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SWA 2011: ITALY - BAROLO - BARBARESCO

Italy: Barolo/Barbaresco
High quality came hand in hand with high prices, with the best examples combining a strong regional character with a more approachable modernity

It’s tempting to describe the Barolo/Barbaresco section of the SWAs as ‘small but perfectly formed’. But actually ‘small and expensive’ would be more accurate. This year saw the most ever entries in this section – but apart from one wine costing under a tenner, every other bottle was at least £20, with most a fair bit north of that.

Still, while this corner of North-West Italy is not exactly the ideal place to go ferreting around for bargains, this is a category that has reliably delivered wine after wine to the SWA medal lists through the years, and so it proved yet again this year with a Gold and two Silvers.

These Piedmontese Nebbiolos, of course, are a popular choice in the sommeliers’ canon, at best combining elegance and concentration with a great affinity for the seasonal dishes of autumn and winter. Their highly individual character and occasionally tough tannins might make them hard going for the uninitiated diner, but at these prices they’re either a hand-sell or wines for the connoisseur in any case.

There have been discussions in the past about the old versus new styles (or leather versus fruit), and this year the judges agreed that the best examples combined a mix of the two: a very definite regional typicity softened by a more modern approachability.

Since few restaurants have the capacity to age the more old-fashioned and tannic styles, this was often a key factor in determining whether entries picked up medals or not – even if the tasters could appreciate the potential of the old classics.

‘The overall quality was high, but some wines would be too young to put on the list at the moment,’ explained Luigi Buonanno of Etrusca Restaurants.

In the end, the Gold went to a Barbaresco, rather than a Barolo – Bruno Rocca’s Rabajà. It was one of the most expensive wines on this year’s entire Gold List but still worth it in the eyes of the judges.

‘The wine that we gave the Gold to was by far the most expensive in the flight, but it was by far the best,’ said Team Leader Natasha Hughes. ‘It really delivered.’ ‘It was so poised and elegant,’ added Laura Rhys MS. ‘And I guess people expect to pay a little bit more for Barolo and Barbaresco.’


GOLD LIST

Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Rabaja 2007, Piedmont, Italy
£45.22 @ Liberty Wines
SWA 2011 Gold List Yes, this is pricey but the judges were bowled over. ‘Classic Barbaresco with a firm tannic backbone, high acidity and alcohol, this is well made and racy,’ said Olivier Marie. ‘Rich red fruits and dark berries. Great structure, with power and elegance,’ said Laura Rhys MS. ‘Perfumed and elegant. Effortless and classy,’ said Natasha Hughes.

SILVER

Poderi Colla, Barolo Bussia Dardi le Rose 2006, Piedmont, Italy
£21.59 @ Boutinot
Textbook example of the appellation,’ said Olivier Marie, and its complex nose of red berries and red flowers – pansy, tulip, violet, peony, rose – certainly impressed. ‘A wine with a lot of potential,’ said Luigi Buonanno. ‘Good palate with ripe tannins.’

Cantine giacomo ascheri, Barolo Sorano 2006, Piedmont, Italy
£24.72 @ Enotria
A complex bouquet showed violets, cherries, red berries, blossoms and liquorice. While the concentrated palate is balanced with a good fresh finish, Luigi Buonanno felt that the quality tannins still needed time. ‘Great length,’ said Natasha Hughes.

“I am always looking for typicity in the wines and although some of these were interpreted in a modern way, across the flight there was a lot of elegance showing, with some good complexity and precision. ” Luigi Buonanno, Etrusca Restaurants


Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – May/June 2011

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