Marchesi di Gresy, Barbaresco (Piedmont, Italy) Martinenga 2006 ($55, Dalla Terra): At the Masters of Wine Study Course in Napa Valley last month, several of us presented an Italian wine seminar followed by a walk-around tasting that featured 45 outstanding Italian reds and whites. I spent most of the tasting behind the white-wine table, but broke free to taste the northern and central reds. I tasted one great wine after another but the wine that stopped me in my tracks was this Barbaresco.
The winery that people commonly refer to as Marchesi di Gresy (full name: Tenute Cisa Asinari dei Marchesi di Gresy) is a wine estate that has been in the family of current owner Alberto di Gresy for centuries. For most of that time, the family sold its grapes, but Alberto began making wine himself in 1973, quickly earning a reputation for his elegantly styled reds. The winery owns 88 acres of vines on four separate estates in Piedmont, including the Martinenga estate, where the winery is situated.
The Martinenga vineyard itself is a glorious one, a south-facing amphitheater of vines 27 acres in size that is reputedly the only monopole vineyard in Italy, as well as the finest vineyard within the Barbaresco DOCG zone. The family has owned the vineyard since 1757. Two separate sections of the vineyard make the super-cru Barbarescos, Martinenga Camp Gros and Martinenga Gaiun. The rest of the vineyard makes this Barbaresco, which is Di Gresy’s flagship wine, as well as a Langhe DOC Nebbiolo Martinenga, declassified from the Barbaresco appellation because it is unoaked.
An interesting detail about the Martinenga vineyard is that it is planted to two subvarieties of Nebbiolo -- Lampia and Rose -- and not the Michet subvariety that’s common throughout the Barolo and Barbaresco zones. The Rose subvariety lacks color but is rich in aromatics. It is particularly scarce these days because growers have favored the darker types of Nebbiolo. And yet the Rose can make beautiful wines. One of the most memorable Barolos I have ever tasted (Vietti’s 1971 Briacca vineyard) was entirely from the Rose clone and it was an ethereal wine, of heavenly delicacy and complexity -- characteristics that this Barbaresco shares.
The 2006 Barbaresco Martinenga comes from a superior vintage. It is a very young Barbaresco but its brilliance is evident even now, and it is in fact enjoyable now if you don’t dwell much on the firm tannins of the rear palate. Its vibrant aromas and flavors include notes of wild strawberries, tart cherries, fresh herbs, tar, spice, and a piercing piney character. Although I would call the wine full-bodied, it is not huge or powerful but instead is extremely delineated. It has great depth and freshness of expression from its high acidity, pronounced flavor intensity (despite the delicacy of those flavors), silky texture in the front of your mouth, and lovely concentration of fruit character that continues through the wine’s finish. It is a wine of flavor, balance and precision.
This wine is more traditional than not in its winemaking, but it defies categorization as “old style” or “new style” Barbaresco. It tends toward the “new” in its fruitiness and firm tannins partially from a few months of barrique aging (followed by a year of aging in large casks of Slavonian oak). But its lack of heavy or fleshy texture, its pale color and its vibrancy of expression recall the best of the “old.” It is a style that di Gresy has perfected, a brilliant gem of a Barbaresco.