Posts tagged ‘barolo’
I recently wrote a post about 2007 Barolo; I sampled over 100 bottlings during my stay in Alba for the Nebbiolo Prima event in early May. That post focused on the qualities and characteristics of the 2007 vintage and how it compared to other years. I commented that while I believe 2007 is an excellent vintage, as the wines display lovely balance and impressive depth of fruit, I prefer the Barolos from 2006, which should prove to be a much longer-lived vintage. Several winemakers I spoke with agreed with me, telling me that 2006 is a “more classic Piemontese vintage” while 2007 is more of “an international vintage.”
This got me thinking the other day about a number of things. It’s one thing for myself to prefer a specific vintage, but what about everyone else? I’ve always said that wine is a sensory experience, which means that all of us will react to a particular wine in our own particular way. A wine I love might have levels of acidity that are too high for someone else, while a ripe wine someone else likes may be too one-dimensional for me.
This is hardly original material here, but what I’m after is that with wine, style matters. Not just the style of the vintage, but the style of the wine itself. Don’t just consider the vintage – learn about the approach taken by individual estates. Regarding Barolo, does the firm make a traditional wine, aged in large casks or do they produce a modern, more-forward wine, often aged in small oak barrels? Learning about the style of producers is more important in my mind than memorizing details about each vintage. What do you prefer? Discover that and you’ve gone a long way towards learning about Barolo (or many other famous wines).
Take as an example, the brilliant Barolos from Poderi Aldo Conterno in Monforte d’Alba. This is one of the finest of all Barolo estates, as the wines have outstanding depth of fruit, marvelous complexity and the potential to age for as long as 35-40 years from the finest years. The winery produces anywhere from two to five bottlings of Barolo per year; this depends on growing conditions (hailstorms sometimes cause problems in their vineyards, as with other estates). There is a regular Barolo, three cru bottlings (Romirasco, Colonnello and Cicala) and in exceptional years, a wine called Gran Bussia, a blend of these three vineyards. The wines are all aged in large casks of Slavonian oak known as grandi botti, which is the traditional aging vessel. To me, aging Barolo in large casks means that wood notes are not dominant and that the beauty of the Nebbiolo fruit emerges. When we speak of the terroir of Barolo, I find this emerges more often in traditionally aged wines.
Yet what about the wines of another excellent Monforte estate, that of Domenico Clerico? This is another famous Barolo producer, but their approach is quite different, as barriques are used here for the aging. The wines are of course different – very different – than those from Aldo Conterno or two other superb traditional estates in Monforte, Elio Grasso and Giovanni Manzone, whose wines I greatly admire. I prefer the wines of Grasso, Giovanni Manzone and Aldo Conterno to those of Clerico on a regular basis, yet I have enjoyed several excellent Barolos from Clerico over the years. Who makes the best wines? Part of the answer for each individual depends on what they think constitues the “best.” I generally tend to prefer traditionally aged Barolos, as that is what I have discovered I like (they also seem to me to be wines that better display a true sense of place), but I don’t rule out modern Barolos, simply because of the aging process.
Then there is the example of Luca Currado at Vietti, who ages each Barolo according to the approach he believes is proper. For example, he ages his Barolo from the Brunate cru in La Morra in small barrels, as he reasons that the soft tannins and delicate aromatics of this wine need a touch of new oak to give the wine more complexity. Yet for his Rocche Barolo from the famous cru in Castiglione Falletto, Currado ages this wine in large casks, as he wants to downplay the firm tannins that naturally emerge from this site. Thus Vietti makes Barolos that are traditional as well as modern. Here it’s not about an overall philosophy, but instead doing what’s proper for each wine. Currado told me once for an article I was writing that he compared this craftsmanship similar to a tailor making a suit of clothes for a man. Each customer is different, so the tailor has to alter each suite to make it fit just right; the same for Vietti and making Barolo.
Try various bottlings of Barolo from the La Serra cru in La Morra. Renowned producers such as Gianni Voerzio and his brother Roberto each produce this wine as does the Marcarini estate. The Voerzio bottlings are undoubtedly modern in their approach, while the Marcarini bottling is as traditional a Barolo as you can find. Each of these producers captures the elegance and deep fruitiness of this cru, but each does it in his own way. What do you prefer?
