Finally, some good news we can all get behind – Barolo’s latest offering is one for the ages.
“2016 was the vintage we were all waiting for” – Luca Currado, Barolo producer in Castiglione Falletto.
One could argue that the wines of Barolo are as good as ever today. Certainly greater attention in the vineyards and cellars have brought about necessary changes to not only improve the quality of the wines, but also render them more approachable upon release.
Mother Nature has played a role in this equation as well, overseeing this territory with beautiful weather in most years since the mid-1990s, with the decade of the 2010s being especially blessed with a beneficial climate. The newly released offerings of Barolo from the 2016 vintage, a year that was particularly notable, are clearly among the finest examples of this celebrated red in the past 20 years, and are must-buys for any serious Barolo lover.
Producers I spoke with are equally enthused about the conditions in 2016, a year that could be described as ideal. “The growing season in 2016 was a little warmer and drier than normal, but not excessively,” comments Alessandro Ceretto, winemaker at his family company in Alba. “We had a few rainfalls during summer that cooled down the temperatures, and during the last ripening month, the evenings started to be pretty cold, creating a perfect phenolic maturation.”
At Elvio Cogno in Verduno in the southern sector of the Barolo zone, proprietor Valter Fissore also points out the beneficial weather from 2016, beginning with a mild winter and a cool spring with average rainfall. “There was a slightly late budding and flowering,” he says. “The summer was hot and quite dry, but temperatures were not excessively high – 34 to 36 degrees C [93-96F] – especially at the cru Ravera [the estate vineyard at Cogno], where the vineyards never suffered from water stress or excessive sunshine.”
Franco Massolino, winemaker and co-proprietor at his family estate in Serralunga d’Alba recalls a splendid later summer and early spring. “The great qualitative difference was registered in the month of September, with wonderful days that were hot and dry. There was a good temperature excursion between the daytime temperatures and the nighttime ones. It was the best we could have hoped for,” he remarks.
Paola Rinaldi of the Francesco Rinaldi winery in Barolo recalls that, as 2016 was not too hot (as in 2015 and 2017), the growers enjoyed a “long vintage” in her words. “We harvested Nebbiolo grapes for Barolo in the middle of October, from the 10th to the 13th.” This was a return to more typical conditions, as some recent harvests took place the first week of October, while the torrid conditions of 2017 resulted in Nebbiolo harvest in the third week of September. As with most varietals, Nebbiolo performs best in a long growing season; this allows for more complex aromatics as well as the proper acidity to achieve suitable harmony to balance the tannic backbone of the grape.
Quality over quantity
The size of the harvest was normal, or perhaps a bit less than usual. “We had a little lower quantity in Cannubi and Brunate, with good balance,” Rinaldi says. Ceretto reports a normal crop of Nebbiolo for 2016.
Most of these producers work with other varietals in their territory. Fissore notes the brilliance of Nebbiolo in 2016: “Nebbiolo benefited most from the beneficial conditions. We harvested a good quantity of perfectly ripe and healthy grapes in mid/late October. The perfect ripening and wholesomeness of the grapes allowed us to optimize the vinification.”
Cogno is delighted with the results of his crop that year. “We have very elegant wines of great complexity and good concentration, but with very dense and velvety tannins. The aromatic profile is characterized by fresh flowers (violets, pink roses and carnations) and sweet spices that will lead to Barolo of great elegance and personality, while at the same time being refined and harmonious.”
Massolino is equally praiseworthy. “The 2016 vintage in my opinion offered us very complex wines that are structured, powerful and fleshy, but also quite harmonious. The acidity is excellent, while there are a lot of tannins that are smooth and very elegant. These are wines with great aging potential, ones that have a strong Langhe identity. This is a vintage that will undoubtedly give us huge gratification to all wine lovers that esteem great wines and have a good knowledge of the historic expression of Barolo wines.”
© Tom Hyland/Wine-Searcher
Putting 2016 in context
What vintages do these producers compare to 2016?
“It has been a long time since I thought about what other vintages 2016 looks like,” comments Fissore. “I am very convinced that it is very similar to the 2001 vintage even if I believe that the 2016s are more fragrant.”
“I think the wines are some of the best we have produced in the past 10 years,” notes Ceretto. “The quality is even better than 2010 and 2013, similar vintages.”
For Massolino, he has one vintage in mind for a comparison with 2016. “Definitely the 2010 … complexity, richness, longevity … a truly splendid vintage!”
On a personal note, after having tasted several dozen examples of 2016 Barolo, the most striking thing about these wines is their remarkable harmony. Recent vintages such as 2006 and 2013 produced more powerful wines that arguably have greater aging potential, but few Barolo vintages of recent years have displayed the lovely elegance and finesse upon release as with these wines from 2016. A few examples are as good as I have tasted in several years; these include the Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa, Fratelli Alessandria San Lorenzo di Verduno, Francesco Rinaldi Cannubi and Ceretto Prapò; this last wine being as approachable and harmonious a version as I can remember.
The 2016 Barolos will drink well for up to 20 to 25 years, so this is a typical vintage in that aspect, but their immediate charms will provide great pleasure for Barolo novices and veterans alike.
Some of the best of the bunch
Ceretto Bricco Rocche The signature Barolo of this famed producer. Typical richness, with finely tuned tannins and excellent persistence. Precise, with notable harmony and a superb expression of place. Peak in 20-25 years.
Marchesi di Barolo Sarmassa Textbook and sensual, this is one of the best Barolos from this producer in several vintages. Especially expressive aromatics of tobacco, morel cherry and orange peel. Peak in 20 years plus.
Fratelli Alessandria Monvigliero This traditional vintner from Verduno is one of the most consistently underrated of all Barolo producers; this may soon change with the release of its 2016s. From the most celebrated vineyard in Verduno, this offers perfectly ripe fruit, supple tannins and outstanding persistence. Peak in 20 years plus.
Elvio Cogno Ravera Balsamic, morel cherry and strawberry aromas. Ideal ripeness, beautiful Nebbiolo character, subtle spiciness and elegant tannins. Excellent expression of site combined with impressive winemaking. Peak in 12-15 years.
Marcarini del Comune di La Morra This is a new Barolo for Marcarini, a blend of fruit from several sites in La Morra. Classic Barolo aromas, finely tuned acidity, medium-weight tannins and subtle wood notes. An excellent value. Enjoy over the next 7-10 years.
Luigi Einaudi Terlo Vigna Costa Grimaldi Great fruit purity, ideal ripeness, very good acidity and very subtle wood notes. Harmonious and charming, with silky tannins, this beautifully reflects its origins. 12-15 years.
Paolo Manzone Meriame From this producer’s estate vineyard in Serralunga d’Alba, a wonderfully harmonious Barolo. Excellent ripeness, distinct spiciness in the nose and finish; very good acidity and excellent persistence. 12-15 years.
Pio Cesare Ornato Full bodied with layers of fruit, firm tannins and a distinct spiciness. This wine is always an impressive representation of Nebbiolo character and site. One of the most powerful wines of the vintage. Peak in 20 years plus.
Vietti Rocche di Castiglione As usual, this is a stellar Barolo from Vietti. Fresh red cherry, complex orgeano, sage and morel cherry aromas, excellent complexity and persistence. Superb structure and a great sense of place. 20 years plus.
Francesco Rinaldi Cannubi Morel cherry, rosemary and cumin aromas. Extremely elegant presentation, with supple, silky young tannins, subdued wood notes and very good acidity. A superb wine from this ultra traditional producer, this is a monumental expression of Cannubi. Peak in 20-25 years.