Barolo has been on a roll of late, withstanding the mumblings and rumblings about the disappointing 2017 and difficult 2018 wines mostly because 2019 has always been said to be a stellar vintage. And following on its heels are the highly promising wines of 2020, 2021 and 2022, so you understand why it’s happy times ahead for Barolo’s wineries. Made with 100% Nebbiolo and/or Nebbiolo Rosé, it’s in vintages like 2019 that many believe these two great grape varieties express the best that Barolo has to offer, with wines that offer: uncommon ageworthiness; polished if youthfully chewy tannins (that will require patience and aging the wines accordingly in appropriate cellars); plenty of red fruit, sweet spice and piercing floral aromas and flavours ranging from the crisp to the sultry; outstanding translation of site-specific characteristics in the glass (Nebbiolo is one of the world’s grapes that, through its wines, conveys terroir like very few others), all of which are more or less AWOL in the Barolos of hot years like 2003 and 2017. In ultimate analysis, there’s plenty to like in the 2019 Barolos that went on sale this year; I’d say that the best way to think about them is as an ideal mix of power and lift, but you have to be willing to accept a decisive tannic edge in the young vines, and edge that will require time to smoothen out fully. In many ways, they are wines that resemble the 2016s, though they are generally not as good as the Barolos of that year, despite what locals might be eager to tell you or that you might read somewhere else. The caveats to keep in mind relative to 2019’s less successful Barolos is a rather fruit-challenged (not all Nebbiolo grapes reached full physiologic maturity in 2019), hard-edged personality and tannins that are too assertive when not downright gritty, a sensation heightened by high acidity levels typical of the year. In fact, more or less all the producers I spoke with before the 2019s were released showed concern that tannins in their wines might turn out to be excessive, given generally small grapes with thick skins, and that hard, unyielding wines would ensue. Many producers then have gone to say that the wines “transformed in the cellar”, which is undoubtedly true in some cases; but it is just as true that you need to beware, because in many case that just hasn’t happened, and likely won’t. There are undoubtedly many very good to great Barolos in the 2019 vintage, but 2019 is not the unabashed success all us Barolo fans were hoping for. Any tasting of large numbers of 2019 Barolos will confirm that many wines are, and will, remain charmless. So in order to do well with your 2019 Barolo wine buying, which is certainly very possible given the many very good to outstanding wines available, just buy from merchants you really know well and trust and listen to/read the few credible, knowledgeable wine writers out there.
Recent vintages in Barolo