Then you have producers that combine a bit of each approach. At Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’Alba, winemaker Danilo Drocco uses a similar approach for two cru Barolo: La Villa from Barolo and La Rosa from the winery’s estate. He begins the aging in barriques, but then completes it in large casks. His reasoning is that small barrels can help deepen the color, but he needs to change to large casks in order to prevent the wine from becoming dominated by oak flavors. This is the decision that Drocco, a veteran of more than 25 Barolo vintages, has realized for his wines. Who would say he is wrong?
One of the great Barolo estates – and clearly one of my favorites – is that of Renato Ratti in La Morra. Renato Ratti was one of the key figures in mapping out the crus of Barolo and today, his son Pietro manages the winery, producing three excellent Barolos per year. Like Fontanafredda, these Barolos are aged in both barrique and grandi botti, so they are an in-between style. They are certainly not “international” wines, overburdened with spice and vanilla from small barrels, but neither are they old-fashioned wines with strong herbal notes. Rather, they are superb reflections of the specific sites where the grapes are grown. The Marcenasco, Conca and Rocche Barolos from Ratti each offer different characteristics and have different life spans; the Rocche, especially, is one of the most consistent, ageworthy Barolos I’ve enjoyed over the past decade- to me this is a classic Barolo in every sense. Some winemaking has changed as Ratti moved into a new, state-of-the-art cellar a few years ago. I won’t go into all the technical details, but Ratti believes the wines now have a richer mid-palate that makes the wines more complete. Perhaps the notion of modern versus traditional shouldn’t even be a consideration when we’re speaking of the sublime Barolos of Renato Ratti.
So there you have it – given all the approaches by various producers in Barolo, you have the option of many wines. Find a style you like, but also try other wines to appreciate everything that is available. Barolo is a magnificent wine for many reasons, not the least of which are the complexities inherent in these wines. These characteristics can emerge from a specific site or from the winemaking approach of an individual producer or it might come from a vintage.
Put all this together and you realize that this is another argument against points. Barolo is too singular a wine to be branded – awarding a 95 versus a 92 on another wine really means nothing; if it shows anything, it’s the preference of the individual or group that handed out the score. What can a number tell you about one of the world’s greatest wines?
Finally, in the case of rating vintages, it is important to note the style of wines emerging from a vintage. Yes, for me, 2006 is a superior vintage as compared to 2007, but that doesn’t mean that will be the case for someone else (and I do think 2007 is an excellent vintage). Let’s face it – when Pietro Ratti comments that for the 2007 Barolos, “the balance is fantastic,” doesn’t that say it all?
P.S. This is my last post for at least a few weeks. Between my upcoming trip to Soave, Valpolicella and Collio along with a few projects I’m working on, I’ll be busy (that’s the sound of me knocking on wood that you are hearing). So I have no idea when my next post will be up, but I’m guessing within 3-4 weeks.
The number of hits has been on the increase, so thank you to everyone that is checking in on my blog. Now I hope to read some nice comments from time to time. I don’t write controversial stuff, but I do hope it’s interesting and I’d love to hear your thoughts.
During my most recent visit to Piemonte, there was a lot of excitement about one particular Barolo cru, that of Vigna Rionda in Serralunga d’Alba. One of the owners recently passed away and the section he possessed is being divided up among three wineries, all of whom will produce a Vigna Rionda Barolo for the first time.
This is newsworthy because of the historical importance of the Vigna Rionda cru. Literally meaning “round vineyard”, Vigna Rionda is sited on a slope at elevations ranging from 820 to 1180 feet above sea level; the beneficial siting of this hill insures a great deal of sun throughout the day. The soils are a combination of marl, calcaire and a touch of sand; the vineyard is sheltered from excessive winds by the nearby Castelleto hill. In his beautifully detailed map of the vineyards and cellars of Serralunga, Alessandro Masnaghetti writes these words of acclaim for the quality of this vineyard:
“Vigna Rionda, in the collective imagination of many wine lovers, has become synonymous with the Barolo of Serralunga d’Alba… the Barolo which is produced here can be termed – even more than a Barolo of Serralunga – a Barolo of Vigna Rionda, such is the imprint of the cru on this wine.”
