Case in point, the 2018 Giovanni Viberti Langhe Nebbiolo. Here’s a wine that should be right around $20-$24, though admittedly it seems to be hard to find. I was supplied samples of several wines by Claudio Viberti, with whom I have become friendly during our annual tastings. The 2018 is a wine offers an explosion of Nebbiolo character, which of course is what Langhe Nebbiolo should do in my opinion. I admittedly am not a huge fan of the baby Barolo style of Nebbiolo, it’s just not what I am looking for when I reach for a bottle of Nebbiolo. This was a pure and vibrant expression of the fruit of Nebbiolo, right in my wheelhouse, as they say.
I followed these wines for 2-3 days, with notes included below, and was happy to see that each wine evolved over that time period, offering a glimpse of how they might perform in the cellar. Among the group of wines was another value priced 2016 Barolo with seeking out, the Buon Padre, which shares a name with the historic restaurant in Vergne which has been owned and operated by Claudio’s family for 3 generations. I first dined at Buon Padre back in about 2008, at a dinner coordinated as part of the Nebbiolo Prima event of that year. I don’t remember much of that meal, and try as I can to avoid such affairs, I am thankful that I went for a do recall one thing; the incredibly silky and fine tajarin, one of my top 2 or 3 sources for Piemonte’s classic pasta dish. As much as this article is about wine, it must also be about food in some sense, as these wines shine most brightly at the table, and thus I would be remiss in not mentioning this pasta. I’ve dined at Buon Padre many times since that first time, and the food is terrific, but that tajarin is something special and I urge you to make an effort to visit Buon Padre if you are in the region. The Viberti family has also recently opened a restaurant right on the main road in the village of Barolo called Locanda La Gemella, which I have visited during its typically long Italian period of construction, but have yet to dine there. I did not notice tajarin on the menu, but given the high bar set by Buon Padre I would expect the food to be equally terrific here and the wine list seems to be a strong selling point as well.
Back to the wines. The portfolio I sampled included a very compelling 2016 Barolo Buon Padre, which improved over the 3 days we sat with it, as well as a pair of 2014 Riservas.. Having not been terribly impressed with 2014s as a vintage, I was interested to see how these had turned out, as I had sampled them from botte last year. I have to admit that as a vintage I continue to be less than impressed with 2014 in Barolo, which is not to say that great producers with exceptional vineyards did not do well. The top wines can be fabulous, though it is a vintage where there is a great deal of qualitative distance between the top wines and what follows.
Claudio’s pair of 2014 Barolo Riservas are among the top wines of the vintage, particularly the Barolo Riserva from Ravera, the vineyard in Barolo, which gained strength from day to day displaying gorgeously ripe fruit and fine structural harmony. The riserva from Bricco delle Viole might be a tad more complex, but the Ravera captures the 2014 vintage perfectly. These are wines that are traditionally made, true riservas that see years in botte, typically a full five years or more.
Included in the tasting were also a pair of Barbera. I’m not sure that we talk enough about Barbera these days. Admittedly I drink less than I did a decade ago. There are 2 opposed forces at work behind this trend for me. The first is the superization of Barbera, that thankfully has begun to wane. I don’t need my Barbera to be rich, dense, and well oaked. It’s a grape that requires a deft touch both in the vineyard and the cellar, but lacking that can be turned into an impressive wine simply by hyper concentrating it. That doesn’t work for me, so my interest in Barbera has suffered as a result.
The other underlying reason for my drinking less Barbera is Dolcetto’s retreat from this suoperization trend. While Barbera can be an attractive wine with some oak and hyper concentration, Dolcetto sort of loses its raison d’etre. I love fresh, light, zesty Dolcetto, and with more producers returning to this style, albeit with a level of purity and freshness that was rare a decade ago, I find myself reaching for Dolcetto with increasing frequency!
However, I think Barbera is about to stage a comeback! There is plenty of room for super-Barbera in the marketplace, but I appreciate wines like these two Vibertis, fresh, zesty, pure with the vibrant acidity that is Barbera’s trademark, along with a more perfumed and elegant nature that is the trademark of the new reality in winemaking. I think that Barbera might be the most changed wine of Piedmont; if you haven’t checked them out recently you absolutely should. Given the direction and speed with which Barolo prices have been changing, fine Barbera has become a viable alternative for some times at the table. I tend to reach for Barbera with grilled red meats, and in the summer it’s a staple at my house with grilled vegetables generously coated with excellent olive oil! The interplay of the fat of the oil and often peppery flavors with the acidity of the wine and deep fruitiness is fabulous.
That is pretty much the scoop today. Great Nebbiolo is a better deal than mediocre Barolo, of which there is plenty. Giovanni Viberti remains a relative unknown, but the wines have improved from vintage to vintage and today deserve a closer look. The 2018 Langhe Nebbiolo in particular, is a standout and should prove to be a great value once it gets to market.
Thank you Claudio for the samples and I look for a return to normalcy when we can once again gather around a table at Buon Padre!
Quite aromatic, less fruity than I expected, cooler and more compact with a really classic array of menthol, balsamic, cranberry, cherry and woodland spice with a candied violet undertone. Smells sweet, ripe, and perfumed. Showing a nice wave of richness on entry, this wastes no time firming up in the mouth turning sleek and while not silky there is a suppleness notwithstanding the prominent tannins. The fruit is gently candied, attractively so, a touch minty, with green anise seed toned, red berry, strawberry, and cherry flavors that lead to a long, bracing, mouth cleansing, and vibrant finish. This really is perfectly ripe, with ample fruit supported by ripe tannins and firm acidity. A slightly modern tinge to the wine, but totally satisfying. There's a chalkiness to this on the finale, lending this even more verve and cut. 91
Day 2 - This has calmed down quite a bit, turning less effusive and more mineral on the nose, there's still lovely balsamic quality to the forest red berry fruits; perhaps better defined than yesterday just without the drive. Softer in the mouth and then more structured. Pure nebbiolo, shorter than yesterday but still delicious with a bit of a mountain airiness to it. 88
Day - 3 This has turned quite fruity on the nose, rich with candied watermelon, wild strawberry and cherry on the nose. Silky now, caressing, lacking the explosiveness of day one but showing a hint of what this might be like in a few years. Gentle, generous and well balanced. 90pts
2016 Giovanni Viberti Barolo Buon Padre 14% 90pts
A blend of finished wines from all the classic crus of the winery, including Monvigliero, perno, Bricco delle Viole, Fossati, Albarelle, from positions less well exposed.
Day 1: Fairly tight though not without a certain charm. This is deeper, more woodsy than the Nebbiolo, and perhaps even a touch autumnal. There’s more complexity to emerge here, a touch of meatiness and some green peppercorn spice, but it lacks the explosiveness out of the gate that the Nebbiolo delivers. There is a gentle, and attractive, with a candied element to the aromatics as well, but much less overt than with the previous wine. Smelling more like a bowl of cherries. Lovely depth in the mouth, without significant weight, this really grabs your palate. There’s plenty of juicy acidity, decent length, This is quite fruity, not at all vulgar but obvious, layered over great minerality, chalky, and with a salty element. Tannins are super ripe, this is by no means ready to go, but it’s fun to try now and will be interesting to revisit again tomorrow. Tannins are present but ripe and not intrusive. A sweet dark cherry note laced with pomegranate juice emerges on the finale. 89
Day 2 - This has gained some depth on the nose with a spicy cast to the dark, almost musky cherry fruit. Broad, verging on lush on the palate before the tannins kick in on the midpalate. This has both gained and lost overnight, it’s decidedly more immediate on entry, but the backend is more structural. It’s fresh and lovely with red berry fruits, a hint of candied watermelon, and some chalky, salty notes on the lengthening finish. 88
Day 3 - Profoundly fruity on the nose with such a pure and delicious cherry aroma layered over hints of tar, fennel, and sandy earth. Generous with mineral notes and edgy tannins in the mouth, decent length, but the aromatics are certainty charming today and the wine is developing a suppleness, it’s youthful tannins notwithstanding, and adding length to the finish. 90pts
2014 Giovanni Viberti Barolo Bricco delle Viole Riserva 14% 92pts
Day 1: Floral, filled with rose petal, mint, chalk and cranberry fruit topped with a note of older wood inflected dried meat tones. Delicate and nuanced. So elegant on entry, and refined, really silky and then gaining weight on the midpalate, with good depth. The fruit here is so crunchy, red, and frankly delicious, it lacks the depth or complexity to be profound but makes up for it with its elegant presentation. A classic 2014, probably on the cusp of shutting down with very silky, refined tannins and fine fruit/acid balance racy. 91pts
Day 2 - Quite different than yesterday’s nose with lots of dried floral notes, mint, green tea leaf, and subtle middle eastern spice notes. Fuller than yesterday, if still quite lacy, while retaining it’s edgy character, this has gained depth and richness to the red fruit, lots of rose petal in the mouth, and more length which has gained a citrussy note. Tannins are ripe but firm and the acidity well integrated, if bright. Fairly tannic but very promising with a blend of delicacy and intensity that Bricco delle Viole can deliver. Length is becoming impressive. 92pts
