2016 Barolo - Value Plays
We all know the hype. Best ever, vintage of a lifetime, don’t miss it, back up the truck. Oh, you thought I was talking about 2016? Well, sure, 2010, 2013, 2016, it’s all the same, and just hard to lend any credence to this nonsense. That’s not to say that 2016 isn’t a top vintage, it’s just that the hyperbole is simply silly.
Sure, it’s a great vintage, but as an example of the nonsense that’s bandied about, this has been called a career defining vintage. That is like saying a Ferrari winning a race with a Yugo is somehow career defining. No. Career defining? Try 2014. 2016 is as career defining as 1985 and we’ve all seen how that has turned out!
Let me just lay out a few strongly held opinions right now.
The wines of Piemonte, in general, have never been better.
The top wines are no longer simply wines, they are status symbols and collectibles.
We all know which wines these are, and additional reviews are not helpful, and in any event as much as I want to review them, the prices and availability make that nearly impossible.
The second tier producers, pricewise and just barely on a qualitative scale, are making wines that would have been the wines of the vintage a decade ago. Prices have risen, significantly in some cases, but these are still the greatest values in the wine world for collectible, age-worthy wines.
The six top bang for buck producers with widespread distribution in the US are:
Vajra, including Baudana
Honorable mention goes to two producers with modernist leanings whom I buy, much to the consternation of my traditionalist drinking buddies
Pira of Chaira Boschis
This should not come as a surprise, these producers have been the top of the second tier for a very long time, and their holdings in some of the finest crus of Piemonte are the keys to their success.
So $100 bottles of Barolo are good. Tell me something new. In order to actually gauge the quality of this vintage perhaps we should be looking beyond these top, single-vinyard wines? Terrific idea, and one which i’ve chosen to pursue. How did the less expensive wines fair? I’ve ordered 40 to find out.
I’ve tried to put these wines roughly in flights of 10 and will be reporting on each flight with tasting notes covering 2 days. I’ve actually already sampled a few of these flights, but writing all this up takes time, and I haven’t had much of that lately so bear with me.
A few thoughts about the vintage at this point.
I’ve started on the bottom, more or less, of what i thought the quality pyramid might look like, which is not to say that all the cheapest wines went first, though I am saving the best for last! I had to break the wines into flights that had at least a pretense of sense, so the first flight included the least expensive wines, and the final flight holds my perennial favorites, which not surprisingly are the Barolo Classicos from, you guessed it: Massolino, Oddero, Vajra, Fratelli Alessandria, and Vietti. All under $50. I also love the Brovia and Cascina Nuova from Cogno, but those are now above $50 so I’ll just drink them with other wines!let them embarrass more expensive wines.
While I have found some terrific wines, and really amazing values, I also have noticed some issues with the vintage.
There is a lot of Alcohol. I am not terribly averse to high alcohol, but seeing 15% on a bottle of Barolo, and knowing there’s leeway for more, certainly causes me to raise an eyebrow. And to be sure there are wines among those I’ve tasted that are hot. This is an issue today, and it will be an issue in the future. As some of these wines age, and lose their attractive baby fat, the alcohol will only become more noticable. It’s worth keeping this in mind, particularly if you are sensitive to this issue.
Some of these wines are particularly concentrated, yet remain fresh, They feel like wines that were made from late harvested fruit, fruit concentrated by desiccation. This is neither a pro nor con, but worth mentioning to allow for preferences. I generally prefer leaner, more elegant wines.
Other wines suffer from low acidity. This is a fascinating inconsistency with the vintage. There are wines which were made from grapes which continue to ripen, due to the lovey end of the growing season, and these, in contrast to the grapes that simply dried out a bit, suffer from low acidities. They are appealing today in a lush way, but Barolo, to my mind, is a wine that really needs to age to show it’s best and low acid wines generally don’t age that well. A caution for ageing some of these wines.
And a final inconsistency to add to the blend is that some of the wines seem to suffer, in a relative sense, from a touch of dilution. Not enough to turn them into dilute wines, but enough to make them stand out apart from the majority of wines of the vintage.
Which brings me back to the 8 producers mentioned earlier and their crus. These are some of the top vineyards in the world, now being made by some of the top producers. I have been buying Barolo for a very long time and have watched as the wines I bought cases of have become too expensive to justify continued purchases, in light of the values offered by these 8 producers, and many others for that matter. We all know, or should know, what is going to happen. Six years ago this January I wrote that we were at a turning point in the Burgundification of Barolo. Seven years ago I wrote of the price increases underway specifically at Giacosa, Giacomo Conterno, Vietti, Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Mascarello, and Giuseppe Rinaldi.
