If you ever need proof that great wines are made in the vineyard, not the cellar, all you have to do is visit the Sottimano family in the Neive commune of Barbaresco. Faced with a string of wildly different vintage growing conditions in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, the Sottimanos have excelled in each one, not because of tricks in the cellar, but from sweat and toil in their vineyards. In particular, the last three of these vintages offered challenges that many winemakers were not up to facing.
The meager sunshine in 2002 made many producers give up and sell their wine off in bulk. Not the Sottimanos, who reduced yields down to one bunch per vine and the resulting wines were lovely and charming. These wines are highly recommended for those without the cellar or patience for aging wines ten years or more.
In 2003, the sun would not stop shining, turning the steep Langhe hill vineyards into ovens that shrivelled and burnt the grapes. Ever in touch with the environment, the Sottimanos kept their yields high and did not remove as many leaves as usual. While most other producers offer over-ripe, overly-alcoholic wines from the vintage, the Sottimano wines are refined and balanced with a forward elegance and alcohols under 14%. Once again, they found just the right amount of crop for the year.
In 2004 nature offered too much of a good thing and the vines went into high gear, producing as many grapes as possible. Most producers had to take huge saigneé percentages (taking juice out of the fermenters to increase concentration) if they did not want to make Barbaresco rosé. However, the Sottimanos did not take a drop of saigneé out of their tanks as they had once again aggressively reduced their yields. In fact, they went as far as cutting the bottom half off some of their bunches. Yet again, they will produce one of the best wines of the vintage.
Father and son, Rino and Andrea Sottimano are making great wines with their backs, not with technology. That these are naturally conceived wines show in their superb balance and character. Nature is not something you overwhelm, but a spirit you need to learn to live in harmony with. If you don’t, you will always lose the battle. The Sottimanos always seem to win.
The new releases 2003 Sottimano Barbaresco single vineyards:
Fausoni – Bright garnet with touches of ruby. Very clean and spiced with touches of burnt blood oranges, bitter licorice and sweet cherry. Very lean and firmly tannic at this point. Its medium weight does not make you think of the boiling hot 2003 vintage. The finish is dominated by tannin, but sweet tarry notes are starting to emerge.
Currá – Stylish and delicate in a powerful nebbiolo sort of way. Spicy aromas with hints of wild-flowers over bittersweet tar. Quite lean and tannic at this part, not showing any over-ripeness. Very refined, but still very closed. Firm tannins finish with just a touch of oak.
Cottá – Richer, more powerful showing a deep earthy nose layered with sweet tar and bitter cherry. A real powerhouse while keeping its balance. Again there is no sign of over-ripe fruit. A great classic nebbiolo throughout. A decade or more of aging is going to be well worth it. The finish is still very closed and brooding.
Pajoré – Brilliant light ruby with garnet touches. Bright clean dark fruit aromas blend with wild-flowers, lavender, spices and a tangy tarry highlight. Very refined and elegant, but don’t let that fool you as this wine should be aged for at least eight years before pulling the cork. A great combination of power and refinement. This nebbiolo just dances across the palate before delivering a tannic crack of the whip.
My previous notes on the Sottimano wines: