Renzo Seghesio Barbera d’Alba Superior 2016
Winegrower: Renzo Seghesio
Region: Monforte d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy
Shipping: September 2018
Barbera is the archetypical Piedmontese wine. The people of Piedmont and next door, in Lombardy, grow up in Barbera’s company; drinking it characterizes a Milanese as much as the Duomo. Grown mainly in Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Sardinia, no one disputes that Piedmont, especially Alba, is its spiritual home and from where the best wines are grown. Usually found as a joyous, everyday trattoria-style wine, in the right hands it can be made into something rich, complex and age-worthy; some believe it’s in the same class as Barolo or Brunello because of its incredible ability to display site-specificity (aka terroir). An authentic great Barbera is distinguished by this sense of place as well as high acidity, intense purple hues, recognizable aromas of red fruits, underbrush, delicate spices and a long, dry finish. Such is today’s wine.
From Barolo legend Renzo Seghesio, we offer his stunning 2016 Barbera d’Alba Superior. Made from handpicked, organic grapes from his Panjana della Ginestra vineyard in Monforte d’Alba – one of Barolo’s greatest vineyards. It also comes from the excellent 2016 vintage, a year that produced aromatic, well-balanced wines. This is a delicious and serious wine that’s incredibly fresh and vinous with mouth-watering acidity. It can be enjoyed now but is so well-structured that it can handle some serious cellaring, if you have the patience; but as usual I’ll be happily draining the bottles I suggest others lay down.
For more than a century the Seghesio family has been crafting its traditionally made wines in famed Monforte d'Alba; but the estate's tiny production has kept it a relative secret. Renzo bottled his first wines in 1968; his Barolo bears the name ‘Pajana,’ which might be called a ‘cru-within-a-cru’ in that it’s considered a sub-section of Ginestra, one of the most famous and greatest vineyards of Barolo. Renzo is also a stubborn purist who farms organically, works his small vineyard holdings manually and ferments using wild yeasts. He served as the mayor of Monforte d’Alba for 25 years and also mapped the areas vineyards as an amateur cartographer. This man truly lives and breathes his home terroir.
The wines of Renzo Seghesio have been considered classic, iconic expressions of traditional Barbera and Nebbiolo (Barolo) for decades, but sadly (or happily, depending on your viewpoint) there is little information about them that is readily available and finding their wines can be difficult. When you thumb through Sheldon Wasserman’s landmark tome, The Noble Red Wines of Italy (published way back in 1991), you can read his notes on the wines stretching back decades to his first tasting trips to the Langhe, and he’s not the only notable to be impressed by these wines (Burton Anderson’s Guide to the Wines of Italy is another, and there are more.) It’s an indication of the esteem these wines have enjoyed among Barbera and Nebbiolo connoisseurs and insiders for decades. But despite its embrace by the Italian wine cognoscenti the estate is one of those rare Langhe wineries that has managed to stay under the radar, which is lucky for us because it helps to keep prices reasonable.
To learn more about these fine, old-school, large-cask-aged wines, an excellent and relatively recent resource is Manhattan restaurateur Joe Campanale’s 2015 podcast interview with Raffaele Seghesio on the Heritage Radio Network. In this highly informative talk (which lasts about 30 minutes), Raffaele, Renzo’s son, gives an excellent description and overview of the estate and its winemaking philosophy.
So back to today’s wine; Renzo Seghesio’s Barbera d’Alba Superior 2016. The vines for this wine occupy less than two hectares of the Ginestra vineyard. They face southeast at an elevation of 500 meters and grow in sandy, calcareous soils. The grapes were handpicked at the end of September and fermented with wild, indigenous yeasts in steel barrels for 18 days. This was followed by a second malolactic fermentation and aging in old 30 hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels for another 10 months. The wine was then bottled without fining or filtering and aged an additional six months before release. In the glass it is an intense ruby red and displays aromas of violets, liquorice and spice. On the palate it is dry, mouth-wateringly delicious, balanced, full bodied, structured, complex and refreshing. Fresh blackberry, cherry and hints of plum are followed by a long, persistent finish with spicy after-tones. Serve this wine at 16-17° in Bordeaux stems with seasoned cheese or grilled or braised game. Cin Cin!
PS: To read a review of the excellent 2015 vintage of today’s wine go to Peter Vetch’s blog Pop and Pour.