I mentioned earlier that there was the top tier of wines that have become collectable status symbols. Looks like I was talking about them 7 years ago as well.
Anyway, the point of this is: I have tasted a large enough sample size of wines to see that the vintage, while variable, did offer conditions for some amazing wines to be produced. There are wines that collectors overlook that are silly values in 2016. Buy some of these less expensive wines to help form your own impression of the vintage. Then stock up on the crus from my list of the top 8 producers! These are amazing wines at prices that continue to be reasonable, and quite fair when compared with similar wines from around the world.
I have sidetracked myself. Let’s dive into the wines. Here’s the first flight:
I would buy: Einaudi and Scavino
I would drink: Grimaldi Camilla, G. Alessandria, Paolo Conterno, Cantine Povero
I might drink: L Pira, Ruggeri Corsini, Azelia
Eh: S&B Borgogno
2016 Azelia Barolo 14,5% $40 85pts
Initial impression: Moderately fruity on the nose, lots of cherry fruit, but some underlying wood spice and pepperiness to the nose as well. A bit large scaled on entry, then a bit loose in the mouth. There's a lot to like here, a certain freshness, the refinement of the tannins, but it is a bit blowsy as well. Fruity and front loaded with a dry, austere and woody tannic finish. Needs to come together, again, lots of aromatic complexity in the mouth bodes well but there is a disconnect between the structure and the nature of the wine. Dense, chewy, candied black cherry, fairly extracted. 85-87
With food: Dark, powerful but with a certain lightness on the palate, well balanced 88-89
Day 2: Smells austere and a touch woody. Elegant and compact, but lacking some midpalate with an extracted feel to the backend. Monolithic, with good length. Some fruit in evidence. Uninspiring. 85pts
2016 Gianfranco Alessandria Barolo 14.5% $35 89pts
Initial impression: Tight, a hint of butterscotch wood is well lifted by the alcohol on the nose. Lots of dark yet mostly red fruit, a bit of soil driven minerality and a herbal, green anise seed violet slightly medicinal twinge to the nose. Tight in the mouth as well, a touch lean feeling through the midpalate. Good freshness to the fruit with an evergreen cast to the inner mouth perfume. Good tannins, fine acids, a bit short. A bit chewy. Nice, with a simple cherry and menthol finale. Admirably bright and transparent. Tart, red fruited finish. 87-89
With food: Well fruited, bright, tense,complete 88-89
Day 2: More floral today, with good precision and brightness to the nose. Round, taut, finely textured in the mouth. Tannins are ripe, this is long, pretty elegant and quite fine. It lacks a touch of intensity but is otherwise quite complete. 89pts
2016 Paolo Scavino Barolo 14.5% $37 91pts
Initial impression: Quite attractive on the nose with hints of strawberry jam, currant leaf, sandy soil, and a lovely, almost soil driven spice tone. Superb balance, this is elegant, transparent and very finely textured. There's a real purity and drive to the fruit on the palate. Classic barolo palate of cherry fruit, spice tones, gentle austerity, with decent length. A very impressive showing though this lacks a bit of brightness. It has everything else it needs to evolve well. Tannins are powerful yet fully ripe. 91-92
With food: Round, well balanced, long and precise. 90-91
Day 2: Lovely nose, slightly savory, deep, earthy lots of black licorice, a bit of blood, and some dark fruit. Smooth on entry, seamless and elegant lovely red fruit in the mouth, gentle tannins. A touch short, but lovely. 90pts
2016 Bruna Grimaldi Barolo Camilla 15% $35 90pts
Initial impression: A touch of toastiness greets the nose along with the impression of very ripe fruit, some hints of figs, buffered by an intriguing blend of floral notes, a touch of oak spice, and some tarry, melted licorice accent notes. Downright supple and opulent on entry, with a broad and slightly soft midpalate that delivers plenty of pure and vibrant nebbiolo fruit, laced with mint and earth. Finishes with chewy tannins, excellent length and fine cherry fruit all drawn out by dry, austere, yet fine grained tannins. This might be too structured given its youthful opulence and I would like to see a bit more brightness, but it's still very attractive. Great drive on the finish. 89-91
With food: Round, fruity, well structured, gains precision 88-90 a touch hot
Day 2: Wow, this is intensely aromatic today with a fine camomille, edge to the wild cherry fruit underlaid with slate and blue clay accent notes. Round on entry, a touch loose in the mouth but nicely layered, a touch of heat distracts, but this drivers a lot of interest. Has good potential for the cellar, lovely, fairly long tannic finnish with precise, ripe tannins. 90pts
2016 Luigi Pira Barolo del Comune di Serralunga 14.5% $37 88pts
