A short climb into the hills above Alba and we were in Barbaresco. From a view point above a natural amphitheatre of vine covered slopes Tim explained that the DOC classification is restricted not only to vineyards in the Barbaresco region but more specifically those with a south facing aspect.
At Bruno Rocca, one of Barbaresco’s leading wineries, we were greeted by Elena who gave us a fabulous introduction to a region that has been rather in Barolo’s shadow – perhaps because of its fragmented structure with 512 owners of just 600 hectares of vines.
The Rocca family had owned the Rabaja vineyard since the 1950s, sending their grapes to the local co-op. Bruno started making wine in 1978, and continues to do so in a fine modern winery with his son Francesco. Daughter Luisa is the export manager.
They have 15ha of vines, and are in the process of organic certification, having for many years not used chemical treatments, just copper and sulphur and plant extracts
The vines are interplanted with beans and grains while pheromone stickers confuse unwanted insects.
The clay soil is very dense, but retains water and Nebbiolo’s very thin roots will go very deep (8m!) to reach it.
That’s important in a year like 2017. They finished harvest 2 days ago, which is very early. Elena described a “crazy vintage” with early bud burst, hail in April followed by frost and then very little rain. In some places yields are down 60%, but quality will be very high.
We walked round the winery and saw the barriques and large casks – all French oak rather than the more traditional Slavonian.
Then to the fine tasting room for a very impressive line up of wines backed up with samples of the soil from the vineyards they came from.
The Langhe Chardonnay ‘Cadet’ 2015 from the Neive area nearby was glorious – rich, complex and elegant with great length.
The Barbera d’ Asti 2015 from Vaglio Serra in Montferrato was fresh with great structure and acidity.
Elena recommended it with bagna calda (the local anchovy and garlic sauce) or better still fish and chips!
The Barbaresco 2014 (100% Nebbiolo) was grown nearby and despite coming from a notoriously difficult vintage (hail followed by a cold summer) was drinking really well, and would be super with steak.
Our final wine was the Barbaresco Rabaja 2014, altogether a step up if a little closed. Dense fruit and tannin but elegant. Worth waiting 10 years, but you’d need a spare £60 to invest in a bottle!
We drove round the corner to the Rabaya restaurant for a fantastic lunch on the terrace. Black truffle with rabbit followed by an wonderful pepper mousse (Sformatino), the Tajarin pasta with a sausage ragù, veal in Barbaresco sauce and a trio of puds.
Tim chose a couple of wines we hadn’t yet tried, the white was Nas-cëtta from the Langhe Novello commune, a floral nose and fresh mineral palate.
Our first Dolcetto d’Alba 14%, full of fruit but soft and balanced.
And finally a Barbaresco 2009 from
Grasso Fratelli which really showed the benefit of ageing: dark fruits violets farmyard elegant balanced and very moreish.
Coffee, a final admire if the view and a half hour power nap on the way to Barolo.