First time I have set down with a flight of Guiseppe Cortese's wines since we visited the winery some 6 years back. They were a revelation to me back then - a style of winemaking that was neither overtly modern, nor stubbornly traditional, but producing wines that were light, elegant and full of finesse, even (if I dare to say it) a bit Burgundian in their stylings.
Today's tasting underlined that impression. I especially liked the 2004, 2005 and 2006 wines. It is worth noting that these were the straight Rabaja wines, not the Riserva, so some of them came across a touch light and maybe not absolutely complex - but boy were they pleasing. Lithe, lively and vibrant at best, with terms of red fruited and flowery charm. Barbaresco at its most elegant I thought.
I would not place this anywhere near the bracket of the Gajas and Bruno Giacosas of this world, but Cortese is an address well worth seeking out, especially if one likes the more understated, elegant style of wines. The Rabaja bottlings, in particular, are pretty good value for what they are, and offer a lot of immediate, food-friendly charm after 10-15 years in bottle.
- 1998 Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco Rabajà - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
Decent, but not great. This smelt rather mature on first , with a touch of funky, oxidative aromas stalking more lifted notes of red cherries and berries, then lot of roses and smoky spice, these patted down on a bed of more savoury earth and meat. Pretty nice though. The palate was still marked by a good bit of tight, slightly powdery tannins and a chew of acidity, but the flavours were starting to get secondary shades too, with some hints of meat and earth, even a dash of balsamic emerging, and then a twist of brambly herb curling around a more vibrant core red cherries and berries. I really liked the finish on this - it was wide, generous and expansive, fanning across the backpalate in a lovely of warm, smoky spiciness laced with just a tiny linger of dried rose petals. Overall, there was a sense transparent vibrancy and focused definition on this - usually a mark of Cortese’s wines - but there was also something rather unyielding and not absolutely enjoyable about it. The structure more or less loomed over everything else, while the primary fruit and more secondary flavours were not coming together all that seamlessly at this point of time. A decent wine, quality-wise, but not what I have come to expect from the house. Maybe it has gone to sleep. In any case, this felt like a wine in an awkward phase that really needs to be put away for a good long time. Try again in 6-8 years. (89 pts.)
- 2006 Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco Rabajà - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
This was very enjoyable. Its nose was marked with dried earth and chalky mineral on first sniff, leading the way into a nice of rose petals and smoky tar, maybe a hint of herby bramble and menthol, and then a nice core of sweet cherry and raspberry notes wreathed in a little curl of fragrant spice. A really, really nice bouquet. it was really attractive on the palate too. Not the most complex at this stage of its development, but it was lithe and light on its feet, with a vibrant crunch of fresh cherries and red berries on the attack, roses on the mid palate, and then a slightly more mineral, and really quite wonderfully spiced finish. A bit on the light side, and still very youthful, with plenty of teeth-coating Nebbiolo tannins showing from start to end, but this was a delightful little tipple. Would be a lovely food wine too - especially with some game meat, like pigeon or wild fowl. I really liked this - while maybe not one for the ages, it should develop nicely over the next decade or so. (92 pts.)
- 2004 Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco Rabajà - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
Another very enjoyable wine. This had a really nice nose, with bright tones of sweet cherries and red berries dancing alongside drifts or rose petals, spice and menthol, and then a lovely waft of damp earth, smelling a bit like a meadow after a fresh spring shower - such a pretty Babaresco bouquet I thought. The palate echoed the nose wonderfully. In typical Cortese fashion, this was light and transparent - almost Burgundian, if not for the firm chew of its fine tannins that brought it firmly back into Piedmont. Here, lovely fresh gobs of red cherries and berries were wed to nice undertones of roses and orange peel, with just a little hint of spicy cigar box, and maybe a slightly more prominent one of brambly herb pulled the wine into a firm backplate. Like its brethren in the stable, this did not have the greatest depth or authority, being more shaped for charm and light - I felt it went just a tad hollow past the midpalate. The tannins were just a tad drying at the end as well, somewhat truncating the finish. Not one for those who love power and fullness in their wine then. That aside though, this was a really nice, elegantly-shaped Nebbiolo that should age quite effortlessly over the next decade or two. (92 pts.)
