The Purity of Piedmont
The 2015 vintage for Barolo and 2016 vintage for Barbaresco deliver dozens of great reds
For more than a decade, Barolo has been on a roll in the United States, gaining momentum with a string of excellent vintages since the 2004 harvest, a number of them at the classic level. It’s no surprise then that expectations were high for the 2015s. I can now report that those expectations are mostly borne out, despite some inconsistency, earning the vintage an overall rating of 95 points.
The best 2015 Barolos are beautiful expressions of Nebbiolo from the sweeping hillsides of the Langhe, in the heart of Piedmont. Despite warm temperatures during the summer months, these versions belie the hot year, offering freshness and vibrant profiles, along with red fruit flavors.
A trio of 97-pointers lead a group of more than two dozen Barolos earning classic ratings of 95 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale. The one-two punch of Giacomo Conterno’s Barolo Arione ($285) and Barolo Francia ($285) is accompanied by Giuseppe Rinaldi’s Barolo Brunate ($275). The Conterno Arione is spicy and tightly wound, exhibiting rose, cherry, strawberry and mineral flavors, while neighboring Francia offers plum, cherry and iron notes allied to a sumptuous texture and refined tannins. Rinaldi’s Brunate delivers rose, cherry, raspberry, iron and tobacco flavors with purity and grace.
“2015 was warm, but not dry,” recalls Giacomo Conterno proprietor Roberto Conterno. “There was snow in the winter and good rains in the spring. The wines have a fruity character that reminds me of 2011, but with more backbone.” Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti notes that July was the hottest on record in the past century, with the days finally cooling at the end of the month.
Rain on Aug. 19 and 24 refreshed the vines, and there was a good diurnal range of temperature, an important factor for the development of Nebbiolo’s aromatics. Though many 2015s are enjoyable now for their effusive fruit flavors and harmony, the best will develop over the next 20 to 30 years and beyond.
The excitement and quality of the newly released Barolos are matched by the Barbarescos from the 2016 harvest, also currently in U.S. retail shops. Gaja and Albino Rocca lead the way, topping the nine classic-rated Barbarescos at 97 points. Gaja’s delicate yet firm, floral-, strawberry-, currant- and loam-scented Barbaresco Costa Russi ($590) and ripe, vibrant and refined Barbaresco Sorì San Lorenzo ($590) are joined by Albino Rocca’s Barbaresco Angelo ($116), exuding kirsch, peony, mineral and underbrush notes.
According to Gaia Gaja, the Nebbiolo in 2016 displayed ripe fruit, thick skins and small berries, characteristics that haven’t appeared in combination since the 2001 vintage. “The wines are expressive, but not fully expressive yet,” she explains. “People will have to wait. They are complex yet austere, with ripe tannins that leave sweetness in the end.”
The 2016 Barbarescos are vibrant and linear reds, showing elegance and refinement, with pure cherry, strawberry, raspberry and floral flavors accented by tobacco, tar, mineral and underbrush elements. The ’16 Barolos I have tasted from cask on visits to the region reveal similar flavors and profiles, and their upcoming release gives fans of Piedmont even more to look forward to this year.
The mild winter of 2016 was followed by a rainy spring. Budbreak was two weeks later than in 2015, resulting in a later harvest. Summer saw average and consistent temperatures, with cool nights in August and September. It was warmer at the end of the season, and harvest finished the first week of October, similar to 2010 and 2008, but earlier than 2013.
In terms of late releases, Giacomo Conterno also leads the way with the stunning Barolo Monfortino Riserva 2013 (99 points, $875), whose aromas and flavors of cherry, strawberry, wild herb and mineral are aligned with a silky texture and superb balance. The 2013 growing season was cooler than most over the past 20 years, with a late harvest that extended into the latter half of October, fostering the development of the complex and haunting aromas Nebbiolo is prized for.
These are just a few of the highlights from the nearly 700 Piedmont wines I have tasted blind at our New York office since my previous report (“Clear Skies Ahead,” April 30, 2019). More than 40% hail from Barolo, most of them 2015s alongside a handful of older vintages. Barbaresco represents nearly 15% of the total number of wines under review and Barbera an additional 13%, with the rest a mix of different red and white grape varieties and blends. (A free alphabetical list of scores and prices for all wines tasted is available.)
One of the best ways to understand the demand for Barolo in the U.S. is to compare the wines of this northwestern Italian region to the grands crus of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. With dozens of outstanding and classic wines available, Barolo delivers an experience akin to that of the famed French region at a fraction of the price. Among the similarities between the two are their family-owned estates, their single-vineyard wines prized for longevity and sublime aromatics, their limestone and clay soils, and their status as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In addition to the top wines from Giacomo Conterno and Giuseppe Rinaldi, a number of other producers earned classic ratings of 95 points or higher for their 2015 Barolos. From Monforte d’Alba, Conterno Fantino‘s Ginestra Vigna Sorì Ginestra (95, $129) and Mosconi Vigna Ped (95, $118) are some of the estate’s best Barolos since the highly regarded 2001s. Just a step behind is the Barolo Castelletto Vigna Pressenda (94, $127), which was added to the lineup in the 2013 vintage.
By Bruce Sanderson | Wine Spectator
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