La Ca’ Nova not only make some of the most breathtaking Barbaresco that I taste each year, but they make some of the most reasonably priced. Each year I wonder whether it will be the last time I will make this incongruous statement, as I believe the quality is such that the price could sit much higher and it is not as if I am alone in my view.
‘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.
As I am also now in the habit of mentioning each year, Marco Rocca, 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.
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.
I believe the 2019s rank with the very best vintages that I have tasted from La Ca’ Nova. The year started with a cold, wet spring, which provided ample ground water for the summer months to come. From June through to August the days were hot and dry, and fine conditions continued through September. One key requirement for high class Nebbiolo is a significant switch between day and night-time temperatures; this is particularly good for the development of aromas and the retention of acidity. The long hang time benefitted the grapes on the vines and brought them to a fine level of maturity. Marco began his harvest in mid-October – he compares the harvest conditions to 2016 and commented that the skins were wonderfully ripe allowing the same approach to extraction as he employed in 2016. Extraction is the process of drawing colour, tannin and flavour compounds from the skins – the duration and method are down to the individual winemaker’s preference but also the condition of the skins. If the skins are fragile at harvest, care is needed with extraction and often lighter, more forward wines result. If, as in the case of the 2019s, near ideal conditions have delivered grapes with perfectly healthy and ripe skins, extraction can be extended and rich, more structural wines will result.
What struck me on tastings the 2019s was the purity on show. These wines have great depth of fruit but such a line of purity – this is a hallmark of Marco’s minimal intervention winemaking style, but here the elegance is coupled with fine depth and power. Frankly, I was blown away by the 2019s. I think they are a touch deeper than the 2016s and seem to show a slightly more supple nature (relatively speaking). Tasting the two cru and the generic Barbaresco side by side proved fascinating; the quality of all three is sky high. We are honoured to be able to work with such a great estate and such a genuine individual as Marco. These are special wines once more.