Nebbiolo Prima 2024

Nebbiolo vines above the town of Barolo. Wikimedia

Christmas or New Year? Nah! A birthday? Nope. I now find myself marking the passing of another year with my attendance at Nebbiolo Prima.

In late January, it was for the fourth consecutive year that I attended Nebbiolo Prima in Alba, Piemonte, the most significant pre-release tasting event for the new vintage Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero DOCG wines. I went with a heightened sense of anticipation — this year’s edition featured the 2020 vintage Barolo wines and the much-hyped 2021 vintage Barbaresco and Roero wines, plus a selection of older Riserva wines. It was also the first year that the Albeisa people, the consorzio that organises this event, welcomed the press group to their new, custom-built tasting facility.

I went with a heightened sense of anticipation — this year’s edition featured the 2020 vintage Barolo wines and the much-hyped 2021 vintage Barbaresco and Roero wines, plus a selection of older Riserva wines.

As per previous editions of the tasting, more than 300 wines were presented. Importantly, the wines were tasted blind — the vast majority of the wines bottled and ready for release though some, which are not reviewed here, were indicated as barrel (or tank) samples. Each producer was permitted to submit two wines which means there was an extraordinary cross-section of wineries represented.from the Langhe and Roero.

You can read my 2021, 2022 and 2023 reports, from which you can get an appraisal of the vintages from 2016 to 2020 for the region. So how does the heralded 2021 vintage — the third and possibly best of what has been described as a trio of outstanding vintages, 2019, ‘20 and ‘21 — stack up based on the Barbaresco and Roero wines tasted this year?

First, let’s consider the 2021 growing season. It followed on from what was undoubtedly the coldest winter in the five years I have been living here, which included quite substantial falls of snow. Ask any grower and they will tell you how important the snow is, the fact that as it melts it replenishes the soil water in a regulated fashion providing essential water supplies for the vines for the rest of the year. This was important because 2021, whilst not being anywhere near as hot as subsequent years, and in fact diurnal temperature variations were ideal for the perfect phenological development of the grapes, did mark the beginning of the drought that would persist throughout 2022 and 2023.

The only real blemish on what was a perfect growing season was a severe hail storm on July 13 that wreaked havoc on parts of Roero but fortuitously missed the Barbaresco and Barolo zones. The nebbiolo fruit was harvested in excellent condition with smaller berries than in 2020, ensuring good concentration of colour and high polyphenol content, essential for an exceptional vintage.

Did the wines live up to the promise of the season? Scores tell part of the story but it is often the gut-feeling following a tasting of this sort that is the best indicator. And I finished the Barbaresco and Roero 2021 wine tasting with a delicately stained smile on my face. Here are wines that, in the main, have superb fruit purity and structural balance. Barbaresco and Roero DOCG wines are usually more approachable than Barolo in their youth and, to my palate, many of the 2021 wines are already delicious to drink, though they undoubtedly have the bright acidity and tannin structure to age well.

Looking at the scores, of the 48 Barbaresco wines tasted, I scored 16 at 95 points or above, an outstanding result. Another 13 wines scored 92 to 94 points. To be honest, away from the rigours of the professional tasting table, many of these wines could score another point higher. Top wines on 97 points are Castello di Neive Barbaresco DOCG Santo Stefano Albesani and Nada Giuseppe Barbaresco DOCG Casot, two beautifully fragrant and graceful wines, and the Ca’ del Baio Barbaresco DOCG Vallegrande, a more powerful, statuesque wine. Another six wines scored 96 points, all exceptional. I would suggest checking out the full list of 2021 Barbaresco reviews. It is a great vintage and bodes very well for the 2021 Barolo wines released next year.

Vineyards in Barbaresco. Produttori Del Barbaresco

The 2021 Roero DOCG wines are, not unexpectedly, a more modest group, yet also provide joyful drinking. Look for the Gabriele Cordero Roero DOCG 2021 as an excellent example of the style. A group of 14 Roero DOCG Riserva 2020 yielded some lovely wines as well, the Cascina Lanzarotti Roero Riserva DOCG Sru Carlinot and Cascina Chicco Roero DOCG Riserva Valmaggiore both scoring 94 points. Finally, a tasting of 12 high quality Barbaresco Riserva 2019 wines uncovered further excellence, six of them scoring 94 or higher points, the pick of the bunch, receiving 97 points, being the Ada Nada Barbaresco Riserva DOCG Cichin, a brilliant wine of elegance and poise.

So to the 2020 vintage Barolo wines. If I finished the Barbaresco tasting with a smile on my face, my thoughts after tasting the almost 200 Barolo wines presented (including barrel samples), were that of puzzlement. As with every vintage, there are superb wines to be found but the overall quality for the year is quite variable and I would suggest that it is a vintage where you need to be selective in your buying. A number of wines have an element of greenness to their tannins and in too many wines, while being approachable and enjoyable, fruit definition and genuine lift seems to be lacking. For a vintage that was spoken of in glowing terms, this was a little disappointing and I wondered why this would be so.

Did the terrible scourge of COVID in 2020 impact the ability of some producers to properly manage their vineyards, particularly at the crucial harvest time? Or could a significant rain event of October 2 & 3, right in the middle of harvest, when up to 90mm fell in some areas, have created problems that some growers handled better than others? Maybe the larger berries, compared to 2021, led to a slight dilution of flavour and character. Or is it simply the vagaries of wine?

Looking at the scores, of 166 Barolo wines tasted from the 2020 vintage, 29 received 95 points or above, an appreciably lower number than we saw for the 2019 wines though it is certainly not a poor showing. On a more positive note, 54 wines scored 92 to 94 points, indicative of many very good wines but just possibly lacking the extra spark of a truly top vintage.

As with every vintage, there are superb wines to be found but the overall quality for the year is quite variable and I would suggest that it is a vintage where you need to be selective in your buying.

At the highest echelon, five wines scored a very impressive 97 points, representing four different communes — Mario Gagliasso Rocche dell’Annunziata from La Morra repeating its outstanding ranking from last year, Vietti Lazzarito from Serralunga d’Alba, showing the usual excellent Vietti form, Giacomo Brezza Cannubi and Poderi Luigi Einaudi Cannubi both in a classic style and both from the Barolo commune, and a new one for me, the exceptional Attilio Ghisolfi Bussia Bricco Visette from Monforte d’Alba. Monforte and Barolo were almost certainly the stand-out communes this year, the wines from the Bussia and Cannubi vineyards for a number of producers appearing in that top 29 list.

For those with a subscription who want to get a complete overview of the vintage, you can see here the full list of 2020 Barolo wines that I tasted.

A small selection of Barolo Riserva 2018 completed my nebbiolo rapture for 2024, the Mauro Sebaste Riserva Ghe leading the way with a highly commendable 96 points, a great score given the difficulties of the 2018 vintage.

So another year passes. While there are many wines worth seeking out from this year’s tasting, having now sampled the exceptional quality of the Barbaresco 2021 vintage, I can’t wait for the next Nebbiolo Prima event and the Barolo 2021 wines. Same neb time, same neb place.


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