Some winemakers think the 2018 vintage for Barolo and Barbaresco came up short, but JAMES SUCKLING finds that many of the wines have plenty of grape character and are delicious to drink now.
Winemakers and critics can be too hard on a vintage. The thought occurred to me about a month ago when I spent four days in Barolo and Barbaresco visiting a few producers and tasting a hundred or so wines. I was surprised how many winemakers slammed the 2018 vintage for Barolo and Barbaresco, yet the more I taste and drink the wines from that vintage the more I like them.
Granted, the 2018 is certainly not in the same league for Barolo and Barbaresco as the great trio of 2015, 2016 and 2017. I don’t think many reds were even as good quality as the complicated 2014 or rather simple 2012. But the 2018 reds are delicious to drink already, and apparently they’re selling well, particularly in North America. We tasted and rated almost 530 Barolos and Barbarescos from 2018 this year, as well as another 255 from such vintages as 2019 down to the 2007. The majority of the Barbarescos were from the slightly more structured 2019 vintage.
“I just don’t like the 2018 very much,” says Federico Ceretto, whose family has made some outstanding wines, even in a weak vintage like 2018. I drank a bottle of his 2018 Ceretto Barolo Rocche di Castiglione the night after I returned from my visit to Piedmont and finished the bottle in about 20 minutes with my wife and some friends.
We all loved its soft texture and subtle and autumnal flavours of mushrooms and plums, as well as leather and bark. Of course, it’s not a Barolo to keep in your cellar very long, but it’s a delicious bottle to open and drink now. And in many cases, it has plenty of attractive nebbiolo character.
Wine producers I interviewed all agreed that the main reasons most people made lighter nebbiolos in 2018 is because their crops were too large, and rain persisted through part of the end of the growing season and the harvest. “You needed to be in your vineyard all the time and work to keep yields down and the grapes in good condition,” said Roberto Voerzio, who made some of the best wines of the 2018 vintage in Barolo.
“The quality wasn’t good enough, so we decided to not make single-vineyard bottlings and only make our blended one,” says Aldo Vacca, the head of the group. “We didn’t expect a great vintage.”
Bruna Giacosa, one of the best produces in Piedmont, also decided not to make her single-vineyard wines in Barolo in 2018, but she did bottle a very good but not great Falleto Barolo blend. “It’s a nice wine but nothing special,” she says. Her Barolos and Barbarescos – and others – are definitely a step up in quality in 2019 from the 2018 nebbiolos we rated over the last two years The wines generally show more fruit concentration and better structure. But again, it’s not the great quality of 2017, 2016 or 2015. “We’re very happy with our 2019 Barbarescos,” says Carlo di Gresy, the energetic owner of one of the most beautiful domains in Piedmont, Marchesi di Gresy.
“But we think our 2020s and 2021s are even better.” I found some pretty stunning 2019 Barbarescos in my tastings this year. The two Bruno Giacosa single-vineyard bottlings, Asili and Rabaja, are really GETTY IMAGES superb, with the former showing super perfumes, depth and finesse, and the latter displaying solid structure and depth. As the always understated and humorous Giacosa comments, “The 2019 vintage was certainly not the vintage of the century, but we made some excellent wines.” The 2019 Barbarescos definitely show more concentration of fruit in their centre palate, as well as more concentration of tannins.
But they’re also not at the sample quality level as the great 2015, 2016 and 2017. Yet they are young Barbarescos that show a lot of attractive qualities at an early stage now. I look forward to tasting 2019 Barolos early next year.
Best Barolos and Barbarescos
JamesSuckling.com’s top five from Piedmont.
PAOLO SCAVINO BAROLO ROCCHE DELL’ANNUNZIATA RISERVA 2016
Wow! There’s so much going on here. The nose presents an intense mix of dried cherry and red-berry fruit and rose petals, together with mild spice, Mediterranean herbs, tobacco dried apricot and dried and fresh nuts. Much more if you dig in.
DAMILANO BAROLO CANNUBI RISERVA 1752 2015
Incredible, reserved ripeness and depth already evident on the nose after one whiff, offering plum, cedar, rose hip, sandalwood and liquorice. Full-bodied with superb depth of fruit and an abundance of polished tannins.
BRUNO GIACOSA FALLETTO BARBARESCO ASILI 2019
Sweet and succulent aromas of tangerines, freshly cut ripe strawberries, cherries and flowers follow through to a full-bodied palate with sleek and dense tannins that run the length of the wine.
BRUNO GIACOSA FALLETTO BARBARESCO RABAJÀ 2019
So perfumed and complex, with tangerines, jasmine, cedar, black truffle and iron. Full-bodied and very structured. Fantastic structure for the vintage.
LE GINESTRE BAROLO SOTTOCASTELLO DI NOVELLO 2018
Sweet berries and toasted oak with some honey on the nose. Medium-bodied with firm tannins and a chewy finish. Linear and tight at the end. Drink after 2024.