Area Stampa

maggio 2014

Barolo’s Crowning Glory – Bruce Sanderson

Barolo’s Crowning GloryThe 2010 vintage caps a string of successful harvests for Piedmont’s King of Wines                                                                

Bruce Sanderson
Issue: April 30, 2014

In 2010, Barolo witnessed something special. Northwestern Italy’s leading wine region has enjoyed a string of fine vintages dating from the 1996 harvest, but 2010 just may be the finest yet. It combines the best qualities of these recent vintages—purity, elegance, balance and complexity, plus the ability to age.

“The 2010 vintage is one of the best in the past years, and we’ve really had some very good vintages. Everything is there—color, depth, complexity. I think it’s exceptional,” says Franco Massolino, co-proprietor of his family’s estate in Serralunga d’Alba, which produces Barolos from a number of top vineyards. “A vintage like this doesn’t arrive very often.”

Giorgio Rivetti of La Spinetta, a leading producer of Barolo and Barbaresco, agrees. “From the beginning, 2010 is a very classic and elegant vintage, balanced, round, with soft tannins. The alcohols aren’t too high. It reminds me of 1982, a vintage that was beautiful young and aged well.”

“There is more complexity, more tension, more black fruit in general in 2010,” says Valter Fissore, winemaker at Elvio Cogno.

This is high praise indeed, yet I heard it in cellar after cellar during a visit to Piedmont late last year to taste the young Barolos. (A handful of 2010s have already been bottled, but most are still aging in oak casks and will be bottled this spring or summer, or later if destined to become riservas.) I tasted a number of them two years ago during a visit to the region. They were exciting then, but they have melded significantly during their maturation in oak, and are beginning to show the extent of their exceptional quality.

Based on non-blind tastings of approximately 100 2010 Barolos during my more recent visit, I give the vintage a preliminary rating of 96-99 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale. What makes these young Nebbiolos so compelling is their excellent color, ripe fruit flavors, balance, depth, elegance, expressiveness and complexity. They clearly have the structure for long aging. Furthermore, they reflect their terroirs, with crus such as Cannubi, Monprivato and Rocche di Castiglione showing typical purity and elegance, and others, such as Bussia, Ginestra and Vigna Rionda, delivering classic depth and power.

The majestic pinnacle of the vintage can be tasted in nascent Barolos such as the Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Riserva, with its rich and powerful yet elegant profile and its extra dimension of sweet licorice, steeped cherry, tobacco, eucalyptus flavors, and the Giuseppe Mascarello & Figlio Barolo Monprivato Cà d’Morissio Riserva, a wine of incredible purity, intensity, focus, harmony and length, delivering everything a lover of these noble reds is looking for. Tasting both wines from barrel, I gave them provisional scores of 96-99 points, or classic quality, on Wine Spectator‘s 100-point scale. (Because the Monfortino Riserva typically spends seven years in wood, and the Cà d’Morissio Riserva five to six, they won’t be available until 2017 and 2015 or 2016, respectively.)

Another benchmark for the vintage is the long and beautifully balanced Cavallotto Barolo Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe Riserva (95-98 points), which exhibits a pretty nose and flavors of pure cherry, spice and mineral matched to a refined texture and frame. This wine will see another year and a half in barrel before being bottled, according to Alfio Cavallotto.

Dozens more Barolos are potentially classic (95 to 100 points), provided the period of maturation in wood proceeds accordingly and bottling involves no mishap. Once released, these Nebbiolos will require seven to 10 years of aging to show their best, and should continue to develop over a 20- to 30-year period. Noticeably absent from the roster of 2010s, for both Barolo and Barbaresco, are the wines of Bruno Giacosa. As in 2006, the Maestro’s decision not to bottle the vintage was based on personal health issues, and not the quality of the vintage.

Many vintners compare the 2010s to earlier excellent years, like 2008, 2006 or 2004, yet with riper fruit, greater phenolic maturity and more succulent textures. Davide Voerzio, who works alongside his father, Roberto, at their estate, says, “We think [2010 is] a great, great vintage, like 2004, but more elegant, more juicy.”

The 2010s differ from, and largely exceed, earlier great years such as 1982, 1989, 1990, 1996, 1999 and even 2001. There are several reasons for this. The viticulture is more precise now, with higher density and new clones. This translates to better-quality fruit. And most producers are working more efficiently in the cellar, using temperature control and newer equipment.

For example, Alfio Cavallotto shared with me the evolution of his family’s cellar for the vinification of Nebbiolo. Until 1960, they used wooden tini, punching down the cap, and converted to cement vats in 1961 because they were easier to clean and reduced the risk of bacteria. In the 1980s, Cavallotto introduced upright stainless-steel tanks for better temperature control and later, in 1994, rotofermentors, which they have modified, allowing them to have a semi-submerged cap for a traditional maceration of 28 to 32 days in a top-quality vintage (compared with seven to 14 days in standard rotofermentors).

Piedmont’s climate does not make it easy on vintners. Only a growing season that avoids the region’s all-too-frequent extremes can deliver truly great wines.

If temperatures aren’t warm enough, or if there is a lot of humidity and rain at harvest, Nebbiolo grapes don’t develop sufficient sugar, acidity remains too high, and the tannins in the skins and seeds don’t ripen. As a consequence, the wines taste green, with dry, bitter tannins. This was the case in vintages such as 1991, 1992 and 2002 (which was also damaged by hail).

