2010 Barolo: Flying High Again
By Antonio Galloni
The 2010 vintage in Barolo is
shaping up to be a modern-day classic. The cool growing season produced
transparent, vibrant Barolos that pulsate with tension, crystalline purity and
Vintage 2010 Overview
The 2010 Barolos have all of the
attributes of a cool, late-ripening vintage; expressive aromatics, chiseled
fruit, plenty of site-specificity and the potential to develop beautifully for
years and decades in bottle. At the same
time, the wines have gorgeous depth and richness, perhaps a result of the high
temperatures in July. Next to the 2008s, which were generally brought in later,
the 2010s have a bit less aromatic intensity, more tannic clout and greater
overall structure. A number of growers mentioned that the berry size was small
in 2010, which explains why the wines have the tannic presence they do. As
always, there are a handful of underperforming wines, but they are the
exception rather than the rule. In general terms, it is clear the Barolos are
more successful than the 2010 Barbarescos, pointing out the need once again to
consider each of these two areas individually. The 2010 Barolos are also
several notches higher in quality and far more exciting than the 2009s.
Overall, 2010 can be characterized
as a vintage with cooler than normal temperatures and a mid-October harvest for
Nebbiolo. Total degree days were lower than both 2009 and 2011. Growers
reported fairly normal conditions during fruit set, although for some estates
rain in early May delayed flowering. June saw quite a bit of rain, but towards
the end of the month, after flowering was completed. July was very dry with
daytime temperatures at the high end of normal. Evenings were cool throughout
the summer months, creating the diurnal temperature swings that are so
favorable for gradual, even ripening. October brought with it high amounts of
rain. Well-drained sites handled the rain well, but some vineyards were
penalized. In a cool, rainy vintage, proper balance in the vineyards and
reasonable crop loads were especially critical. Most estates harvested their
Nebbiolos around the middle of October, which today is regarded as a normal
time frame. By comparison, both 2008 and 2013 were quite a bit later, while
2007 and 2009 were earlier harvests.
Readers who have tasted the 2010s
from Tuscany (especially Chianti Classico) and/or the 2010 Red Burgundies will
have a very clear idea of the style of the vintage. It is a year that will
appeal to classicists, as the wines are translucent and incredibly expressive.
Stylistically, the 2010s remind me of the 2004s, but with more mid-palate
pliancy and overall depth. Simply put, 2010 is the greatest young Barolo
vintage I have tasted in 18 years of visiting the region and a lifetime of
buying, cellaring and drinking these wines.
the 2010 Barolos at Giacomo Conterno, Monforte d’Alba
A New Paradigm for Barolo?
As structured as the 2010s are,
these aren’t your father’s (or mother’s) Barolos. In other words, the wines
won’t take decades to become approachable. Significant strides in viticulture and
winemaking have made today’s young Barolos more approachable than they have
ever been. For example, the 2008 Barolos, wines from another cool,
late-maturing vintage, are surprisingly open today. Those wines may close down
at some point in the future, but the days of needing to cellar Barolos for decades
before they drink well is largely a thing of the past. The last vintage I can
remember with truly forbidding youthful tannins is 1999.
The Market for 2010 Barolo
I expect to see considerable
interest from the trade in the 2010s. The reasons are obvious. Most
importantly, the wines are spectacular.
The 2010 Barolos are going to be the most exciting category to sell in
2014, that much seems clear. In Burgundy, yields of -40% to -80% and higher
prices than 2011 are going to make the 2012s virtually impossible to find and
very expensive. There simply isn’t enough volume of 2012 Burgundy to support
the trade. At the same time, consumers will continue to turn to Barolo and
Barbaresco as they are priced out of Burgundy. The 2013 vintage in Bordeaux is
one of the most difficult in a generation and is unlikely to generate much
excitement when the en primeur
campaign kicks off this spring. What about 2009 Brunello di Montalcino? The
wines I have tasted from cask point to an uneven vintage. The best 2011 Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa
Valley are better than expected, but here, too, production is down sharply. I
am less versed on the wines of the Rhône Valley or Spain, but I don’t see a
lot of excitement out there, with the exception of the usual suspects. As a
result of all of these factors, I expect interest in the new Barolo vintage to
be much greater than normal.
wines for the 2011 and 2012 Barolo Le Vigne at Luciano Sandrone, Barolo
Don’t Forget Dolcetto, Barbera and Langhe Nebbiolo
As thrilling as the best Barolos
are, I hope readers will also take a look at the best Dolcettos, Barberas and
Langhe Nebbiolos. A good general rule of thumb is to focus on the entry-level wines of the
best growers, much as one might do with Bourgognes and village-level wines in
Burgundy. In particular, today there are more utterly delicious Langhe
Nebbiolos than ever before. The market for high-end wine remains competitive,
and growers are only bottling their best under their top labels. Consumers can
benefit enormously by focusing on top producers to find delicious every-day
wines that won’t require a second mortgage. My recent
article covers several hundred delicious, entry-level wines, most of which can be had
for exceedingly fair prices.
just after harvest at Conterno-Fantino, Monforte d’Alba
Wine is More Than a Number
While it is human nature to be
drawn to the numerical ratings, I urge readers to take the time to read the
tasting notes and producer commentaries, both of which will tell you more about
a wine than a mere number alone ever can. The 2010 Barolo vintage is special.