When you consider the number of remarkable Barolo crus in Serralunga, such as Ornato, Falletto, Lazzarito, Prapo and La Rosa, this is high praise for the distinctive style that emerges from Vigna Rionda. Thus the excitement over the new wines down the road.
Regarding the change in ownership of a small (2.2 hectare) section of Vigna Rionda, the details have to do with the passing away of Tommaso Canale, whose ancestors had purchased this plot back in the mid-1930s. Tommaso died in December, so now his section of Vigna Rionda will be turned over to three producers, who are relatives: Guido Porro, Ettore Germano and Giovanni Rosso. In the case of the Rosso estate, this is wonderful and appropriate news, as current proprietor and winemaker Davide Rosso (his father Giovanni passed away only recently) is the son of Ester Canale Rosso, who once owned this section along with her mother Cristina (due to financial difficulties back then, they were forced to sell to a family member).
What all this means is that some producers who worked with this fruit will no longer produce a Vigna Rionda Barolo – Roagna is perhaps the best known firm in this instance. But Porro, Rosso and Germano will be producing a Vigna Rionda Barolo down the road. Sergio Germano told me in an email that he will probably produce his first Barolo from this site from the 2017 vintage, while for Rosso, his first bottling will be from this vintage, the 2011, though in small quantities. (I do not have the information on when the initial Porro bottling will be produced.) Much of this section contains vines that are 60-years old and while some of these vines are in wonderful condition, others need to be replanted.
One thing that needs to be noted is that the transfer of this section of Vigna Rionda is limited to a small section of this cru. There are indeed other owners of Vigna Rionda, who will continue to produce a Barolo from this vineyard. Among the most notable is the Oddero estate of Santa Maria (La Morra); Mariacristina Oddero notes that their family purchased one hectare in 1982. To be exact, they own parcels 335, 340, 338 and 337 of plot number 8 (the Rosso section is parcel 251P of plot number 8). The have been producing Vigna Rionda Barolo for many years and will continue to do so.
Also, the largest single owner of Vigna Rionda is the Massolino family of Serralunga, who owns 2.3 hectares (parcels 79-80-81-82-84-85-86 of plot number 8, to be exact.). Massolino produces a Riserva Barolo from Vigna Rionda fruit, which is one of the most complex, complete and most powerful Barolos of Serrallunga. It also has great cellaring potential – often as long as 40 years – and is one of the most authentic representations of this great vineyard.
Thanks very much to Sergio Germano, Davide Rosso, Franco Massolino, Mariacristina Oddero and Alessandro Masnaghetti for their assistance reagrding this topic.
I have just returned from a 10-day trip to the Langhe in Piemonte where I was able to taste soon-to-be released bottlings of three wine types produced entirely from the Nebbiolo grape: Roero Rosso (the new bottlings from 2008), Barbaresco (2008) and Barolo (2007). This was the Nebbiolo Prima event in Alba, organized for several dozen journalists (as well as some retailers) from around the world. I wrote about 2008 Barbaresco last time out – in this post, I will deal with 2007 Barolo.
First and foremost, this is a very good to excellent vintage, but not one I think can be defined as great. 2007 was a warm year to be sure and the wines have impressive ripeness and very good acidity. The wines are balanced and in some cases, quite approachable now, a trait not seen in the 2006 Barolos. However, that year’s Barolos displayed much deeper concentration along with more firm tannins; the 2006 Barolos are wines for 10-15 years down the road, with many of them peaking in 20-30 years. While there are a few bottlings of 2007 Barolo that will drink well at 25 years of age (such as Pio Cesare “Ornato” and the Renato Ratti “Rocche”), I believe most of these wines will peak at 15-20 years of age, which is for the most part, a typical timeframe for a very good Barolo vintage.