- 2003 Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco Rabajà - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
I liked this, even if it did show a bit obviously hotter and riper than the other wines on show. The nose was so attractive, with dark cherries and red berries infused with a lovely earthy, spicy character, and then just edged with little bits of dried flowers and little sprigs of herb. What beautiful aromas. I could smell this all day. It was lovely on the palate too - very poised and polished, with a robe well-integrated acidity and fine, but still very firm Nebbiolo tannins wrapped around a slinky core of ripe, sweet red cherries and berries, with that lovely infusion of warm spice and dried earth again, maybe with a hint of savoury meatiness in there this time, all drawing towards a fresh, open finish - with satisfying chew of cherry skin and just that last kiss of floral petals, before those fine tannins reasserted themselves again with a firm grip. A very elegantly styled 2003 Baberesco, like the others in this vertical of Rabaja from Cortese, but this was also one of the deeper wines in the set, showing a touch more depth than most of the other wines on show. The only issue were the rather more drying, astringent 2003 tannins. That aside though, tt was already quite enjoyable with a bit of food on the night, and should continue to age decently for many years yet. I would love to try it in say 2025-2030 and beyond (91 pts.)
- 2005 Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco Rabajà - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
The Cortese Rabaja wines from the mid-2000s have been consistently very pleasing. I really loved the noses on them, and this was no exception. There was a lovely meaty, earthy savoury core to the bouquet, along with attractive notes of dark cherries and damson plums, and then perfumed notes of violets and spices. Deep and heady. Very nice indeed. The palate was drinking very nicely, with fine, firm tannins having softened slightly, together with a little stream of bright acidity, still forming an ample sense of structure for juicy flavours of dark cherries, berries and plum - these seasoned with nice bits of earth, spice and mineral leading into a nicely fresh finish, with some brambly tones and a hint of dried flowers. Maybe lacking a bit of weight and length, but otherwise a very enjoyable wine starting to drink nicely now. A very elegant expression indeed. (92 pts.)
- 2000 Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco Rabajà - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
This was not bad, if a bit clumsier than some of the other vintages on show. The nose was superb, with a touch of glycerol in there, but also lovely notes of ripe dark cherries and damson plums, savoury earth and meat, and a little hint of spice and dried flowers drifting around as well. Really attractive. The palate was unfortunately a couple of steps behind that lovely nose, with a slightly disjointed chew of tannins and acidity framing fairly ripe flavours of red cherries and darker berries, earth and spice on a nimd-lengthed finish. This somehow felt a bit flatter and less light on its feet than say the 2004, 2005 and 2006 that we had earlier. Still fairly pleasant, but not fantastic. Not sure this will improve much with time too. (90 pts.)
- 2007 Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco Rabajà - Italy, Piedmont, Langhe, Barbaresco
Clearly the youngest of the wines on show - this still had a layer of primary fruit and glycerol on the nose, with ripe red cherries and darker berry aromas at the fore touched with a little bit of earth, wood spice and just a hint of florals. A touch woody and volatile at the moment, with some nail varnish in there - this needs a few years to settle down I thought. The tightest and least alluring nose of the wines from the 2000s. The palate felt a touch less settled down than the others too - with some sharp elbows sticking out in the form of fine but firm tannins and bright acidity framing otherwise very nice, sappy tones of red berries and cherries, earth and spice, with just a bit of that violet character I'm there somewhere. Not quite as effortlessly elegant as say any of the 2004, 2005 and 2006 to my taste, but still a rather pleasing and definitely quite polished bottle of Barbaresco. This should improve in the bottle too - one to lay aside and try again in say 4-5 years' time. (91 pts.)