Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Diary 62: Nebbiolo Prima Academy 2024

Tasting and learning

Nebbiolo Prima is the by-invitation-only tasting of the latest releases of Nebbiolo wines held in Alba each January. The current releases were Barolo 2020, Barolo Riserva 2018, Barbaresco 2021, Barbaresco Riserva 2019, Roero 2021 and Roero Riserva 2020. The wines are served blind. Those who are invited are principally those who score the wines for magazines and websites around the world. I was honoured to be invited to Nebbiolo Prima 2024.

This year there was a new format and a new venue. Nebbiolo Prima was divided into two events with the same wines: Evergreen (those who have been invited regularly in the past) and Academy. The latter had a huge advantage for me. Each day included a presentation by academics and consultants who regularly contribute to the high-level educational courses offered by the Langhe Vini consorzio. They featured geologist Edmondo Bonelli, ampelographer Professor Anna Scheider and a pruning class with Professor Edoardo Monticelli in the Oenology School’s own vineyard. It was a particular pleasure to meet and listen to Anna Schneider who has worked on the parentage and relationships between the Piemontese local varieties. I used her work extensively for my book, The Wines of Piemonte. She is both a delightful person and an excellent communicator.

The new venue is Albeisa’s offices in central Alba which includes an excellent tasting room downstairs with white walls and tables, and no external noise or distractions. By way of background, Albeisa is the consortium devoted to promoting the wines of the Langhe. It produces the distinctive Albeisa bottle shape which many producers use but also runs some events such as Nebbiolo Prima.

The scope of the Nebbiolo Prima tastings

The value of this tasting is that it gives an in-depth view of the character of the vintages tasted. 175 wines were served over four mornings. Each winery can present one wine of its choice in each category. It is the case that some of the superstars of the Langhe do not put their wines into this tasting but there is an excellent representation of very good to excellent estates. For example, Barbaresco included Marchesi di Gresy and Ca’ del Baio but not Gaja or Bruno Giacosa. Similarly, Barolo included Chiara Boschis and Giuseppe Rinaldi but not Giacomo Conterno or Aldo Conterno. On the positive side, the format offers the opportunity to taste wines from less well-known producers. The selection from Roero was small and not particularly representative.

2020 Barolo and 2021 Barberesco

Reviewing my scores, the most obvious feature was how homogenous the quality of the wines was. There were a handful of poor wines but the vast majority I scored between 16–17/20, indeed between 16.5–17. There were very few truly outstanding wines (17.5+) but there is a very good general standard.

These scores faithfully reflect the year. In 2020, unlike so many recent years, there was snow in winter which helps significantly with water availability later in the year. The huge advantage of snow is that the water is absorbed slowly by the soil. Flowering took place in excellent weather and was abundant. While there were some problems with hail and mildew, in general, it was a good season with few heat spikes. There was also a rare Covid bonus in that producers had much more time than usual to work in the vineyard. So much other work had to stop. There was an early but unhurried harvest until mid-October.

The resulting wines are predominantly red fruited with ripe tannins. There is more structure than other early-drinking vintages, such as 2018, but less need to wait for the wines to mature compared to more classical vintages such as 2019 and indeed, to come, 2021. In a way, it is a near-perfect modern Barolo vintage. The wines have a proper structure but are approachable and will not need long ageing in the bottle. At the same time, they should age comfortably for the medium term (15–20 years). My reflections on vintages can be found here.

2021 Barbaresco has been heralded as a great vintage. It was marginally hotter than 2020 but much drier, if without the extremes of heat and drought of 2022. While early September continued very warm, the second half reverted to the more desirable scenario of warm days and cold nights. The latter is crucial for the long slow maturation of Nebbiolo resulting in highly aromatic wines. My notes repeatedly mention expressive fruit and fine tannins. There were many scores in the 16.5–17/20 range and a few 17+.

The afternoons of Nebbiolo Prima Academy 2024 were devoted to winery visits and the pruning class. The visits were good in their own right–there is nothing like being in the Langhe vineyards themselves and visiting the wineries. The slight surprise was that each visit offered the chance to taste wines from 12–15 producers, resulting in quite a lot of speed tasting! Altogether, this was an expertly organised event run for Albeisa by AB Comunicazione. Evening dinners with producers in local restaurants in Alba were predictably good. More of a surprise was the excellent lunches with many home-grown vegetable-based dishes created by Chef Diego Bongiovanni.

All in all Nebbiolo Prima Academy 2024 was an excellent initiative, well executed. It successfully combined the chance to taste the current releases in a professional setting with some first-class presentations. This can only promote the reputation of the region and improve understanding of Nebbiolo, its star variety.

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