Barolo 2019 Vintage Report
2019 Barolo is a puzzler. Without doubt it is a highly successful vintage – that part isn’t at all puzzling. Tasting widely across the region last October quickly confirmed that impression. What is puzzling is the nature of the wines in the glass relative to climatic conditions – in simple terms, the wines reveal a much more classic profile than many growers expected, they don’t reveal the character traits associated with wines produced from a vintage with a notably hot summer.
On paper, 2019 shouldn’t necessarily reveal this classical, cool profile. The 2019s belie the fact that they are the product of a warmer year. Budbreak took place in early spring only to be followed by a wet April and May. By June, the weather pattern shifted dramatically with growers recounting that temperatures shot up to the high 30s. July had some significant rainfall, but remained hot. The pattern changed again in August when a period of more settled warm and dry weather kicked off, leading to a more optimistic outlook on the vintage as we entered September. The diurnal shift is really important to the ripeness of Nebbiolo – cool nights and warm days are ideal for the final phase of ripening, ensuring aromatics and freshness are retained along with fully ripe tannins. When we discuss Barolo vintages, words like ‘classic’ are often employed to indicate a later harvest – the implication being that it was cooler year, though as 2019 shows, the weather pattern can be more complex than that. The weather eased back from the extreme to permit a harvest towards mid-October, but to term 2019 a cool vintage seems erroneous.
Elements of the 2019s reminded me of 2010 and 2013, both vintages that showed freshness but a more evident tannic structure than some Barolo vintages, but neither comparison clicked completely. Asking growers for insight into vintage comparisons did not prove particularly fruitful either, as climate change has led to the impression that Barolo has entered a new era. This point is hard to stress enough – in the 1990s, growers were leaf-plucking to expose the fruit as they struggled to attain full ripeness, nowadays growers are training neighbouring rows higher to provide additional shade to the fruit. Volte-face hardly covers the extent of the change in approach. A recent fine run of vintages ranging from very good to exceptional has also coincided with the emergence of a vast array of talented winemakers, who have adapted to the new conditions encountered to the great benefit of the region as a whole. The skill exhibited in winemaking is remarkably high in Piemonte and we have entered an era where many growers have sufficient experience of modern conditions to know how to react to them and how to handle the fruit post-harvest.
The resultant wines are hugely impressive, they possess a wealth of fruit, underscored by freshness and with a tannic frame that is reassuringly assertive in these young wines. There is terrific concentration in the main and the sense is that these wines will need patient cellarage to reveal their best. I think there is great potential in 2019s, but it will take a bit of time for everything to come together. In contrast, 2016 was an easy vintage to appreciate at the same stage of evolution – the wines were more expressive and less brooding at the outset, with an outstanding, uncommon sense of harmony. In general, 2019 reminds me of some of my tasting experiences in the region in the 2000s, where you needed to assess the components and envisage how they would come together. I would not be surprised to see early views of specific wines elevated over time – some of the 2019s may not be placed on the pedestal immediately, but I think they will take a couple of steps up to it in time. I am not sure it is a vintage that lends itself to definitive judgements at this stage.
I have been visiting and tasting Barolo for many years and it remains one of the regions that fascinates me most. I am certain that we have never seen such consistently fine wines emanating from this region as we are witnessing today. Since 2010, there have been so many successes, even in the less homogenous vintages, with an incredible array of truly outstanding wines made in 2010, 2013 and of course, 2016. I would also argue that, while successes in vintages like 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 may not number as greatly as in the aforementioned trio, there are still some stunning wines – all of which were released at non-bank breaking prices.
Having had the chance to taste both 2020s and 2021s in growers’ cellars, it is clear that we have three different yet successful Barolo vintages on the cards. Interestingly, various growers I asked praised one or other of the vintages over the others; there was no dramatic consensus, aside from suggesting that the ability to compare and contrast three such vintages in time will prove a fascinating exercise. 2020 promises to be a more accessible vintage, still remarkably fine – it is quite an unusual vintage in a way, as the wines show striking harmony and poise at the outset with the tannins beautifully ripe but veiled by fruit. Such a vintage highlights how growers have adapted to deal with the challenges of climate change. And the 2021s seem, even at this early stage, to exude finesse and refinement allied to a classical structure. With such a run of vintages, it is hard to think that Barolo will not draw greater interest from drinkers and undoubtedly speculators. It is inevitable, as where else in the fine wine world can you find such complexity and quality at such favourable prices? A wine from a top Cru and a great vintage for around £300-£400 for a six-bottle case in bond? Such an opportunity is becoming increasingly rare in the wine world.
At Atlas, we enjoy a number of significant direct allocations from leading Barolo producers. We also add to this range by sourcing wines from other estates via our connections in the market. As Barolo releases do not follow a set pattern, with producers releasing at different stages of the year, I thought it would be helpful to show the estates whose wines we can access below. We will release wines from estates as and when we receive our allocations over the coming months. To avoid disappointment, you are advised to respond to offers as they are received.
Cordero di Montezemolo
Chiara Boschis (coming soon)
Please advise of any particular estate in which you have an interest.
All the best,