So while 2007 is not a great vintage, it is most certainly an appealing one. Several producers told me that they expect these wines to sell very well, as they have such forward fruit as well as round, elegant tannins. This is the thing to remember about the quality and characteristic of this vintage; unlike 2006 which needs time, these wines can be enjoyed in the near term. This is important, as there are many wine drinkers who are curious about Barolo, especially this particular vintage, which will no doubt receive very good press. 2006 may be a more classic Piemontese vintage (and one I think is outstanding), but for many wine lovers who do not drink Barolo on a regular basis – or for those interested in discovering Barolo for the first time – 2007 is a vintage that will offer ample pleasure.
As for the individual communes themselves, Verduno performed brilliantly. This is not one of the larger communes of the Barolo zone, but the quality of wines from this small area was remarkably high. There were five wines in the tasting from Verduno and I awarded three of them a 4-star (excellent) rating with one wine receiving three stars (very good) and one wine – the Fratelli Alessandria “Monvigliero”- receiving my top rating of five stars – outstanding. This wine has lovely perfumes – my notes refer to orange pekoe tea, strawberry jam and cedar – and there is beautiful depth of fruit with ideal sturcture. This is a wine that should be at its peak in 20 years – or perhaps longer. The wines from Verduno are not the most powerful of the Barolos, but they are among the most seductive. The producers here, such as Burlotto and Castello di Verduno have been performing at a high level for years, so it’s nice to see their success in 2007.
The commune of La Morra is home to a higher percentage of Barolo vineyards than any other, so naturally there were many bottlings offered at this event. To no surprise, the wines of Renato Ratti were among the very best, especially the “Conca” and “Rocche” bottlings. Both wines offer marvelous aromas of red cherry, orange peel and plum with nicely integrated wood notes backed by an impressive mid-palate. These wines are almost as deeply concentrated as their 2006 counterparts – not quite, but almost – and offer beautiful acidity. These are built for the long haul – I marked down “25 years plus” for the Conca and “30 years” for the Rocche. Pietro Ratti has done a marvelous job following in his father’s footsteps and has been producing some of the finest and most consistent Barolos of the past decade; these bottlings from 2007 are further evidence.
Another producer that delivered beautiful Barolos in 2007 is Ascheri; there are two wines from the Sorano vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba: the regular Sorano bottling and the Sorano “Coste e Bricco” offering. The former is more traditionally aged while the latter is crafted in more of an international style (only slightly, thankfully), but both are subdued, elegant wines that show the balance and elegance of Barolo, especially in this vintage. Matteo Ascheri is another ultra consistent Barolo producer and it’s time more reviewers celebrated his excellent work!
The wines from Serralunga d’Alba were again routinely excellent and while the overall effect was not as brilliant as 2006 from that commune, I can easily relate the quality of these wines once more. For me the two best wines were in different styles. The Paolo Manzone “Meriame” from 60-year old vines, is a classic Serralunga Barolo with a great mix of red fruit and spice aromas and a rich, tannic finish. It is quite complex and has beautifully balanced tannins and a generous mid-palate. Everything you would want in a young Barolo is in this bottling; I also tasted the 1999 Meriame at the winery before the tasting and had a similar rating. This is an outstanding vineyard and Paolo Manzone has been producing one of the most underrated Barolos for some time now. Bravo, Paolo!
The Pio Cesare “Ornato” is this historic firm’s flagship Barolo and boy, did they ever deliver in 2007. This is more of an international style, as the wine is aged in French barriques, but with the 2007 bottling, there is more than sufficient depth of fruit to balance the wood influence. There is also beautiful acidity along with great complexity and the wine is a beautiful expression of its site (the vineyard is next to the Falletto cru of Bruno Giacosa- this is clearly the high rent district of Serralunga). The wine is a bit of a monster, but I say that as a compliment, as it is a monster that has been tamed. This is my favorite Ornato since the 2001 vintage; look for this wine to be at its best in 25 years and it should drink well for several years beyond that.
Finally a few notes on some of my favorite wines from the three days of tastings. The Cogno “Ravera” is as elegant and as lovely as ever – the wines features beautiful cherry and strawberry fruit and subtle wood notes and will be at its best in 12-15 years. The Massolino “Parussi” is this estate’s first Barolo ever from Castiglione Falletto; with its orange zest and caraway aromas (typical of this commune) and its long, well-defined mid-palate, this was my favorite of this firm’s 2007 Barolos. (Massolino has also just released the Tenth Anniversary bottling of 2001 Vigna Rionda Barolo – the wine is a stunning success! It is quite simply a classic Barolo that will drink well for decades.)
