In February of this year, Antonio Galloni described the 2019 vintage in Piemonte as ‘extremely promising’ and of Barbaresco he commented that ‘the 2019s are deep, layered Barbaresco that show the heights of what is possible here’. High praise indeed.
Certainly, from what we have heard from the growers with whom we work in Barbaresco, there is an expectation that 2019 will rank as a great year, raising the prospect of some very fine Barolo to be released early next year too. Remember that Barbaresco is released earlier than Barolo due to shorter minimum ageing periods. Indeed, it seems the wines of Piemonte are likely to steal the limelight once more as 2019, 2020 and 2021 all show indications of being very fine vintages. This looks like it could be a rare trio of outstanding vintages.
2019 started with a cold, wet spring, which, while it necessitated some additional attention in the vineyard, replenished soil water levels thus enabling the vines to deal comfortably with the heat of the summer months. June was hot and dry, as was early July, but neither was excessively hot. Crucially, there were significant shifts between day and night-time temperatures, something that Antonio Galloni has been keen to point out is critical to the success of Nebbiolo, perhaps even more so than other varieties, as it assists with retention of valuable acidity and aromatics. Harvest was relatively late by modern standards with a thunderstorm and hail affecting some vineyards in Barbaresco in early September, but leaving most unscathed. The Nebbiolo harvest commenced towards the end of September and led into October.
You may have picked up on the fact that I have become increasingly impressed by the wines of Giuseppe Cortese over the last few years – they have shown the skill to deal with trickier years and produce fine results, as much as delivering on the promise of great years. It certainly seems that quality is on the rise at this small, but impeccably managed estate, which still remains a little under the radar despite being firmly based on one of Barbaresco’s greatest vineyards, Rabajà. I am not sure how much longer that will remain the case. At Nebbiolo Day, a large tasting held in London each year, our team concluded that the 2019 Barbaresco Rabajà from Cortese was the finest wine in the room. Normally, there is some friendly disagreement between our team of tasters, but not so this year – the Cortese was the outright winner.
The Cortese estate backs onto the slopes of Rabajà, where they own a stunning four-hectare plot with the vines approaching 70 years of age. This is a beautiful spot providing enviable views over two other notable Crus, Martinenga and Asili. It is largely based on calcareous clay soils, which, combined with an altitude of 300 metres, produces wines that combine both structure and elegance. The vineyard size may not sound particularly noteworthy, but when you consider that Giacosa, a much more famous name in Barbaresco, owns just 0.6 of a hectare, you rapidly understand the potential and opportunity.
The late Guiseppe Cortese’s work is being carried forward by a close-knit team led by his son Pier Carlo and his daughter Tiziana. Similar to many small Italian estates, Guiseppe started bottling his own wine in 1971, rather than simply selling off the production from his vineyards. Guiseppe has achieved so much on these few hectares of vines, and the family remains dedicated to preserving his legacy; that intention remains at the heart of the estate. The approach here is traditional, by which I mean the wines benefit from long macerations and are aged in large oak foudres or botti, as they are termed in Italy; no new oak, no French oak barriques. Antonio Galloni once commented: ‘as always the Guiseppe Cortese Barbarescos are classically inspired and built.’
Previously, the Cortese family made just two Barbaresco, a Rabajà and a Rabajà Riserva, but recently they have introduced a blended Barbaresco from six different sites. It is worth noting that Rabajà is akin to a Grand Cru vineyard and 2019 is shaping up to be a five-star vintage. The value on offer at £215 per 6 bottle case in bond is quite staggering. I try not to draw comparisons to Burgundy, but it is difficult not to, particularly when a leading grower’s Bourgogne Rouge in an indifferent vintage would sell for much more than this price…
Please see my note from March and Antonio Galloni’s note from February below.