cru site. Hickory nuts and a nice truffle quality emerged with more time in the glass. On the palate, a lean entry leads to a slightly woody and tannic but ripe concentration of fruit flavors. Impressive.

1971 Pora Riserva High-toned aromas of earth and truffles, classic Barbaresco, merge on the palate with bittersweet chocolate and firm tannins. There is a fruit compote-like fullness to the palate, but the finish is long and direct. Great balancing act of richness and elegance.

1970 Rabajà Riserva A light brickish color is accompanied by high-toned notes of salve and a hint of soy sauce. The palate shows more freshness with light red fruit qualities of rhubarb and strawberries and a hint of nuttiness. Nice astringency keeps the focus and gives length. I was surprised by the strength of this vintage.

1970 Ovello Riserva: Mushroom, earth, and truffle aromas make for a wonderfully complex nose. A cool entry with nice acidity gives way to strawberry and cranberry. Graceful and persistent. This wine shows how good the 1970's really are.

1967 Pora Riserva Speciale Perfumed bouquet of earth, mushroom, and autumnal leaves with a touch of caramel. Soft red fruits and saddle leather with some wood tannins on the palate. A bit less complex than the others, but continues the Pora tendency to blur the line between fruitiness and earthiness.

1967 Moccagatta Riserva Speciale: Spice, salve, and a touch of menthol throughout the continually changing bouquet. Beautiful spice and dried red fruit flavors, notably sour cherries, glide over the palate. Silky and sweet. Even fresher and more complex than the '67 Pora. Incredible for a 42-year-old wine!

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