Also the Elio Grasso “Gavarini Chiniera” and the “Ginestra Casa Maté” are beautiful expressions of Monteforte d’Alba terroir. These wines have excellent depth of fruit (though lighter than the outstanding 2006 offerings) and as they are aged in botti grandi, have very subtle wood influence, a quality that was not common among the Monteforte Barolos of 2007, I’m sorry to say. (I should note that the Monteforte Barolos from Giovanni Manzone (“Gramolere”) and the Giacomo Fenocchio “Bussia” were also lovely wines made in a traditional style.)
A pleasant surprise this year from Ceretto, as my favorite Barolo of theirs was the “Brunate”, which though lighter than the “Prapo” and the “Bricco Rocche”, was a bit more seductive and appealing at present. The other wines are excellent and may shine brighter in 12-15 years, but for now the Brunate is an unqualified success.
The last notes in this post are on one of my favorite producers, Francesco Rinaldi of Barolo. I visited the cellar for the first time this trip and I honestly thought I had traveled 150 years back in time – I’d never seen a cellar that old. No matter, the Barolos from this great firm have been of exceptional quality for quite some time now. This is an ultra traditional estate – the wines are aged in large Slavonian oak, which allows the Nebbiolo fruit to emerge. The first thing you note about these wines is the delicate color – pale garnet – which is in my mind, what a young Barolo should look like. The red cherry and wild strawberry fruit of the two Barolos – “Le Brunate” and “Cannubbio” - are marvelously seductive and the wines have remarkable finesse and subtlety. These are Barolos as you might have tasted 40 or 50 years ago – these are not old-fashioned wines, but ones that are classic. Congratulations to the Rinaldi family for such timeless work!
P.S. I will have full tasting notes on more than 100 of the 2007 Barolos as well as 50 of the 2008 Barbaresco in a special issue of my Guide to Italian Wines, which will be published soon. Regular subscribers to my Guide will receive this as part of their subscription. Others who want only this issue can acquire it for $10. You can email me (click on the “about me” tag of this blog) for information.
Renato Ratti Winery (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
On a hillside in the small frazione of Annunziata below the town of La Morra, the handsome winery of Renato Ratti overlooks some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Barolo zone. Today Pietro Ratti manages the winery, having succeeded his father Renato, a legendary figure in the development of the wine and the territory of Barolo during the past half century.
The elder Ratti was definitely a leader in the promotion of Barolo and perhaps his most famous contribution was his map of the finest vineyards – cru – of the Barolo zone in the 1960s. Newer maps have been created, but almost all of them credit Ratti’s work in letting the world know about the finest sites for planting Nebbiolo in this territory.
Today, most releases of Barolo are from a single cru, but this was not the case some 40 years ago, so this idea of Ratti was ahead of its time- thankfully, it was also a necessary concept. Today Pietro Ratti is one of many producers that release cru Barolo, in his case from Rocche dell’Annunziata (labeled simply as Rocche). Ratti also produces two other Barolos – Conca and Marcenasco – that are technically not from a single vineyard, but are instead from subzones in Annunziata.
Ratti today combines both traditional and modern technology when crafting his Barolo, as these wines are aged in a combination of large Slavonian oak and French barriques. The result is that the wines are a bit darker in color than a typical Barolo, but there are unmistakable varietal aromas that emerge from each bottling. Here are my notes on the current 2006 releases of these wines:
Barolo Rocche – cedar, red cherry, sage and tobacco aromas; excellent concentration; rich mid-palate, lively acidity and refined tannins. Beautiful complexity and expression of terroir. Best in 20-25 years.
Barolo Conca – blackthorn, cherry and tobacco aromas; rich finish with very good persistence, lively acidity and refined tannins. Best in 20 years plus.
Barolo Marcenasco – cedar, cumin and dried cherry aromas; medium-full; nicely balanced throughout with good persistence. Best in 12-15 years.
