Vineyards at Verduno in the Barolo production zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
A little more than six years ago, I penned my thoughts on recent Barolo and Barbaresco vintages (read the post here). Six years is a long time, so here is an update to that article, going all the way up to the 2013 vintage.
2013 – Although only the wines of Barbaresco from 2013 have been released to date (the 2013 Barolos will be released in 2017), this is shaping up to be an Excellent, perhaps Outstanding vintage. While temperatures have been quite warm over the past few years in the Langhe, 2013 was a cooler vintage. Winter was typical, while Spring was marked by abundant rain, which delayed the start of the growing season. A warm and dry summer resulted in an ideal harvest with wines of very good acdity and excellent varietal character. This should be a classic Piemontese vintage, one that is long-lived.
2012 – Excellent – What I love most about the 2012 Barolos and Barbarescos are their balance, freshness and sense of place. For example, the Barolos of La Morra taste like they should, with their fragrant perfumes and restrained tannins, while the Barolos from Serralunga and Monforte display their typical tightly wound fruit and firm tannins that will need more time to come around. This is not a vintage that resulted in wines that will age for 40 plus years, but the typicity and balance is noteworthy.
2011 – Above average to Excellent – This growing season featured cold and hot spells, with the result being fluctuating quality and power. For the most part, the wines feature impressive varietal character, beautiful aromatics and very nice harmony; however the wines lack the persistence of a great vintage, such as 2010, 2008 or 2004.
2010 – Outstanding – A vintage with first-rate wines from seemingly everywhere in the Barolo and Barbaresco zones, both from famous producers and many unheralded ones. Beautiful balance, expressive aromatics, excellent varietal character and outstanding persistence. Power, grace and structure, from moderately priced wines all the way to the most expensive cru offerings. The 2010s will age for 20-30 years without a problem in most cases, and a few wines will age even longer.
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)
2009 – Below Average – A disappointing vintage that was quite warm, with the resulting wines being forward and rather one-dimensional. The tannins, in many wines, are green and there is not proper acidity. These wines will not age long, so best to forget.
2008 – Excellent to Outstanding – A classic Piemontese vintage, one that combines richness and structure. A beautiful summer with warm days and cool nights was perfect for ripeness and acidity. This is a vintage that is generally overlooked, as the 2007s, a more forward vintage, received prominent reviews, but in reality, 2008 is a superior vintage, without question. Not the most powerful wines, but beautifully structured for the long haul, and perhaps more importantly, wines that have excellent varietal character and a definite sense of place.
2007 – Very Good to Excellent – A beautiful year with wines offering lovely aromatics, lively acidity and very good to excellent concentration. The wines are forward – indeed quite approachable in some cases – but will probably not be as long lived as the wines from 2001 or 1999. The finest examples of Barbaresco I have tasted should drink well for 12-15 years. A bit of an international vintage, as they are polished and do not have the structure for long aging, but still good acidity and beautiful balance.
Vineyards near the town of Barbaresco (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
2006 – Excellent to Outstanding – This is an old fashioned vintage with deep concentration, firm tannins and a tight style, demanding patience from the consumer. Depending on your viewpoint, you may love this vintage or you may be puzzled by it. I certainly think that Barolo and Barbaresco lovers who have been drinking these wines for a long time will be more of a fan than consumers who try these wines on an occasional basis; those individuals will no doubt prefer the approachability of the 2007s. The finest Barolos from 2006 will be at their best in 20-25 years.
2005 – Very Good to Excellent – A charming vintage with good concentration and freshness as well as finely tuned acidity. Given the intensity of recent vintages such as 2004, 2006 and 2007, this vintage may seem a bit light on the palate; indeed the wines as a rule are not as deeply concentrated as those years. However, these are beautifully balanced wines and offer very good varietal character. Look for optimum drinking for 2005 Barbarescos to be in 3-5 years, while the finest Barolos will be at their best in 7-10 years.
2004 – Outstanding – Gorgeous wines with everything you’d want in these bottlings – deep concentration, beautiful aromatics, lively acidity and ideal structure for long-term aging. When I tasted these wines at first – the Barbarescos in early 2007, the Barolos in early 2008 – I was struck by the amazing perfumes. Rarely have I had wines that were as beautifully aromatic upon release as the 2004s. Yet as mentioned above, the wines will age wonderfully. Look for 20-25 years for the finest examples of 2004 Barbaresco and as long as 35-40 years for the top Barolos from 2004.
Nebbiolo cluster (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
2003 – Poor to below average – 2003 was a torridly hot year all throughout Italy, so for the Nebbiolo-based wines here, the acidity levels are lower than usual, meaning the wines will not age well. As these wines are all about aging, that makes this vintage less than successful. The wines have big weight on the palate, but in this year, that translates to a heaviness and lack of elegance.
2002 – Below average – Hailstorms throughout much of the Barolo zone were the story here, especially in La Morra. This reduced the crop as well as causing berry shatter, so the wines are quite light. Producers in communes that escaped the hail, such as Verduno, did produce some stylish and complex wines, but for the most part, this is a disappointing vintage. It’s doubtful you’d even find any 2002 Barbarescos or Barolos on retail shelves or restaurant wine lists these days, but if you do, they’re not as bad as advertised. At least these wines have elegance and good levels of acidity, unlike those from 2003. The wines should be consumed now or over the next 2-3 years, at most.
2001- Outstanding – A stellar vintage with excellent to outstanding concentration, beautifully defined acidity and wonderful expression of terroir. Every district in Barbaresco and Barolo performed brilliantly. Look for these wines to peak in another 15-30 years. Truly one of the most successful vintages of the past twenty years.
A vineyard in the Barbaresco zone (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
2000 – Average – Despite one or two early proclamations that this was an amazing year, 2000 turned out to be an average vintage. This was a hot year (not as hot as 2003, but quite warm), meaning the wines had ripeness without the proper acidity. The wines were forward with round tannins, prompting the early raves, but in reality, these are nice wines that lack intensity as well as the structure for long aging. While a few of the best wines will drink well for another 3-5 years, most are ready to go now, and that certainly doesn’t equate to a great – or even excellent – vintage for these wines.
1999 – Outstanding – Another stellar year, the top Barbarescos and Barolos from 1999 offer excellent concentration, firm tannins and ideal acidity (one Barolo producer told me that in his opinion, the 1999s offer the best levels of acidity for Barolo in the last decade). While a few of these wines are drinking well now, the finest will offer another 12-20 years of pleasure. A great, great vintage.
1998 – Excellent to Outstanding – A vastly underrated vintage, 1998 had the bad luck to be sandwiched in between 1997 (a vintage that has been overrated) and the stellar 1999. 1998 offers everything you want in a textbook Barolo or Barbaresco – beautiful concentration, firm tannins and precise acidity. In fact, it is the acidity of these wines that in my opinion carry these wines, keeping a wonderful freshness and elegance to these wines. This is not the most deeply concentrated vintage of the past decade (1999, 2001 and 2004 resulted in much more powerful wines), but there is admirable depth of fruit and great balance and finesse. Most of the finest bottlings of Barbaresco as well as many Barolo from 1998 are drinking beautifully now, while a few of the top Barolos will offer another 10-12 years of pleasure.
Text by Tom Hyland © 2016, 2010