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Barolo 2012: "Look at individual producers rather than the vintage in general"

13 June 2016

Barolo 2012: "Look at individual producers rather than the vintage in general"

David Gleave writes:

It has taken me six months to gather my thoughts on the 2012 vintage in Barolo. I tasted over 350 wines (including Barbaresco, it must be said) in the last week of November last year and came away enthused by the best wines, but indifferent to most of the rest. Overall, the reaction was similar to the 2011s, but the variability in the vintages has different causes.

In 2011, the blast of heat at the end of August caused some sun burn or shrivelling of the grapes, and those who didn’t sort their grapes carefully produced wines that are hard, slightly raisiny and lacking in charm. The best are full and forward and lovely for drinking now. In 2012, the summer started late but the heat came with a vengeance and it looked like 2011 all over again. But, as in Tuscany, a welcome rainfall at the end of August ushered in cooler temperatures, so Nebbiolo ripened more slowly. Those with good vineyards – and good vineyard husbandry – shepherded their wines to full ripeness while maintaining the attractive freshness that makes the best of the 2012s so appealing.

An indication of the difficulties the vintage presented lies in the way Aldo Vajra treated the wines in the cellar. As in 2011, his 'Bricco delle Viole' was aged for 30 rather than 42 months in barrel as he wasn’t convinced the wine’s character would be enhanced by a further 12 months in oak.  Tasting the wine – fresh, lifted, intense and nicely defined – shows he was right.

There is a temptation in vintages like this for critics to pronounce that one commune has performed better than the others. Looking at my notes, I don’t see any evidence to support this assertion. As usual, good producers – whether in La Morra, Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Monforte or even the ‘golden mile’ of Serralunga – stand out from the rest of the crowd. They have vineyards in great positions, look after their vines and then adapt their approach in the cellar to deal with the peculiarities of the vintage. There is little doubt, however, that the wines from the ‘golden mile’ of Serralunga – from Baudana through Lazzarito to Cascina Francia – produced some outstanding wines, but that is down to the quality of the site and the producers, including Massolino.

While the best wines are characterised by freshness, there was, as in 2011, a few too many wines that displayed oxidative characters. I think this is a result of the move to low sulphur wines by those producers trying to tap into that particular trend. This is a pity, for great Nebbiolo is about the haunting and alluring perfumes the grape displays at its very best. Anything that diminishes these perfumes degrades the wines.

I was prompted to write a few words on the 2012 vintage following our recent Piemonte tasting in London, at which I saw first hand the increased interest in these great wines. One of the questions I was most asked during the tasting was 'how will the vintage age?' It is difficult to give an answer, so all I’ll say is that you need to look at individual producers rather than at the vintage in general. I’d happily age the wines from the best producers for about 10 years. Even from great vintages, it is rare, in my view, that a Barolo from a top producer will be a better wine after 15 rather than 10 years of ageing.  And while this is an appealing vintage, it isn’t great. The wines won’t age as well as the 2010s or the 2006s, or even the 2008s (the most under-rated vintage of recent years). But I expect to derive a great deal of pleasure from drinking the wines from Vajra, Massolino (who shows once again that he has now moved well into the top 10 producers in the region) and Baudana over the next 5-7 years.