I rated the Rocche as outstanding, the Conca as excellent and the Marcenasco as very good. The 2006 vintage is in the vein of the old-fashioned Barolos – wines that are tightly structured and will reward great patience.
Pietro Ratti (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Pietro also produces an excellent Barbera d’Alba as well as notable bottlings of Nebbiolo d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba. He continues his father’s work in the vineyards as well as the promotion of the Barolo zone and the entire Langhe area. I’ve come to know him during my visits over the past seven years and find him to be as personable and as helpful a producer as I’ve met in Italy. He is a graceful, elegant man and his wines are in the same manner.
I have previously written about Barolo and listed several of my favorite producers in this area. Now I would like to briefly discuss a few of those producers, as arranged by commune. This post will deal with five of the finest vintners of La Morra, right in the heart of the Barolo zone.
RENATO RATTI – This historic estate is today managed by Pietro Ratti, the energetic and outgoing son of Renato Ratti. The elder Ratti was one of the most important individuals in this zone during the 1950s and 1960s for his work in mapping and identifying the great crus (single vinyards) for Barolo production. The map he created is still a valuable reference point in any discussion on this topic.
Today, Pietro produces three bottlings of Barolo in most vintages: Marcenasco, a selezione from vineyards near the winery, Rocche (dell’Annunziata) and Conca (these last two from single vineyards). The Ratti style of Barolo is ideal ripeness, but subtle wood, so as to allow the terroir of the sites to emerge. The wines are elegantly styled and are first-rate examples of how Barolo improves and changes with time. Ratti is not the only producer to focus on this, of course, but he is one of the finest, no doubt. His recently released 2006s are beautifully layered (especially the Conca), and his 2004s and 2001s are remarkable.
ROCCHE COSTAMAGNA – Located at the top of the hill, just as you enter La Morra, this estate is one of the most consistent in La Morra and the entire Barolo zone. Alessandro Locatelli is the owner and in my mind, the style of his wines are much like the man himself – straightforward, elegant and charming. His regular bottling of Rocche dell’Annunziata is excellent, but it is the Bricco Francesco, made from grapes from the highest portion of the Rocche vineyard, that is his finest wine. Deeply concentrated with a long, beautifully structured finish, this is classy La Morra Barolo with elegant tannins and lovely perfumes.
MARCARINI – Managed by Manuel Marchetti, this is one of La Morra’s most traditional estates. The two Barolos – La Serra and Brunate – are fermented in cement tanks, as these are inert and impart no additional flavors. The wines are then aged in botti grandi (large casks) to emphasize varietal character as well as a great sense of terroir. The wines are subdued, marvelously balanced and age beautifully. These bottlings are also some of the most fairly priced Barolos in the entire zone – bravo Manuel!
ROBERTO VOERZIO – As traditional as the wines are from Marcarini, the Barolos from Roberto Voerzio are just as modern in their approach. Voerzio makes as many as seven different bottlings of Barolo – almost all from La Morra (Brunate, La Serra, Rocche dell’Annunziata Torriglione), each of which is aged in entirely new French oak barriques. While this may seem excessive, the discipline in the vineyard – extremely low yields – ensure that there is plenty of fruit to balance the wood. While these wines appeal to a different palate than those of Marcarini, one cannot doubt their excellence.
GIANNI VOERZIO – Brother of Roberto, Gianni Voerzio produces only one Barolo from the La Serra vineyard, but it is quite a bottling. Just like his brother, Gianni ages the wine in barriques, so the wine has a ruby red color instead of the garnet one expects with a young Barolo and there is ample oak. Again, yields are low, so the wine is balanced and older vintages show quite well. Gianni Voerzio, like his brother, is also a gentleman as well as an impassioned winemaker.
The latest vintages of Barolo and Barbaresco have just been released – 2006 for Barolo and 2007 for Barbaresco. Given this, I’d like to provide a brief recap of the last decade of vintages.
2007 - 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 so far should drink well for 12-15 years. Excellent to Outstanding (Note: I am basing my opinion here primarily on Barbaresco, but I have also tasted a few barrel samples of Barolo from this year; the 2007 Barolos will be released in a year.)
