Grapevine Archive for Barolo
Five days in the Langhe, Barolo country, with a select group of members from The Wine Society Dining Club, helped open eyes to the beauties of one of the world’s great red wines. Unesco declared the Langhe a protected region which means the stunning scenery should be saved from ugly building and more of us will visit. The delicious regional food and an unprecedented run of good vintages between 1996 and 2013 (the only exceptions being 2002 spoilt by rain and 2003 when most wines were spoilt by heat) are added reasons.
Nebbiolo, the sole grape of Barolo and Barbaresco, is, like pinot noir of Burgundy, not a naturally deep-coloured wine (unlike wines of its neighbour grapes barbera, which likes hot vintages, and dolcetto, which prefers cooler, higher slopes). It produces wonderful bouquet reminiscent by turns of roses, spices, even tar and initially tastes quite tannic, which is why long barrel ageing is traditional and balance essential.
Keep good vintages of Barolo eight years to ascend to a plateau which they maintain for a further eight years. In lighter years, or from more precocious soils (for example, parts of La Morra and Verduno or the Barberesco slopes) five years to ascend, five years to coast. In great classic years and from the best soils, the great wines last much longer.
La Morra and its neighbouring communes Verduna and Roddi tend to produce more forward accessible wines. Compare with Côtes de Beaune.
Barolo Monforte, Castiglione and particularly Serralunga, a heavier soil make wines for longer keeping. Compare with Côte de Nuits.
The rise of single vineyards
Barolo used to be a blended wine. Merchants bought grapes from growers all over the region to establish their own style. Beppe Colla, then of Prunotto, and Bruno Giacosa were famous for doing this very well. Because the steep-sided hills have many twists and turns, and have different exposures, some sites were known to be much superior to others and then names like Bussia, Monprivato, Cannubi, began to appear on the label and only very recently have these been properly delimited. More and more of the younger generation want to bottle their own wine, perhaps selling part of it in bulk, so all the major producers have tried to acquire more of the best vineyards.
Change of style
Traditional Barolo started life tannic and was left to age a very long time in large cask. In the seventies smaller new-oak barriques were introduced to soften the wines, hasten the process and add glamour. Giacomo Conterno and Giuseppe Mascarello and some others still practice the old method extremely well. Most younger producers do a mixture of both. The aim for the best now is to go for balance. As Tino Colla of Poderi Colla says, ‘I want to smell the vineyard not the cellar. I am not a grocery: wines should speak direct and reflect their origin. I use knowledge rather than technology’.
2011: Coldest July for ages but blistering August. Some blockbuster wines with ripe tannins and highish alcohol but balancing acidity. Like 2007 with more density.
2010: Early summer drought but showers in late July and August, September stable with good variation between night and day temperatures. Healthy grapes. Patient growers who waited made very good wines with classic, fresh, precise quality. Keep until 2015/2018–2025.
2009: Good to very good, more obviously generous than 2010. Will be like 1979 and 1986 for ageing. Still getting better. 2015–2025.
2008: Nebbiolos were elegant and balanced. Ready now–2020.
2007: Most are ready. Easy to understand and ripe if a tad short of finesse. Ready now–2023.
2006: A classic vintage for long keeping with initially present tannins. Needed ten years. 2016–2026. The Society has some still in reserve for release when ready.
2005: Uneven. Mostly ready.
2004 and 2001 are both just right for drinking now.
Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer for Italy