New Releases from Piedmont: Dolcetto 2005 and Barbera 2003/2004

April 2007

In most discussions on Piedmont wines Barolo and Barbaresco typically receive the lion’s share of the spotlight and rightly so, as they are among the world’s great wines. That said, readers who want to explore the full range of what the region has to offer owe it to themselves to check out the top Dolcetto and Barbera bottlings, which offer much pleasure at more accessible prices. Many of the wines in this article are made by top Barolo and Barbaresco producers who take the same pride and care with their more modest wines as they do in making their top single-vineyard bottlings. Quite a few of the most successful wines also come from unique vineyard sites that are just as ideally suited to Dolcetto or Barbera as the top Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards are to Nebbiolo. This report concentrates on wines readers are most likely to find in the market: Dolcetto 2005 and Barbera 2003/2004.

Recent vintages have produced a number of delicious Dolcettos and Barberas that are sure to offer highly enjoyable drinking. The 2005 Dolcettos are terrific. The wines are gorgeously ripe, sweet and open, yet maintain much of the classic sense of proportion of the 2004s without showing the overripe qualities of the 2003s. The 2004s are also very pleasurable. Owing to the more balanced weather that year, the wines are slightly more classic and restrained in style. The best examples offer plenty of vibrant, layered fruit in a more linear style than the plumper, juicier 2005s. In most cases I have a slight preference for the 2005s, as they are simply beautiful wines.

In a similar vein, readers will have a lot of fun debating the merits of the 2003 and 2004 Barbera vintages, both of which have yielded a stunning array of great wines. 2003, was of course a super-hot vintage, yet Barbera thrives in such conditions, which serve to tame some of the grape’s inherent acidity. The best 2003 Barberas capture the heat of the vintage in their ripe, forward fruit and plump textures but also display a measure of proportion. The 2004s are equally outstanding but completely different in style. In 2004 the region saw a longer growing season, with daytime heat tempered by cool nights during the critical final phase of maturation.

The wines show slightly more defined aromatics as well as layered, nuanced textures with plenty of fruit, silky tannins and brighter acidities than the 2003s. They are perhaps slightly less generous on the palate, yet the finest 2004 Barberas are still holding back a lot of their potential and will continue to develop positively in the bottle. I find it impossible to rank one vintage ahead of the other. More often than not I found in my tastings that some producers did better in 2003 while other achieved better results in 2004. The good news is that readers will find many wines that merit careful consideration. It is still too early to have an informed opinion on the 2005s, from which I have sampled just a few of the fresher, simpler wines.

 --Antonio Galloni