Day 3 - Tight on the nose, vaguely medicinal, tarry, complex with more middle eastern spice, small red wild berry fruits, and a slightly vegetal, menthol top note. Surprisingly almost ready tonight, still moderately tannic with good length, this is lovely, marked by the vintage perhaps with the dryness of the tannins, and the slightly pithy citrus aspects here, but this is approachable and promises to develop well over the next 10-20 years. 92
2014 Giovanni Viberti Barolo Ravera Riserva 14% 94pts
Day 1: Compared to the Bricco delle Viole this has more, a richer nose, with more depth, fruit, and darker spice notes. Less floral but with a generally sweet cast to the aromatics. It’s lovely, very appealing, and more typically Barolo than the higher altitude Bricco. Forest floor and sweet fruit bring Burgundy to mind. This is terrific, not unexpectedly it also delivers a richer, riper, and deeper palate impression that hints at lushness. More tannins as well for that matter. Totally different terroir expressing itself very clearly. There's lovely fruit here, frutti del bosco, spiced and balsamic, with terrific energy and height in the mouth. Love the tannins, ripe but forcefully present Picks up gorgeous cologne like notes on the backend before achieving great focus and snap on the long, energetic finish. In 10-12 year this should be gorgeous. 92
Day 2 - This on the other hand has turned more floral, all roses layered over slightly jammy strawberry fruit with an assertive ,menthol edge and fine shadings of pencil lead, candied orange peel and perhaps a touch of blueberry. Broad, bright and energetic in the mouth, the tannins here are riper than in the BdV, there is more buffering material here as well lending the whole package a broader, richer mouthfeel within the context of the vintage. Really lovely, rounded on entry then gaining focus through the midpalate delivering tons of raspberry and red cherry toned fruit before fading into a wash of green orange peel on the finale. It’s not as complex, nor as detailed as the BdV, but it’s certainly more hedonistic and remains more typical Barolo. 93
Day 3 - Mint, stone, and ginseng combine on the nose to lend complexity to the base of gorgeous wild cherry and black curranty fruit. Fills the mouth with richness of fruit and structure today with a serious limestoney element right through the midpalate and through to the long finish. This is salty! Well balanced, firm, and surprisingly richly fruited with great transparency and verve through the long finish which shows a nice palate cleansing citrus finale. A top flight 2014. Love the tannins here, this will have a long life. 94
2019 Giovanni Viberti Barbera d’Alba La Gemella 14% 86pts
Day 1: So young smelling after the previous wines, smells very much like a barrel sample. Fleshy, dark fruit, blackberries, leather, hints of cocoa and ivy lending complexity. Bright and so juicy in the mouth, but at the same time this retains plenty of baby fat early on the palate lending it an awkward, fleshy entry only to finish with great acidity. It’s classic Barbera, though, perhaps in a more perfumed style, but it’s all about zesty fruit, freshness and purity. 87
Day 2 - More blueberry toned and a little lactis but still fresh and attractive. A bit rounder in the mouth and while this surfers a bit on day 2 its still vibrant and juicy and very fruity. A bit too fruity today, and there's that lactic note on the palate as well making this a bit yougurty. 86pts
2018 Giovanni Viberti Barbera d’Alba Bricco Airoli 15% 92pts
From 95 year old vines, aged and worked like a Barolo, with two years in wood.
Day 1: Earthy on the nose with a suggestion of coffee, tight and not very giving at the moment. Rich, powerful in the mouth, with tones of evergreen freshness, ivy, a hint of mocha, some leather, rich through the palate and finishing with a fine blend of dark berry fruit and juicy acidity. I’m about ready to have some pizza with this but this is a meat wine, wild game and polenta, sharp cheese, lots going on here, lots of power with a sauvage edge to it. Very good but let's see what day 2 delivers. 92pts
Day2: Quite restrained yet elegant on the nose, this a hint of gloss to the dark blackberry, dark cherry fruitiness here along with a fine balsamic note and a hint of candied violets. This has turned much smoother in the mouth, bright, more red fruited than the nose suggests, long, finely textured and elegant with a touch of wood spice on the back end of the palate followed by leather and a jellied fruitiness. It's more refined than yesterday Nicely detailed, still quite young but approachable 92pts