It's around 17F outside in Portland, with strong winds, several inches of snow on the ground and drifts well up to my knee. After sledding down the neighbor's driveway with the kids, it's time for a fire, some lasagne, and my first bottle of the 2003 Produttori di Barbaresco.
It's fitting on such a cold night to uncork a dose of bottled sunshine. 2003 of course was the record hot year in Europe, and here in Oregon too as it happens. The wines in so many areas are freaks, in some cases very, very good, by in many cases just too darn roasted, alcoholic, or otherwise distorted from what makes any particular appellation special.
For my tastes, the most successful 2003s are in regions that may not always see the ripest fruit, or grow grapes that tolerate excessive heat a bit better than others. For example, I love Loire cabernet franc in most vintages for their perfume and delicacy. But I find myself loving some wines from the hottest years, such as Joguet's Chinon from 2003, despite their unusal profiles. Same with some northern Rhone whites from '03, like Jaboulet's Crozes Hermitage Mule Blanche white wine that's rich and oily like a dry dessert wine. Maybe they're not typcial, but I've enjoyed them immensely. Am I a hedonist?
So it was in Piedmont in NW Italy. For the reknown co-op Produttori di Barbaresco, which usually produces a "normale" tan label Barbaresco and then several while label single vineyard bottlings from grapes grown by its several members, 2003 was a year where no single vineyard "riservas" were produced. The normale is the one Barbaresco bottling for the year, and it's dandy, as I'd heard from several sources. It's still available locally, and I imagine elsewhere too. I suggest you try it if the following sounds good to you.
The wine is medium ruby colored, with a classic perfume of the nebbiolo grape. Dried roses, tar, red fruits, leather, and the tell-tale sign of the year's heat -- a bit of raisin. To me, it's a very pleasant nuance of the wine. Tasting this blind, I might guess it's a really nice Valtellina from further north in the Piedmont that tastes like a really good Barbaresco. Valtellina is known for producing wines of nebbiolo in the style of Amarone, where the grapes are dried after harvest and only then made into a table wine that's exceedingly rich and powerful.
The flavors follow the aroma, with lots of ripe tannin that nebbiolo's known for along with ripe cherries, leather, tar, and slightly withered fruit. That's saying it's a little raisiny without, hopefully, the negative connotation of overripe fruit. Instead, it has the extra richness and depth that a more fancy wine might provide, without the price certainly or perhaps the typicity that makes the best single-vineyard bottlings so special. I can see why the co-op made only the normale in this year, but it's a decision that wine buyers and drinkers should take advantage of.
Don't be fooled - this is nebbiolo from the Piedmont. Perhaps it's not the most nervy or elegant of Barbaresco, but this has plenty of elegance and nerve. I think only the geekiest of us would find something wrong with this wine. For most of us, this is terrific Piedmontese red wine that's available for just over $20 if you buy right locally (think six-pack or case discount). Note that there's no new oak marring this wine, or any of the Produttori wines in my experience. What you taste is pure Piedmont.
The aromatic and flavor depth, plus the tannin and acid structure, tell me this wine should last 15 to 20 years. But it's delicious now too. How can you go wrong? I'm looking for a few more, once the roads clear at least.