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Bruno Rocca

There's nothing barbarian about Barbaresco.
The elegant, fine and graceful wine from
Piemonte, Italy is where the nebbiolo grape attains greatness

By Simone Zarmati Diament


Italians are very jealous and proud of their Barbaresco, and woe if you confuse the wine made by any of the 482 producers, with its neighbor, Barolo.

The legendary Italian reds Barolo and Barbaresco come from the same single varietal, the Piedmont star grape, Nebbiolo, known for power, structure, and tannin. Nebbiolo, which is to Piedmont what Cabernet is to France, takes its name from the word "Nebbia" --fog in Piedmontese dialect, referring to the fog that crosses over the Apennine mountains and settles in Piedmont just as the grapes are ripening on the flanks of the million-year old, steep hills of the Langhe.

That's where the tiny villages of Barolo and Barbaresco, from which the wines take their names, lie about a dozen miles apart on either side of Alba, the mythic capital of white truffles, which pairs so well with the powerful wines.

The Nebbiolo for Barbaresco is grown in and around the villages of Barbaresco, Neive, and Treiso which are adjacent, to the North East of Alba. Called the Burgundy of Italy, the region of Asti is where the most prestigious wines come from: the Gajas, Cerettos, Rabajàs…

But anyone will tell you that while Barolo, "The King of Wines and The Wine of Kings" is the more robust, austere and masculine of the two with it's massive tannins, high acidity and high alcohol content, Barbaresco tends to be more graceful, soft and generous.

"It could be considered the "Queen to Barolo," because of its elegance, grace, and finesse not surpassed by many wines," says producer and winemaker Bruno Rocca, who inherited the winery and 12 hectares (22 acres) of the same name from his father and grandfather.

The best of the best
While Nebbiolo is not the only grape grown in the vineyards around Barbaresco -- Moscato, Barbera and Dolcetto are also cultivated -- the choicest vineyard sites are almost always planted to Nebbiolo

Producers in Piedmont tend to be relatively small; the average landholding is about 3 acres. Only 489.75 hectares belonging to 482 producers produce 17,710 hl of wine, and only vineyards in the hills with suitable slopes and orientations are considered adapted to production. The soil, of which Bruno Rocca owns 12 hectares (22 acres), must be primarily clay-calcareous in character with limestone and sand.

And quality control are very strict, says Mr. Rocca who produces about 5,000 bottles per hectares (about 2.2 acres) from vines he owns: "I know my vines one by one, as if they were my children. And knowing everything about them I seek the maximum I can do. It's the advantage that a small producer has. The difference between a great wine and an exceptional wine is total control," says Rocca, who severely reduces crop yields to make the best possible wine.

Intelligently made, sumptuous Barbarescos
The intelligently made, modern-style Barbarescos are sexy, opulently styled wines with admirably restrained wood to enable the grape to speak for itself: "I don't like to taste the wood," says Rocca who says he understands the wine from its inception.

He likes to tell the story of how post WWII Italian farming families wanted their children to have a better life and pushed them to be doctors, clergymen and bankers. His brother became a doctor, and having no inkling for the celibate condition, he was steered towards finances. But he wanted to work in the winery which, until the '70s, only grew vines for wholesale. His taking over the family business 30 years ago coincided with the boom of modern and global winemaking which, sparked by Mondavi in California, gained adepts in traditional winemaking countries such as Italy and even France.

Out of 55,000 bottles per year, Mr. Rocca makes three types of Barbaresco: 1250 cases of the single vineyard cuvée Rabajà from 5 hectares of "a special terroir," which produces a magnificently unctuous full-bodied wine with red fruit aromas, cedar undertones and deep flavors of ripe plums and violets mitigated by a light acidity that rolls on the tongue and fills the palate with complex flavors, gorgeous silky tannins and a lingering dark fruit finish; 1200 cases of Coparossa from two small parcels: a superb, well-structured, full bodied ruby red wine with jammy aromas spiced with pepper, tobacco, coffee and fresh mint, sweet tannins and finishing notes of pomegranate and licorice; and 800 cases of Barbaresco Classico from nine different vineyards with planted with 7 and 8 year old vines, yielding an intense ruby red wine with garnet hues, an ample nose of spices, licorice, tobacco and white truffle, buttery tannins and a complex range of flavors.

Without a doubt these are wines to lay down for 10, 15 or even 20 years.

Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Rabajà 2000 ($90).
A magnificently unctuous dark ruby red, deeply intense, full bodied wine, with great balance between fruit, wood and tannin. Fit for a king it is beautifully balanced, with gorgeous silky tannins that still pack plenty of power. The fruity aromas of dark berries and cherries with leather, smoke and spices, develop in the palate into deep flavors of ripe plums, violets and mint with admirably restrained wood, a light acidity that rolls on the tongue and fills the mouth with complex layers and a bewitching and lingering dark fruit finish. Pairs with any food.

Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Coparossa 2000 ($70)
This wine shows the power and intensity of high-end Nebbiolo but also the delicate, even "feminine" side of Barbaresco. Complex but very well integrated and balanced soft, ripe, sweet tannins lend firmness but no hardness or astringency to the luscious softness of a superb, well-structured, full bodied ruby red wine with jammy aromas spiced with pepper, tobacco, coffee and fresh mint, and a long finish of pomegranate and licorice. Imagine sipping it with a rich truffle risotto!

Bruno Rocca Barbaresco 2001 ($60)

Barrel-aged for 12 months in 60% small French barrique and 40% traditional Slavonia oak casks, with two more bottle aging years before release, this is not a fruity or jammy wine. The tannins can grab your tongue if you don't let it breathe long enough. But then, the aromas of plum come through with nice notes of spices and leather and flavors of licorice, tobacco and white truffle. The tannins become buttery and it finishes with a complex range of flavors.

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