The Institute of Masters of Wine, London
Despite COVID Vinexus yet again desired to promote Italy’s finest with its annual ANTEPRIMA in London, presenting the new vintages of Brunello, Barolo and Barbaresco pre-release. For many in the London trade this was their first trade tasting since the lockdown and so we’d like to thank all those who came. I’d also like to thanks Julia Harding MW, who wrote in Jancis Robinson’s Website:
”thanks to Vinexus, the company founded in 1996 by Nick Belfrage MW, joined by newly minted Master of Wine Nick Bielak in 2006, as well as several extremely charming, knowledgeable and efficient young Italian men”
Here are some insights into the vintages:
Brunello 2016 Vintage report
2016 Brunello has been eagerly anticipated after the successful 2016 Barolos, although Piemonte and Toscana obviously have very diverse outcomes in terms of vintage, principally due to the dissimilar varieties. So here we are .. and, yes, no doubt it will be hyped, especially by the American journalists where Brunello has had such an important impact as a fine wine. That said, the 2015 Brunello has been very well received here and it was one of the most successful Brunello campaigns ever in the UK.
So why is 2016 so good? As I travelled around Montalcino in the late autumn of 2016 everyone was eager for me to taste the newly formed 2016 wine with enthusiasm and satisfied smiles. The colour so deep, the tannins so perfectly fashioned and acidity just at the right level. It’s always, a positive sign when the majority of producers talk emphatically of an outstanding vintage. During the growing season, however, they weren’t so confident. After the “perfect” 2015 vintage (Montalcino has always extolled the virtues of warmer vintages), the cooler, wetter 2016 growing season made them nervous, even though the ample water was replenishing the parched aquifers from the previous dry year, and the warm, not hot, sunny, dry summer allowed the Sangiovese Grosso to ripen, albeit with some heterogeneity. The rainfall just at the beginning of harvest from 17th to the 19th September was an anxious moment, but subsequently, fine weather prevailed allowing for a longer ripening season than those of recent vintages with the all-important factor of temperature variations between day and night having their important effects on flavour profile. The result was wines of structure, good aromatic intensity and well-balanced sugar levels.
Since 2016, Italy has generally come around to giving more praise to a fresher vintage rather than a warmer one. Partly because all too often, the so called 5-star vintages of yesteryear are now dried out and tired when opened. This 2016 has all the hallmarks of a vintage than can keep.
Barbaresco 2018 vintage report
After the traumatic 2017 vintage, 2018 was somewhat more classic, although the stress the vines had been put under in the previous year were still evident, especially with over-production which had to be addressed through green harvesting. A cooler year, with more elevated levels of precipitation and some hail provided further challenges to growers. However, a good September allowed the Nebbiolo grape a more traditional, longer ripening season than in recent vintages, harvesting in October and allowing for greater than expected aromatic depth. Some growers call it a “charming” vintage with prettier Barbareschi than the norm and more approachable fruit than other vintages.
Barolo 2017 Vintage report
Every vintage seems to push the boundaries of superlatives and this vintage was no different. Drama from the outset as late frosts struck most of Europe’s vineyards, Barolo being no exception. Then one of the driest summers in recent memory and finally one of the most precocious. The cherry on the cake was it being one of the least productive in living memory too.
Walking through the Albese vineyards in the September of 2017, I remember how dusty clouds of chalky-looking soil were kicked up from one’s boots. The vineyards looked suffering, but the fruit, on the other hand, looked in remarkably good shape. Is this a testament to how well-suited the Langhe hills are for vinegrowing (as the Barolo Consorzio would say)? Despite the bizarre climatic conditions, however, growers did report healthy fruit. Many remarked that they had to do very little in the vineyard that year which they smiled about (meaning more time on the nearby Ligurian beaches). In fact, it was again a clement September that saved the day for Nebbiolo, which in recent vintages has been a regular occurrence. Cooler weather with a pronounced disparity between daytime and night-time temperatures invited greater accumulations of polyphenolic content in the grapes, to the delight of the growers.
It will certainly not be a vintage for the very long term but, all things being considered, the wines do not seem to have suffered from the excesses of other hot vintages, to most growers’ surprise and relief.
Nick Bielak MW