Initial impression: Scents of jammy blackberry greet the nose followed by herbal notes, bay laurel and something slightly more mediterranean, verging toward oregano all backed up by some integrated wood spice. Aromas suggesting cherry licorice emerge with air. Opulent on entry, round, mouthfilling, but fairly well structured. Lots going on here, almost truffly note, lots of dark fruit, lots of earthy spice, a bit of woody tannins on the finish, but it’s very minor. This lacks a touch of definition, feels a bit forced perhaps but a dark, feral, almost truffly expression of Serralunga. Quite rich in fruit tannin as well. Lovely if a bit foursquare. 86-88
With food: Dark, powerful, front loaded and a bit extracted, 87-88
Day 2: quite fruity on the nose, dark fruit, dark earth, hot iron, and leather. Rich almost opulent then the tannins kick in. A meat of meatiness graces the palate, which exhibits plenty of spice and mineral complexity. A bit short but this has improved overnight. It’s tannic, and lacks a touch of length, but has most of the pieces in place. Shows some heat on the finish. 88pts
2016 Podere Ruggeri Corsini Barolo del Comune di Monforte 14.5% $40 87pts
Initial impression: A tight line of wood and vanilla sits atop the fruit on the nose, all redolent of black cherry candy, licorice, and antiseptic. Smells very ripe. Cooler than expected on entry, fairly tannic, deep, almost alcy in a way, and quite elegant. This captures the magic of 2016 quite well, it’s so fine, fresh, and yet powerful. The finish is fairly long, rich with ripe, powerful tannins. Very pretty wine with fine balance, though the flavors are slightly ahead of the structure. 88-90
With food: Dense, rustic, a bit hot, if long and rich 86-87
Day 2: Smells alcoholic, and slightly over-ripe with tarry cherry fruit. Still rich, chewy, and slightly rustic. With pretty good freshness and good length. Has potential, but also some kinks to work out. 87pts
2016 Luigi Einaudi Barolo LUDO 14% $38 92pts
Initial impression: Gentle, even delicate on the nose with an underlying sweetness supporting slightly jammy red cherry fruit, a fine hint of old wood and suggestions of lea & Perrins like spice along with a gentle dash of licorice. Fine, tense,and transparent in the mouth with a touch more brightness than seems the norm for the vintage. Lovely tension to the glassy feel on the palate. It’s a gentle, elegant wine, with good length, finely managed tannins, and good length. Tight and deceptively powerful. Complete, elegant, and restrained. 88-91
With food: Tight, balanced, elegant, long. 90-91
Day 2: Mineral, dusty, almost smoky on the nose with small red fruits, iron, and a touch of bay leaf vegetal accent. There's alot to this, it’s almost weighty and definitely the densest of this flight, though without any excess flesh. Lovely inner mouth perfumes, great balance, ripe tannins, juicy acids, plenty of red and black cherry skin fruit, good length, honest from tip to toe. This can only get better, but is already showing fairly well. 92pts
2016 Cantine Povero Barolo Priore 14.5% $27 87pts
Initial impression: Quite tight though with an attractive tarry base note and some big barrel aromatic inflections Not very giving but quite classic on the nose. Gently floral and vegetal
Just a little air brings out rose petals and sandy soil tones. A touch soft and broad on entry, a little rustic as well but this tightens up nicely through the midpalate delivering nuanced, transparent and fresh red fruit, soil, and tarry flavors that lead to a rather robust, and again slightly rustic finish that shows good length with a lovely flourish of savoriness complimenting the fruit on the finale, where more evergreen accents emerge. Small scaled but quite satisfactory. Perhaps the most fun to drink of this flight 87-89
With food: A little lightweight, long, classic. 86-87
Day 2: Seashell, seaweed, mineral, braised vegetal notes and some spiciness grace the nose. Easy going for young Baolo, nothing stands out, but nothing is missing either. It is pleasant, slightly rustic, moderately tannic, complete little Barolo with a tarry finish. I do enjoy drinking this. 87pts
2016 Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno Barolo 14% $30
Initial impression: Almost saly on the nose, with a decisive saltaire kind of aspect along with indistinct dark fruit, tarriness, rubbery, dirty garade, hydrocarbons, and some fennel notes. Soft and broad on entry, a lovely texture with more freshness and herbal notes in the mouth, though there is a plenty of rubbery reduction here that should blow off but is distracting upon opening. Clips the finish and really impacts the wines at this point. 65
With food: Better not.
Day 2: Has cleaned up but there remains an oily overcast to the nose. In the mouth there's plenty of juiciness and fresh red fruit, and this could be quite nice, but the reduction remains, as only a distraction, but it’s lurking in the background. Quite tannic, but also transparent and bright. 84pts
Continue reading: Barolo Values part 2