2016 Barolo: Right Place, Right Time By Antonio Galloni
2016 Barolo: Right Place, Right Time
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | FEBRUARY 13, 2020
In so many ways, 2016 is all about being in the right place at the right time for Barolo. An ideal growing season with all the prerequisites for a great vintage comes at a time when so many winemakers are in their primes, past the stage of experimentation and settled into their own personal styles. The result is a vintage full of truly spectacular, breathtaking wines that captures all the pedigree that Nebbiolo and Barolo are capable of.
What Makes a Great Barolo Vintage: Establishing a Framework
Unlike Bordeaux, Piedmont does not have an established framework for what constitutes a great vintage. Clearly many people have views, but I have never seen them codified. What follows is my framework of objective criteria that are necessary in order for a Barolo (or Barbaresco) vintage to be considered truly great. It is inspired by the late Denis Dubourdieu and the model he developed for assessing Bordeaux vintages. To that, I add my 20+ years of visiting the region and all of the data I have collected in speaking with winemakers, agronomists and other professionals over that time, plus drinking more than my fair share of the wines. As with Dubourdieu’s model, this framework addresses the growing season, and does not venture into an assessment of the wines.
1. A Long Growing Season – A long growing season, which is defined as the period from budbreak to harvest, is essential for achieving full physiological ripening of the fruit, skins and seeds. Since Nebbiolo is already a very tannic grape, less than full physiological ripeness is heavily penalizing;
2. Diurnal Shifts – The final phase of ripening must be accompanied by diurnal shifts, which are the swings in temperature from warm days to cool nights. Diurnal shifts create aromatic complexity and color;
3. The Absence of Shock Weather Events – Frost and hail can severely and irreparably damage the crop. Similarly, periods of uninterrupted elevated heat can block maturation;
4. Stable Weather During the Last Month – The last month of the growing season makes the quality of the vintage. Stable weather without prolonged rain episodes is essential for harvesting a healthy crop; and
5. A Late Harvest – Harvest must take place in October (possibly late September in some areas), with the final phase of ripening occurring during the shorter days of late September and October, as opposed to the longer, hotter days of August.
In using this framework 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2016 all meet the criteria for a great vintage. Two thousand-fourteen meets the criteria in Barbaresco and comes close in Barolo, where generally speaking, hail was just too big of a challenge for producers, the presence of a number of monumental wines notwithstanding. Clearly, this model is created in the present day. It won’t apply as well to vintages from previous eras, especially vintages from the 1950s-1970s. At that time, warm weather was considered ideal because grapes struggled to ripen. The warmest vineyards, those that were due south-facing, the famous sorís, were the most coveted. Today, in our climate change-challenged world, you would be hard pressed to find a producer who believes that south-facing vineyards are the most ideal.