What Makes a Great Barolo Vintage? Establishing a Framework

What makes a great Barolo vintage? Unlike some regions, Bordeaux being the most notable, Piedmont does not have an established framework that sets out the criteria required for a vintage to be considered very high in potential quality. Clearly many observers have views, but I have never seen them codified. What follows is my framework of objective criteria that are necessary in order for a Barolo (or Barbaresco) vintage to be considered truly great. It is inspired by the late Denis Dubourdieu and the model he developed for assessing young Bordeaux vintages and the research my colleague Alessandro Masnaghetti has done in collecting and analyzing weather, harvest dates and other data. To that, I add my 20+ years of visiting the region and all of the information I have gathered in speaking with winemakers, agronomists and other professionals over that time, plus drinking more than my fair share of the wines. As with Dubourdieu’s model, this framework addresses the growing season, and does not venture into an assessment of the wines. This is very much a working model. It is meant to be tested, broken and refined over time. 1. A Long Growing Season – A long growing season, defined as the period from budbreak to harvest, is essential for achieving full physiological ripening of the fruit, skins and seeds. Since Nebbiolo is already a very tannic grape, less than full physiological ripeness is heavily penalizing. 2. Diurnal Shifts – The final phase of ripening must be accompanied by diurnal shifts, which are the swings in temperature from warm days to cool nights. Diurnal shifts create aromatic complexity and color. 3. The Absence of Shock Weather Events – Frost and hail can severely and irreparably damage the crop. Similarly, periods of uninterrupted elevated heat can block maturation. 4. Stable Weather During the Last Month – The last month of the growing season makes the quality of the vintage. Stable weather without prolonged rain episodes or other events is essential for harvesting a healthy crop. 5. A Late Harvest – Harvest must take place in October (possibly late September in some areas), with the final phase of ripening occurring during the shorter days of late September and October, as opposed to the longer, hotter days of August. In using this framework for recent years, 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2016 all meet the criteria for a great vintage. Two thousand-fourteen meets the criteria in Barbaresco and comes close in Barolo, where generally speaking, hail and rain were just too challenging for producers, the presence of a number of monumental wines notwithstanding. Clearly, this model is created in the present day. It won’t apply as well to vintages from previous eras, especially vintages from the 1950s-1970s. At that time, warm weather was considered ideal because grapes struggled to ripen. The warmest vineyards, those that were due south-facing, the famous sorís, were the most coveted. Today, in our climate change-challenged world, you would be hard pressed to find a producer who believes that south-facing vineyards are the most ideal sites for the future. --Antonio Galloni, What Makes a Great Barolo Vintage? Establishing a Framework, May 2021 To read Antonio’s complete article, check it out on Vinous now . Below is a selection of Barolo and Barbaresco notes from the Delectable community.

Covalli

Covalli Barbaresco Red 2014

This wine proved to me how much of a food wine Barolo really is. When I first opened it and took a sip with no food, I smelled sulfur and rip red fruits. I wasn’t a big fan. Then I had some cold shishito peppers in the fridge and tried some with one of those, and it totally transformed. Subtle red fruit with a dry espresso, chocolate finish. Really lovely — a month ago

Anthony and Alex liked this

Vietti

Castiglione Barolo Nebbiolo 2013

Battle of Barolo: La Morra vs Castiglione. Strong, in both nose and mouth. More “present”. In good shape for the moment. Definitely the winner of this battle — 2 months ago

Arden, Andrew and 26 others liked this

Luigi Baudana (G.D. Vajra)

Barolo Cerretta Nebbiolo 2013

Classical in style but great density in this outstanding vintage for Baroli. Crushed flowers, cinnamon and other spices, very mineral, long, lots of potential. Decant a few hours before or let it sleep another 5 years or so. Excellent stuff. — 2 months ago

Adriana Pagliano
with Adriana
Adriana, Ron and 5 others liked this

Giacomo Brezza & Figli

Barolo Nebbiolo 2016

Great barolo and especially for this price point. Will order this every time when at Nociolla on Ojai. Gem of a wine at a gem of a restaurant 👌🏽 — a month ago

Paul liked this

Fratelli Revello

Barolo Cerretta 2013

Gorgeous wine!! Opened it hours in advance of drinking. It opened up nicely! Obviously has many many years left but it was delicious today. Black and red cherries, tar, rosemary, and roses galore. Strong structure. — 2 months ago

Daniel P., Severn and 13 others liked this

Conterno Fantino

Mosconi Barolo Nebbiolo 2008

James Parker Huston, CWE
9.3

Still youthful with dried Cherry, red raspberry, rose petals, oregano, tar and sandalwood. The wine has impeccable balance and a generous finish. — 2 months ago

Ira, LM and 5 others liked this

Giacomo Conterno

Cascina Francia Barolo Nebbiolo 2008

2008 perfection. Amazing now, and you just know it’ll be superb in 10 yrs. And 20 yrs. Classic. Nuff said. — a year ago

P, Severn and 30 others liked this
Evan Bienstock

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My post pics come right up. The app is now deleting my profile description each time I explain “who I am.”
David T

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@Evan Bienstock it’s different iPhone to Android, user to user. The consistency is they continue to go on & on & on.
Severn Goodwin

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@Evan Bienstock Who are you? 😝
@David T Not just iOS, getting the full grey box treatment on Android in recent days, on multiple versions. Also new one today, people I've never heard of, or ever followed, showing up in my Following feed. 😯

Beni di Batasiolo

Barbaresco Nebbiolo 2014

Strawberry, cherry and rose aromas and flavors. A lithe and elegant wine. Hints of black tea. — a month ago

Paulo, Anthony and 3 others liked this

Azienda Agricola Elvio Cogno

Cascina Nuova Barolo Nebbiolo 2016

Ted
9.3

Mighty tasty. Full of life. Juicy. Just a pinch of mint, tar, red berry. Love Barolo. — 2 months ago

Jeni
with Jeni
Neil, Jamie and 15 others liked this

Luciano Sandrone

Le Vigne Barolo Nebbiolo 2016

Yesterday late afternoon I had the pleasure of tasting the 2016 Luciano Sandrone Le Vigne Barolo. At first taste I knew this was a special bottle of wine. All boxes were checked on the nose as well as the palate.

On the nose were fully expressive notes of black cherry, strawberry, herbs, clove, clay pottery, rose petals, underbrush, tar and dusty soil.

On the palate were delightful notes of dark cherries, strawberry, red plum, licorice, truffle, herbs, dried roses, a good mineral note and dusty earth.

An outstanding wine from the word go, full bodied, well balanced with a smooth round mouthfeel, medium + acidity and medium + to high fine mouth coating grippy tannins that leaves you with a long pronounced fresh fruit dusty earth finish. This wine still has a lot to offer years from now. What a pleasure to have experienced this. I hope everyone's weekend is going well? Have a continued wonderful weekend. Please stay safe and healthy. Nostrovia! 🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷
— 2 months ago

Severn, Arden and 37 others liked this
Eric

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Great notes.
David L

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Very nice.