I am always searching for the rebels in traditional wine regions and, better yet, those doing it well. Arguably the most stick it to the Man producer in Piedmont, Fabio Gea’s approach is both thoughtful and unconventional, from pét-nats made from Barbaresco-designated fruit to vinifying specific wines submerged in water (like DNAss). The wines speak to Barbaresco from a completely different lens.
Gea farms just 1.8 hectares of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto in and around Barbaresco, from which he produces 18 different wines. DNAss is one in a three-part series (The others, Back Grin and Cul Otte, sold out earlier this year). Made from 100% Nebbiolo, DNAss ferments and ages in homemade porcelain amphora and stoneware vessels without any sulfur, then is bottled in old Travaglini Gattinara bottles. Barbaresco is known for its more approachable Nebbiolos, and Gea's are some of the wildest yet pure expressions to encounter.
Of course, the Barbaresco designates are the most traditional. We tasted the 2014 Notu Seguiva Le Gocce D'Acqua, which shows classic notes of ripe cherry fruit and rose aromatics, and the structure and tannins are just beginning to soften. It's fermented in concrete, aged in barrel for three years, and bottled with minimal sulfur. Barolo was hit hard by heavy rainfall and hail storms in 2014, so this is a particular vintage where Piedmont lovers should veer toward Barbaresco!
Vietti's Luca Currado works tirelessly to continually improve the quality of his wines and Barolo's reputation as a whole, and the 2018 vintage proved no different. Antonio Galloni wrote in his 2018 Barolo report how this was "the most erratic, frustratingly inconsistent Barolo vintage" that he has encountered in his career. Still, Vietti's Baroli were standouts from the region, and the 2018 Castiglione, Lazzarito, and Ravera earned glowing reviews, as you'll see below.
Aside from being a banner year in Piedmont, 2013 cemented a shift in Currado's philosophy—now, the Baroli lineup is nearly exclusively aged in large format botti as opposed to small French barrique. (The Ravera was the first bottling to undergo this change in 2010, and the powerful Villero was the last in the range to do so in 2013).
Many consider Vietti to have one foot in the traditional camp and one foot in the modern camp. In addition to aging in botti, the Baroli see long skin macerations (a requisite for the traditional category). If one aspect leans modern, it's their vineyard work, which is about keeping yields low and doing everything in their power by natural means to push ripeness higher.
Rinaldi is a revered traditionalist following family techniques used since the early and mid-1900s. With long macerations on the skins aging in large botti, the results are powerfully deep Baroli met with precision and aromatics that make them incomparable. They offer wild spices, gamey notes, and of course, Nebbiolo's tell-tale tar and roses.
The Giuseppe Rinaldi wines first appeared in 1921, though, it was during Beppe's lifetime that the world's attention turned toward Piedmont—Beppe's spirit is more immortalized than the legendary wines he produced. Sadly, he passed away in 2018, but he had several years to see his daughters, Marta and Carlotta, continue to raise the bar.
I visited the Rinaldi cantina just before harvest in 2012. It was nothing short of a privilege to meet the Rinaldi family and taste the wines, including the monumental 2010s still in botti. Finding back-vintage wines is not a common occurrence today, and I was thrilled to work with Rinaldi's US importer, Vinifera Imports, to acquire several older wines directly from the Rinaldi estate.
There's no winery in Piedmont, or perhaps the world, which exemplifies the spirit of collective contribution quite like Produttori del Barbaresco. While the single-vineyard Barbarescos garner much of the fame, the blended Barbaresco has proven to be one of the world's great values in cellar-worthy wine.
51 growers are behind the production here, covering nine great single-vineyard Barbarescos: Asili, Rabajà, Pora, Montestefano, Ovello, Pajè, Montefico, Muncagota, and Rio Sordo. These prized Barbarescos are only produced when each one meets the highest standards, truly reflecting this band of brothers. Should one vineyard not make the cut, then no single-vineyard wines are produced that year.
The Langhe Nebbiolo is the entry-level wine offering immediate accessibility, and the straight Barbaresco is made each year comprised of grapes within the DOCG zone. For me, the latter is the benchmark bottling of the region, offering a value that consistently delivers well above its price point. The rigorous standards are as strong as ever.
Headmaster of the Royal Enological School of Alba, Domizio Cavazza, first created the cooperative in 1894, pulling together nine vineyard owners and bottling their wines in his castle. Before then, their grapes had been sold off to Barolo producers or labeled "Nebbiolo di Barbaresco." The Cantine Sociali closed in the 1930s due to the economic restrictions of fascism. Then, in 1958, Barbaresco's priest regathered nineteen growers, knowing the only chance at prosperity was to form as one, and the Produttori del Barbaresco as we know it was founded.
You may know how special 2016 was in Piedmont, but the Colla family name is still flying under the radar. Antonio Galloni's La Festa del Barolo shined a spotlight on Poderi Colla's legendary Bussia bottling, and my chance to taste the 2013 was a "wow" moment. Since then, the wines from Colla have become more refined and transparent. While Monforte d'Alba has some of the most structured and authoritative Barolos in the region, its famed Bussia cru is revered for an atypical finesse.
The style at Colla relays this as I've never quite seen it before - There's a combo of featherweight power and sappiness, the perfume meeting notes of licorice, mint, orange peel, and dried cherry, and a seamless mineral finish. Traditional Barolo, no matter how in vogue, often requires hearty food when young, but there's a lift and transparency to Colla's Bussia that make this so appealing today despite the banner year's structure, which denotes a long life ahead—think Bartolo Mascarello via Monforte d'Alba.
Beppe Colla was the first to label Monforte's Bussia cru on bottles in 1961. The Colla family owned the famous Prunotto estate for decades, and in 1994, they sold and started their eponymous winery. The first initiative was to buy the storied Dardi parcel within Bussia, a section of vines planted in 1970.