There are a lot of great wines in this article, and I expect there will be even
more once the wines that are still in cask are bottled later this year.
Looking Ahead: Barolo 2011-2013
Even though it is still early, I
find little to get excited about in the 2011 Barolos. The 2011s are rich,
voluptuous wines. Although it is tempting to make comparisons with 2007, I find
much less aromatic finesse and balance in the 2011s. It is also a highly
inconsistent vintage. Results vary highly from cellar to cellar, that much is clear. Right now 2011 looks to be an average vintage
of big, ripe, early drinking Barolos. Of course, much can change between now
and when the wines are bottled, but at the moment I can’t get terribly excited
Vintage 2012 is turning into a very
pleasant surprise. The wines remind me of the 2005s because of their
medium-bodied structures, aromatics and vibrancy, but the 2012s have more
richness and depth, something that has always been the Achilles heel of 2005. I
am not sure if 2012 is going to develop into a blockbuster vintage, but at the
moment the 2012s are crystalline, pure and highly promising.
I haven’t tasted any dry 2013s yet,
but it is a fascinating vintage. An early attack of peronospora (downy mildew)
caught growers off guard. Peronospora is usually not terribly harmful when it
happens this early. Growers had a decision; to treat or not. That decision was
compounded by wet conditions that made it impossible to get into the vineyards
with tractors. Those who chose to spray had to do it the hard way, manually.
Those who opted not to treat were crushed by what turned out to be a devastating
onset of peronospora. In the worst places, production was down as much as 70%,
and a handful of vineyards weren’t even picked at all. By modern day standards,
2013 was a very long growing season with conditions in which Nebbiolo thrives.
On paper, 2013 looks like an above average vintage at the very least. I can’t
wait to taste the wines.
down the cap and pumping over at Giuseppe Rinaldi, November 2013. This juice
will become Barolo Brunate.
Explore The Great Barolo Vineyards and Wines
Within the next few weeks we will
be releasing the Beta version of our new interactive Barolo map. I start by breaking
down the Barolo vineyard designations ‘menzioni
geografiche’ into Grandi Cru del
Barolo, Primi Cru del Barolo and
Menzioni del Barolo, an equivalent
to Burgundy’s Grand Crus, Premier Crus and villages
vineyards. From there, readers will be able to learn the basics about each
of the sites; including surface area and altitude, and for sites that produce
single-vineyard Barolos, the attributes of the wines along with reference-point
bottlings. Lastly, readers will be able to explore the wines from each vineyard
by linking into the Vinous database, which includes reviews of more than 3,000
Barolos, including virtually all of the widely accepted benchmarks. We will then
create a similar map for Barbaresco before turning our attention to California.
Rionda as seen across the valley from Castelletto, Monforte
Over the last few years, the
villages in Barolo have been engaged in an exercise to codify the boundaries of
their vineyards or ‘menzioni geografiche’.
Cannubi is the most famous and well-known vineyard in Barolo. In truth
though, Cannubi is not really a vineyard at all, but is best described as a
hillside. Several well-established subdivisions exist within Cannubi;
Cannubi-Boschis, Cannubi-San Lorenzo, Cannubi-Valletta and Cannubi-Muscatel. In
an effort to more clearly delineate these sub-zones, authorities charged with
defining the new naming conventions ruled that producers would have to label their
Barolos according by sub-zone, rather than use the broader Cannubi designation,
as many wineries had done previously for decades. For example, a grower with
vineyards in Cannubi-San Lorenzo would be required to label their wines ‘Cannubi-San
Lorenzo’ and not simply ‘Cannubi.’
But a few producers objected
because they had always just used the designation ‘Cannubi’ for their Barolos
and they feared creating confusion in the market with what would look like new
wine names, so they appealed the decision. This faction was led by Marchesi di
Barolo, one of the most storied wineries in Barolo, and its owners, the Abbona
family, who argued that historically they had always used the Cannubi
designation for their wines and therefore they should be able to continue to do
so. Their position was that it should be the choice of the producer to use the
broader Cannubi name or one of the more specific vineyard designations.
