Piedmont was blessed in 2019, much like most of Northern Europe. A year defined by summer heat has produced defiantly structured, vibrant and ageworthy Nebbiolos - it is a modern classic that Antonio Galloni has called "a stellar vintage".
The growing season can be summarised as a cooler spring than in recent years with ample rain, leading to a warm summer with heat spikes at the end of July. A hailstorm in September devastated some vineyards, particularly in and around La Morra, though most were able to escape ahead of a dry, cool October. Cool autumn nights allowed for slow progression of ripeness into harvest. Conditions for those who avoided the hail were excellent, but most impressive are the wines' freshness and purity in the glass given the summer warmth. Critical to the balance of the wines was sufficient water at the right times, preventing stress in the vineyard and retaining freshness in spite of the heat.
Some producers have named the vintage a successor to the structured 2013s, with similar grip, power and precision on show in 2019. Galloni says the wines are "potent, tightly wound wines that will thrill readers who appreciate the nuance, subtlety and structure of Nebbiolo." He compares the vintage to 2016, 2005 and 1999. Tannins were extracted easily in the cellar - managing structure was of critical importance and macerations were kept shorter to prevent overbearing grip in the wines. Alcohols largely fall in the 13.5-14% range, moderate for modern Piedmont. The vintage can be bought with confidence that the wines will age gracefully in the cellar.
Barolo has never been better placed than it is now. Producers are more quality-conscious than ever, striving to make the best wines possible in a range of styles with a distinct terroir focus. We have curated a select group of wines from the vintage which you can see listed below by producer. Some are household names, others perhaps less known to some, but they all offer excellent quality and individual personalities which highlight the potential of this excellent vintage.
In the 1970s, when vineyards were being abandoned and workers were heading to Turin and Milan's more lucrative factories, the Anselmas began quietly buying key vineyard sites across the region, notably in the hallowed areas of Barolo, Monforte and Serralunga. Vineyards were replanted and nurtured but a commercial enterprise under the Anselma name didn't make an appearance until 1993, with the first wine being released in 1997. To say the family has kept a low profile commercially since is to understate the situation massively! The vineyard sites are enviable, the know-how has been worked on for decades at the expense of commercial gain and the results are, quite simply, magnificent. There is incredible value-for-money to be had here.
Founded in the 1930s, Ceretto started as a producer buying grapes rather than owning vineyards. When Bruno and Marcello Ceretto took over the estate in the 1960s, this changed, and owning prime sites in Barolo and Barbaresco became the focus here. The estate-owned vineyards have been certified organic since 2015, with the style silky for Nebbiolo - some barriques are used in maturation.
Matteo Sardagna has "completely revolutionized Einaudi" in recent vintages according to Antonio Galloni, expanding the holdings and investing heavily in their vineyards. The winemaking has also shifted away from a modern style to longer fermentations with submerged caps to allow for a gentle, slow extraction. Long cask ageing is the norm here, and these structured 2019s will need patience in the cellar.
Vajra "should be a model for all sorts of up-and-coming wineries" says the Wine Advocate's Monica Larner, who says they are "one of the most exciting estates to watch today." Galloni says Vajra's 2019s are "seriously impressive", elaborating that "the classicism of these wines is quite appealing for the future." Submerged cap fermentation and long-term ageing in large barrels give the wines backbone and real energy.
"I was blown away by the wines I tasted at Conterno-Fantino" says Antonio Galloni on tasting the 2019s. Why? They are "everything Barolo should be." Macerations have increased in recent years under Fabio Fantino's stewardship, adding structure whilst retaining an elegant expression of each vineyard. Maturation takes place in a combination of small barrels and larger botti, blending the new and the old with great refinement.
Bruno Giacosa needs little introduction. A deep knowledge of Piedmont's hills and an understanding of tradition and progression made the wines globally coveted until he passed away in 2018 aged 88. His influence brought new drinkers and collectors to Piedmont, and inspired like-minded producers from within. His daughter Bruna has run the estate for over a decade, and is prompting a revival of consistency and quality, working entirely with estate-grown fruit since 2012 and ageing the wines in large, untoasted barrels.
"The 2019s are gorgeous, vivid Barolos that capture the best the year had to offer" says Galloni when speaking of Elio Grasso. From 18 hectares of vineyard surrounding Monforte d'Alba, Galloni believe the Grassos "embody all the values of Piedmont’s historic artisan families." The family desires to translate their vineyards personalities into the glass. As such, the wines have been bottles site-by-site since 1978.
A grower established in the 1950s, Pira only started bottling their own wines in the 1990s thanks to Luigi's son Giampaolo. Now, "Giampaolo Pira makes some of the most gorgeous Barolos in Serralunga," according to Galloni. The 12 hectare estate is based around this site, which include holdings of Margheria, Marenca and Rionda. Quality is on the rise at this address, which continues to see significant praise from the critics.
Cavallotto is based in Castiglione Falletto and produces some of the most impressive and unique wines in the region. Barolo's answer to Tertre Rôteboeuf in Bordeaux, these are rich, plush, hedonistic wines that are a unique take on the genre.