Vintage Barolo 2015 –
Seen in an historic context, 2015 had to be good. 2014 had failed to excite – and that’s putting it mildly (in fact, for a late-ripener like Nebbiolo, 2014 turned out after all the damning journalistic dice were irretrievably cast to be surprisingly well typed and easily enjoyable; but thereby hangs another tale). 2013, though good, had not fared much better in the overall perceived-quality stakes, and 2012, while praised here and there, was hardly considered a collector’s vintage.
And so it goes, back to 2004 which some would say was the last undisputedly 5-star year. So it was with a general sigh of relief that 2015 Barolo lived up to hopes and expectations as a ‘truly great vintage’. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Winter had done its job by covering the Albese vineyards with an abundance of snow which, thanks to persistently low temperatures, had the time to seep slowly into the subsoil to the benefit of the water-table. Bud-break, flowering and berry-set were all well in advance of the norm, and were accompanied by clement weather conditions. May and June saw a generous offering of rainfall, and from mid-June well into the heart of high summer, with the thermometer climbing in places as high as 40 degrees, growers were getting increasingly nervous over the dangers of drought and fruit-burn. There was much work to be done in the vineyard, mainly in respect of the canopy.
Fortunately, these fears proved unfounded, thanks to the healthy state of the aforementioned water-table, and picking, following a September of mainly positive (for freshness and aromas) weather changes, began on time for a normal vintage if around 10 days early compared with the previous year. The grapes were everywhere healthy and ripe (except for the hail-damaged), both sugar-wise and phenolics-wise (firm and abundant tannins, as befits Barolo; and no colour problem this year), acidity levels are good if not high, which in some years might be considered a negative but in a 2015 will almost certainly prove desirable.
So Barolo 2015, it has already been decided by pundits in a hurry, who (like us!?) can’t even wait till the anteprime are over, will be a year to remember, a multi-faceted and, crucially, balanced year for laying down and tasting from time to time – it almost makes you wish you could still be around to pull a few corks in checking for oneself how the vintage is developing as it nears its peak. Or (doing the maths) perhaps not. But that, too, is another story.
Vintage Barbaresco 2016 –
Barolo’s junior brother, Barbaresco 2016, had a hard act to follow in 2016, coming as it did immediately after the excellent 2015. But it has been so hyped, especially by Americans who are keen on their Barbaresco (unlike the Brits) that it seems a shame not to flag it up briefly so that prospective buyers might reserve some while it’s still on the market. “A beautiful vintage that will live in our memory for years to come”, crowed one enthusiastic producer. “Good winter water reserves. Few fungal problems, hot but not roasting summer followed by a sunny September with day-night temperature fluctuations. The wines boast silky tannins and a firm acidity structure. Pleasant and harmonious, good for early drinking or long aging.”
Vintage Brunello 2014 –
2014, sadly, and somewhat unfairly, has widely been included in the list of least-successful vintages of the 21st century to date, not just for the wines of Tuscany but for those of Italy as a whole. Not since 2002 had so much rain fallen in the growing season, and the precipitation was accompanied, predictably, by some pretty depressing mean temperatures. As is generally the case, in these conditions, the work was doubled while the return in the form of healthy grapes was severely reduced. One official estimate put the overall loss at around 17% in comparison with the Italian total for 2013. Off the record, Montalcino producers reckoned the loss in terms of good quality fruit at around 50%. But this was 2014, not 2002 or 1992, in which latter vintages the proportion of good grapes to bad would have been closer to 20%. Montalcino
growers, not to say Italian growers generally, had learned a thing or two in the meantime about turning sows’ ears into silk purses,
The rain-drenched growing season got off to a slow start, and by the time of invaiatura or colour-change, towards the end of July, vineyards were looking a bit ragged; nor were matters improved by random assaults of botrytis, hail and esca as well as of the ‘newcomer: drophila suzuki.’ The poor weather persisted through August but, as so often fortuitously happens, a situation that was looking pretty bleak was rescued by early autumn fine weather which persisted through September and on into October.
And so producers were able to bring forth a respectable if not voluminous offering of very good Brunello di Montalcino 2014. One of them put it as follows:
“Brunello 2014 is the fruit of a notable sacrifice of quantity for quality. We exercised drastic selection in both vineyard and cellar. This has allowed us to make a Brunello 2014 with concentration, phenolic maturity and great freshness, spicy on the nose with excellent depth of flavour. A classic year for acidity and minerality, expressing all the elegance of Sangiovese; a wine of drinkability and of early enjoyability but which will surprise by its depth and length.”
So perhaps the market, instead of writing off 2014 too quickly, should taste again. There ought to be a few bargains out there.