2006 – 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. Excellent to Outstanding
2005 – 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 5-7 years, while the finest Barolos will be at their best in 10-12 years. Very Good to Excellent
2004 – 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. Outstanding
2003 – Average at best. 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. Poor to below average
2002 – 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 3-5 years. Below average
2001- 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 12-20 years. Truly one of the most successful vintages of the past twenty years. Outstanding
2000- 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 as this is only 10 years out, that certainly doesn’t equate to a great – or even excellent – vintage for these wines. Average
1999 – 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. Outstanding
1998 – 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 concentated 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 7-10 years of pleasure. Excellent
Text ©Tom Hyland, 2010
If you would like to read more of my thoughts on Barbaresco and Barolo, see:
I’ve just returned from Piemonte, tasting new releases of Barbaresco (2007) and Barolo (2006). I briefly wrote about these wines on my other blog (read here and here). Now I would like to go into a bit more depth on Piemontese reds in general.
The Langhe area of southern Piemonte where the Barolo and Barbaresco zones are located, has been on a bit of a roll as of late. After the rainy 2002 vintage and the torridly hot 2003 growing season, which resulted in wines that were powerful, yet poorly balanced, the weather has cooperated. 2004 was a glorious year, producing wines of superb aromatics along with impressive weight. While 2005 was a lighter vintage, the wines are beautifully balanced with precise acidity and are drinking well. 2006 was a big year – this is a vintage where the wines need plenty of time – and 2007 was a relatively warm year that resulted in ripe, forward wines that are very enjoyable in their youth. The 2007 reds – at least what I have tasted so far (dozens of Barbaresco along with a handful of Barolo from cask) are notable wines, though probably not meant for the long haul, especially when compared to 2006.
Then there are the vintages of 2008 and 2009. You will be reading a great deal about the quality of 2009 in Piemonte (as well as the rest of Italy). It was a warm year, producing rich wines with impressive concentration; based on what I’ve tried so far with the whites as well as some reds from tank and cask, it definitely has the potential to be an outstanding vintage. That means that 2008 will likely be lost in the shuffle, as this was a cooler year that yielded less weighty wines.
However, 2008 is an excellent vintage – don’t let the hype fool you. While the wines may be less robust than those from 2009, they do offer beautiful varietal character and, most importantly, excellent acidity, which means the wines will age gracefully.
In fact, when it comes to Barolo and Barbaresco – both made exclusively from Nebbiolo – 2008 may be the better year. Danilo Drocco, winemaker at Fontanafredda in Serralunga d’Alba in the heart of the Barolo zone, told me that he believes 2008 will be the better of the two years for Nebbiolo-based wines. “I prefer 2008 for Nebbiolo,” Drocco related. “2008 was a long, cool growing season while 2009 was a shorter, hotter year. 2009 will be better for Barbera and Dolcetto, but it was not great for Nebbiolo.” Dante Scaglione, former winemaker at Bruno Giacosa and now consulting enologist for several projects including Cascina Roccalini in Barbaresco, told me that he agrees with Drocco about Nebbiolo for 2008.
Vintage assessments are always fascinating, but it’s also important to think about the style of the red wines made in Piemonte. From what I tasted during my recent trip, it was clearly noticeable that oak is becoming more of supporting player in the wine, as it should have been all along. Barolo went through its stage of high percentage, new barrique aging during the 1990s and early 2000s, but now the tide is turning back to larger barrels and thus, less wood influence. Another promising trend is that here are more and more cellars fermenting and/or aging their wines for a short time in cement tanks. Franco Massolino in Serralunga prefers fermenting his Barolo in cement, as “this helps preserve the aromas.” How nice that producers such as Massolino, Giovanni Rosso, Elio Grasso, Marcarini, Bartolo Mascarello and others are producing wine with the goal of emphasizing the flavors of the Nebbiolo variety as well as focusing on terroir to produce a wine with a sense of place.
There are so many wonderful reds that will be released over the next 3-4 years from Piemonte and while things look good in the short term of this span, it’s especially nice that tradition will play a more important role in this area for years to come.