A simple statement: I don’t think you can easily find wines of comparable quality offered at the same price as Marco Rocca’s Barbaresco. This has been my unshakable view for the last six or seven years. Nothing has changed.
One hundred and fifty pounds doesn’t buy you a six bottle case of red Burgundy from an outlying appellation, let alone a Bourgogne Rouge from a recognised grower, and it might just get you a six bottle case of a Cru Bourgeois in Bordeaux. But here, you can get a single vineyard Barbaresco from a top Cru and a skilled winemaker in a great vintage. It is time to take note if you haven’t yet. I spoke to a very well-known winemaker in Barolo last year and he commented that the value offered by Marco’s wines is extraordinary and he buys them every year without fail.
I wasn’t the first to recognise the quality of these wines, while I may be the first to flag just how exceptional these 2021s are. Actually, I am in danger of overusing the following quotation from Antonio Galloni to lend further weight to my own endorsement, and what is all the more startling is that, despite it being written over three years ago, it still applies today.
‘La Ca' Nova is, in my view, quite possibly the greatest Barbaresco estate most people have not heard about. Yet. The wines, from two of the very top sites in town, are magnificent.’ Antonio Galloni, August 2019.
Marco’s wines are regularly among the handful of highest scoring Barbaresco that Galloni tastes, not just in classic years like 2016 or 2019 but also in more mixed vintages like 2011, 2014, 2017 and 2018. I agree here – each year it is one of the most exciting cellar tastings in which I participate. In terms of the run of vintages, it is clear that 2019, 2020 and 2021 will form an outstanding trio for many estates in Piemonte and, having tasted all three with Marco, it is a remarkably fine set here. We have previously sold the 2019s with their classical structure and the 2020s, a more accessible vintage with terrific harmony, and now we move onto the 2021s – perhaps my pick of the three if I was asked to split hairs. 2021 is looking like an absolute classic in the making.
A few words on the 2021 vintage
Winter rain and some snow replenished ground water, something that was very much needed as the summer proved to be notably dry, after a mild March and cool April/May. This cool period did not trouble the flowering nor the fruitset of Nebbiolo. June proved to be warm, as did July – but the July temperatures were well below average. Summer brought with it the occasional rainstorm, but temperatures never soared, suggesting a late harvest could be on the cards. One storm in August brought a little hail, but the vast majority of Barbaresco was unscathed. In mid-August, the temperatures finally picked up, reaching just about 35 degrees. September continued to be warm, but the diurnal shift was key as the nights turned much fresher, a factor that really assists the ripening cycle of Nebbiolo. Marco started his harvest a touch later than some, commencing on the 14th/15th October, and was impressed by the maturity of the fruit, though berry size, shaped by the dry summer, was small; yields were not excessive either. In all, this vintage was not far off the model for Piemonte – ample soil water reserves from the winter, a warm but not stifling summer, and a late harvest in line with classic vintages with the all important shift between day and night time temperatures. It will come as no surprise that this registers as a remarkably fine vintage.
A few words on the estate and their vineyards
This estate is run on reassuringly traditional lines; the approach may adapt to conditions, but it is a question of gradual refinement rather than wholesale change. The Rocca family started producing their own Barbaresco in the 1970s from several of the region’s leading Crus, including Montestefano (approximately 270 metres above sea level and facing full south) and Montefico (within which the family own a parcel in the Bric Mentina vineyard). While the altitude in Montefico is virtually the same as Montestefano, the orientation is more south-east facing. Montestefano produces more powerful, deeper styles, whereas Montefico reveals a terrific elegance and a slightly gentler expression. In terms of manner of production, there is no temperature control during fermentation and, towards the end of fermentation, Marco employs an approach called steccatura, which keeps the skins submerged for a post-fermentation maceration of 15-20 days to extract more from the fruit. The wines are then aged in 30-hectolitre Austrian oak botti (which Marco prefers to the more widely used Slavonian oak) for a minimum of 18 months.
What impressed me so much with the 2021s was their aromatic complexity and the refinement of the tannins…they blew me away. It was easy to see why Marco was happy – he is incredibly modest and unassuming, but you nonetheless note a certain confidence. He has been championed by various wine critics and tipped to be running the hottest property in Barbaresco right now, but he shrugs it off with a smile and reminds us that he remembers when he used to send tasting samples to critics and hear nothing back. All this changed a few years ago, but Marco is happy, quietly carrying on, tending his vines and making remarkably fine Barbaresco and the 2021s might just be his best yet.
There are no published critics’ scores for these wines yet. Please see my notes below.
2021 Barbaresco, La Ca’ Nova
£120 per 6 bottle case in bond
Made from younger vine fruit grown in the Cru vineyards of Montestefano, Montefico, Ovello and Cole.
Appealing scented, fragrant fruit on the nose – with rose, mint, and juicy cherry fruit. It is unjust to call this an entry level Barbaresco – it shows a classic Nebbiolo profile with notes of pomegranate, blood orange and dark cherry allied to a minty/menthol note. By no means insubstantial, the tannins show a certain roundness that these younger vines do not always reveal. There is a bright, juicy, energetic nature to this Barbaresco with perhaps a more noticeable mineral component than is common to this wine. Impressive. (SL) Drink 2026-2035+
2021 Barbaresco, Montefico Vigna Bric Mentina, La Ca’ Nova
£150 per 6 bottle case in bond
The first of La Ca’ Nova’s single vineyard Barbaresco, ‘Vigna Bric Mentina’ in the Cru of Montefico is named in memory of Marco’s grandmother, Clementina.
The aromatics here are off the charts, revealing the full gambit of Nebbiolo notes; sweetly ripe, juicy red and dark fruits with an overlay of rose, tobacco and herb. This is a remarkably detailed Barbaresco, exhibiting outstanding purity, notes of dusky fruit and blood orange. There is a density here but it is offset by the wine’s inherent energy. There is a bold tannic frame to this vintage but ample fruit to match. To be frank, this elegant, refined Montefico ticks all the boxes, and reveals a touch more mid-palate concentration than I recall from previous vintages. Poised, detailed with such clarity – one of the very best Montefico from Marco. Exceptional. (SL) Drink 2029-2042+
2021 Barbaresco, Montestefano, La Ca’ Nova
£150 per 6 bottle case in bond
There is a more brooding quality to the 2021 Montestefano, though with a little air, the dark fruit starts to reveal itself with notes of damson and dark cherry, fragrant rose petal notes, and a distinctive spiciness. More powerful than the Montefico, with a more evident tannic structure, this vintage still shows a stunning sense of balance and poise. There is a fine concentration of small dark fruits, a touch of liquorice too, with plenty of mineral drive that follows through to a long, vibrant finish. The fruit has a generosity yet a freshly ripe character as if picked at the perfect moment. Pure, energetic with an overriding sense of harmony, it is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion that this is a great Montestefano in the making. (SL) Drink 2029-2042+
So, there you have it – an exceptional set of Barbaresco. Fortunately, we do receive good allocations, but I don’t expect them to last long.