On the other hand, if temperatures are too high during the summer months, like they were in 2003, with no significant swing between day and night (especially during August and September), Nebbiolo loses acidity and the grapes experience dehydration. Compounded by dry conditions, the resulting wines have rich aromas of dried fruit, ripe and sometimes cooked fruit and softer tannins, with typically weaker color and less ability to age.

“Obviously, correct work done by the grower can make big differences,” says Cristina Oddero, who manages her family’s estate. “Some conditions can be significantly improved if the winegrower intervenes at the right moment.”

Nonetheless, nature is preferable to nurture. And in 2010, weather conditions were extremely favorable for the Nebbiolo grape.

Winter brought roughly 10 inches of snow in January and the beginning of February, accompanied by temperatures as low as 14° F. This is typical of the long-term average in the Langhe area, though colder than recent years. Snowfall is important to ensure adequate water reserves during the entire season.

Spring was characterized by fresh weather, with warm conditions in April and May promoting excellent budbreak and flowering. Hail in La Morra at the end of May caused some reduction in yields. At Oddero, for example, there was 30 percent less crop in Bricco Chiesa and 25 percent less in Capalot, two vineyard sources of the winery’s Barolo classico.

Summer was warm but not overly so. Rain came at the right times, eliminating stress to the vines from heat or drought. Most importantly for the late-ripening Nebbiolo, however, September and October were ideal, with sunny days and cool nights, perfect conditions for ripening the grapes. “The high diurnal temperature range in September was very important for the development of aromas in the Nebbiolo,” says Walter Anselma, winemaker at Schiavenza.

The Nebbiolo harvest for Barolo began the last week of September for Voerzio, who typically harvests 10 to 20 days earlier, and lasted to the beginning of November, when Cascina Adelaide picked its Fossati vineyard in La Morra.

The best producers performed green harvests, trimming yields to well below the legal limit of 58 hectoliters per hectare (about 4.3 tons per acre). For example, at Paolo Scavino, the yields averaged 50 hl/ha (3.7 tons/acre), for the Barolo classico and Carobric, to 30 hl/ha (2.2 tons/acre), approximately half the legal limit, in the Rocche dell’Annunziata cru.

Cooler temperatures overall in 2010 gave the advantage to the best vineyards, which are fully south-facing, although Roberto Conterno, proprietor and winemaker at Giacomo Conterno, stressed that it was also important to pick at the right time to obtain mature tannins.

Unfortunately, as with any smaller-production vintage of this stature, the downside is upward pressure on pricing, as lower yields combine with consumer excitement to increase competition for the wines.

Despite a good supply of excellent Barolos from recent vintages such as 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006, consumers in the United States can expect increases of as much as 10 percent for the 2010s, based on what producers and importers have divulged so far. For example, Lorenzo Scavino of Azelia confirms that he’ll increase prices slightly because of the quality of the vintage and lower yields. Some producers, however, will be more restrained. Aldo Conterno’s Giacomo Conterno reports that prices will remain at the same level as for 2009, as they raised prices in that vintage, also due to lower quantities.

Michael Skurnik Wines, based in New York, imports several Barolo producers, mainly small growers. “For the most part, the jury is still out on prices,” says Mark Fornatale, manager of Skurnik’s Italian portfolio. “Of our many producers, I only have new release prices for two or three. There were increases, in the 7 to 10 percent range, but nothing dramatic so far. I hope that trend continues.”

Even with a 10 percent increase at the cash register, Barolo represents good value compared with other top wine regions. In the past year, I have given outstanding scores to nearly 100 Barolos (across the 2009, 2008 and 2007 vintages) that cost $75 each or less; almost 60 of those were $60 or less. Clearly, there is plenty of opportunity to buy authentic, fine quality Barolo at reasonable prices.

The 2010 vintage is excellent in neighboring Barbaresco, too. “It’s one of a kind, a really special vintage in all of Piedmont,” says Andrea Sottimano, who makes four different Barbaresco crus plus a riserva. “We really did what we wanted in 2010, limiting yields, long macerations and long aging on the lees,” he added.

Because Denominazione Origine Controllata e Garantita regulations dictate different aging requirements for Barbaresco, the wines are released a year prior to the Barolos of the same vintage. For the most part, the 2010 Barbarescos are already available; read more about them in my annual tasting report on Piedmont, beginning on page 61. In addition to the top-scoring wines featured there, I tasted a number of Barbarescos during my trip to Piedmont recently that will be released in 2014 or later: Cigliuti’s Vie Erte (89-92) and Serraboella (91-94); Marchesi di Grésy’s Gaiun Martinenga (91-94) and Camp Gros Martinenga (92-95); and Sottimano’s Currá (93-96), are all crus worth the search.

Barolo lovers have enjoyed a plethora of fine vintages and superb Nebbiolos for the past decade or so. Not least, the sublime 2010s merit attention and a place in wine lovers’ cellars. They will deliver years of pleasure in the future.

Bruce Sanderson’s Top 2010 Barolo from Barrel:

Massolino

Barolo Margheria

Elegant and taut, with fine tannins and delicate aromas of flowers, red fruits and cinnamon. (91-94)

Barolo Parafada

Supple and fleshy, with vibrant acidity and terrific length. Hints of earth, truffle and cherry. (92-95)

Barolo Parussi

Powerful yet balanced, with vivid fruit and assertive tannins. Pure cherry and tobacco notes. (92-95)

Barolo Vigna Rionda Riserva

Tightly wound, with clean aromas and energetic flavors of shiso leaf, cherry and wild herbs. (94-97)

 

 

 

Franco Massolino