Marchesi’s recent appeal was upheld and the original ruling was overturned in
Although the dispute over Cannubi has
recently gotten considerable press, conflicts between these two factions have
existed over this issue for twenty years or so. I spent many hours reviewing the
extensive material collected by Marchesi di Barolo to support their case. The
Cannubi designation appears on Abbona labels going back to 1904. There is no
question Marchesi di Barolo have labeled their Barolo ‘Cannubi’ for several
generations. At the same time, though, it is important to note that 100 years
ago, Piedmont was the Wild West when it came to naming conventions. For
example, I have seen bottles of ‘Barbaresco Cannubi’ from the 1950s! It was not
until the 1980s that the first serious efforts were made to ensure wines were
As far as I have been able to
ascertain, Marchesi’s present-day Cannubi holdings are centered in Muscatel,
while a second parcel lies in the central part of the hill. However, Marchesi
recently lost access to a third parcel owned by Pietro Scarzello, Ernesto
Abbona’s cousin, that is now being leased to Damilano and that informed the
Marchesi Cannubi Barolos for years. Naturally, it is hard, if not impossible,
to know with certainty which fruit was going into which wines and when.
Lost in this war – and it is a war
– between producers is the rights of the most important person in this whole
saga. Those of the consumer who support Barolo and its wineries, and without
whom there would be no wine industry at all. Laws and regulations should exist
to protect the rights of the consumer, not a winemaker or a group of
winemakers. In my opinion, the question is not what was done in the past, but
what should be done in the future. And in this context there is no question
that more information and clarity is preferable to less.
Cannubi Vineyard, Barolo
It is impossible for an outsider –
or maybe anyone – to know who is right and who is wrong. What is clear is that
everyone is a loser. Consumers are hurt because of a lack of transparency in
labeling. This is by far the most egregious of all the results of this
situation. The commercial interests of essentially one winery have prevailed
over the interests of the very people who buy the wines of Barolo, who support
the local economy, and who make it possible for people to have jobs. If you
think I am exaggerating, consider that the traceability of food products is far
greater than what exists for wine.
Over the last few years, there has
been a rise of new regulations and enforcement of those laws that have resulted
in a degree of bureaucracy and record keeping that is astonishing, especially
within the context of what has been the norm in Italy. In my view, regulations
should exist to protect the interests of the consumer. Here, though, the
opposite seems to be taking place.
And what about Marchesi di Barolo?
Over time they risk being big losers too. Traditionally Cannubi-Muscatel has not been among
the most highly regarded zones for growing Barolo grapes within Cannubi.
Although no one knows for sure, the vineyard’s name appears to originate from
the planting of Moscato – either partly, or wholly – on this site. A hundred
years ago, it was common for growers to interplant a few rows of Moscato in
their red variety vineyards.
Sure, Marchesi di Barolo’s right to
call their Barolo ‘Cannubi’ instead of ‘Cannubi-Muscatel’ today might result in
greater commercial success. But what will happen when broad Cannubi tastings
are organized 5, 10, 20 years from now? The Marchesi’s Barolos are going to be
disadvantaged because they will be compared to wines made from the heart of the
Cannubi hillside. It would seem to me a better approach might be to explore the
true characteristics of Cannubi-Muscatel and see what kind of wine that site is
capable of producing.
It’s time. I have been buying and
drinking Piedmont wines for as long as I can remember. My father introduced me
to Barolo when I was 9 or 10. I tasted my first 1982s with him. Later, when I
was on my own, Barolo was well beyond my means, but I drank plenty of Dolcetto
and Barbera. One of my early inspirations was Burton Anderson’s Wine Atlas of Italy, which I read cover
to cover many times. I first visited Piedmont nearly twenty years ago and
became even more fascinated with the region. In 2000 I moved to Italy and spent
pretty much every minute of free time in the Langhe. I had a dream of writing a
book about Piedmont, as I felt Italian wines weren’t being covered as
thoroughly as they deserved to be. That book morphed into Piedmont Report. Now, a decade later, I am going to go back to my
original vision, which is to write a comprehensive book on the great wines of
Barolo and Barbaresco. If all goes well, we intend to publish in 2015. It would
be a massive understatement to say I am super-excited about this project.
typical tasting at Vietti, the 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2003 Barolos
Readers can look forward to several
additional articles over the next few months.
Piedmont coverage continues with a major retrospective of the 1999
vintage in both Barolo and Barbaresco. I then turn my attention to the 2003 Barolos, wines that have mostly developed far better than anyone could have
imagined a decade ago. A vertical of Giacomo Conterno’s Barbera d’Alba Cascina
Francia is also on the horizon.
Giacomo Conterno’s Cascina Francia vineyard, Serralunga d’Alba