Italian fine wine current vintages: Brunello 17, Barolo 18, Barbaresco 19

Brunello 2017 Vintage report

After the highs of the much-acclaimed 2016 vintage, we now face one of Italy’s most challenging vintages of recent times, 2017, and Montalcino was not spared its effects. Indeed, Italy’s official enological body commented “we have not had such an exceptional and unusual growing season as this in living memory” (Assoenologi).

Late frosts and drought were widespread. Even as far south as Montalcino the lower reaches of valleys were affected by the frosts and on the hillside vineyards, where they were spared the frosts, the drought conditions were sharply felt.  It was, moreover, one of the shortest vintages ever recorded and so pricing has varied little.

Andrea Machetti from Mastrojanni with its hillside vineyards in the south of Montalcino, explains that while they were not affected by the frosts, the arid conditions have caused the grapes to be less juicy with thicker skins and pips causing a drastic reduction in volumes.  At Altesino, in the north of Montalcino, even though frost caused little tangible damage, it put the vines under severe stress, which affected the rest of the growing season. In the north of Montalcino, they received more rain than the south (300mm from March to November in the north, instead of only 160mm in the same period in the south) which mitigated the effects of the heat and drought. Conditions varied, therefore, from north to south and from estate to estate, especially where irrigation was used during the drought. At Gianni Brunelli, there was more optimism, where Laura and her team worked tirelessly to keep the vineyards in the best possible condition, avoiding sunburn and “appassimento”. The work done during the winter months on the soils helped retain water, keeping the vines hydrated, so that the vineyards at the end of August were still healthy. While, some other producers started to harvest at the beginning of September, at Gianni Brunelli they waited for the rains which eventually arrived from 20th to the 24th September, bringing welcome relief and balance to the fruit.



Barbaresco 2019 Vintage report

The 2019 vintage will be remembered as much more of a classic vintage compared to recent ones with a much more regular growing season. Cool temperatures lasted until March delaying budburst but normal temperatures resumed thereafter with abundant rains which allowed for rapid vine growth. The summer was more regular with warm summer temperatures without excess and intermittent precipitation. Only one particular dramatic incident was registered in the Langhe area, that being a violent storm on the 5th September but damage was localised and not really affecting Barbaresco.

Enrico Dellapiana describes his Barbarescos has having great tension, with fine, elegant aromas which will develop well with ageing. The complex tannin structure and acidity will also aid longevity.

With most Nebbiolo grapes harvested around mid-October, this was a much more traditional harvest and producers are optimistic about the potential for high quality.



Barolo 2018 Vintage report

After the traumatic 2017 vintage, producers are much more enthusiastic about the 2018s, especially regarding the classic Nebbiolo perfumes this vintage has produced. The growing season was complicated by periods of cool weather and rain, but the warm summer temperatures mitigated their negative effects. The vines tended to over-produce thanks also in part to the lack of production the previous year, with berries being slightly larger than average too. Vineyard managers had to work hard this year to maintain healthy, balanced vines but most are confident they managed to produce an excellent vintage in a fresher style.

Paola Oberto from Ciabot Berton describes the intense work that went into vineyard management, especially controlling yields and disease management but was very happy with the end result of perfectly healthy Nebbiolo, picked at optimum ripeness. Their Barolos, she says, have great complexity of aroma with silky tannins and good potential for ageing. Alfio Cavallotto describes 2018 as “Ottima” with a slight reduction in quantity owing to the damp conditions early on in the growing season (always more challenging with organic agriculture), but this reduction has only contributed to potential for high quality. Fabio Alessandria, owner of G.B. Burlotto, described the vintage as producing inviting wines with intense aromas and fresh fruit flavours, tannins being gentle and well-integrated into the wines.


Nick Bielak MW, 2022