Following the drought of summer 2017, the abundant spring rain in 2018 was welcome…until it didn’t stop. Wet conditions encouraged fungal disease, particularly Downy Mildew but the soggy ground made it impossible to enter vineyards with a tractor. As such, treatments had to be done painstakingly by hand.
Showers finally subsided in July and temperatures rose to above average. “The ‘real summer’ came at the end of August/beginning of September with hot and sunny days,” says Maria Cristina Oddero. While nights cooled off, diurnal temperature differences weren’t as significant as the region usually sees. As with several producers Oddero, decided not to release all the estate’s cru bottlings, instead blending them into the classic Barolo.
Other producers were more bullish about the vintage. “2018 was an abundant year compared to the previous one,” reports Anna Boffa from the Parusso estate, explaining that they had to drop a lot of fruit before harvest in order to achieve balanced concentration levels. “Nevertheless, for us it was an excellent vintage.”
Like Parusso, Mauro Molino did produce all its single cru Barolo. Matteo Molino describes the wines as “elegant, giving pleasure rather than concentration.” He compares to 2018 to 1998 in the sense that neither is a massively tannic year.
By law, Barolo must spend 18 months in wood but many estates age them longer. Leading up to the 2018 release, a number of producers mentioned to me that they had bottled them earlier than usual as they were evolving relatively quickly in barrel. This gave me pause. But the proof is always in the glass.
Based on the 2018 Barolo I have tasted thus far, it is clear that quality varies considerably. Some are lacking the depth and concentration that this prestigious denomination demands. Others managed to achieve this but with overall lighter structures. The strength of the vintage is in its beautiful perfumes and accessibility. While there will be exceptions, most wines don’t suggest long ageing. However, the best are worth seeking out for the immense near-to-midterm enjoyment they will provide.
G.D. Vajra ‘Bricco delle Viole’ Barolo DOCG 2018
One of the better-defined examples of 2018, Vajra’s Bricco delle Viole is still tense and a bit angular yet there is layered red cherry and cranberry to flesh out the chiselled frame. Its cool, fresh edge speaks to the high-altitude site which reaches 480 metres. This will need some time to reveal all its nuances. For now, the snappy pepper finish is full of feisty promise.
Parusso Mosconi Barolo DOCG 2018
Parusso makes a very distinct style of Barolo. Owner Marco Parusso is one of the few producers to use whole bunches – stems and all. He also favours small oak barrels for aging. The dark, rocky terrain of Mosconi yields powerful, muscular Barolo as demonstrated here. Toast and chocolate meet earth and oily herbs. Wood notes and tannins need to settle but there is an overall smoothness and integration to both. The fruit is dense though not plump or overconcentrated. Licorice root and bitter cocoa tug at the grippy finish. Drink from 2024 to 2036.
Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno ‘Cannubi’ Barolo DOCG 2018
With a privileged position on the hallowed Cannubi hill, Serio & Battista Borgogno boast 3 precious hectares. In 2018, the estate decided to forgo making a Riserva so as not to impoverish this bottling. Leading with gorgeous fragrances, classic rose and citrus zest are offset by fresh earth and pepper. The tannins are tactile and sandy wrapping around properly sweet strawberry fruit. It’s sculpted and buoyant with admirable depth. Dried floral accents suffuse the finish.
Luigi Baudana ‘Cerretta’ Barolo DOCG 2018
This takes a bit of coaxing before the nose divulges subtly seductive licorice root, moist soil and sage blossom. While still tight, the palate exudes elegance. The concentrated core of black cherry is underscored by a savoury iron accent and countered by sappy acidity. Tannins have a thrilling, gravelly sensation. Give it a couple more years then enjoy over the next 10 or so.
Rocche Costamagna ‘Rocche dell’Annunziata’ Barolo DOCG 2018
From La Morra’s most highly regarded MGA, Rocche Costamagna’s bottling captures the intricacy of this cru. Pronounced and captivating aromas of anise, violet, mint and orange peel are almost haunting. The palate brings in a minerally undertow, and the density of fruit is matched by layers of powdery tannins. These stretch across the palate clasping onto the finish. A 10-plus year wine.
Viberti Buon Padre Barolo DOCG 2018
Viberti’s historic label is a blend of 8 cru and crafted to offer fairly immediate accessibility. This is particularly evident in the explosively perfumed 2018. With a harmonious mix of floral and balsamic notes as well as ripe, fine-boned tannins, it is difficult to resist now. Juicy, bouncy and really quite delicious.
Marchesi di Barolo ‘Sarmassa’ Barolo DOCG 2018
The last of Marchesi di Barolo’s crus to be picked, Sarmassa was harvested on October 15th. It is ripe and less austere than previous vintages and suggests imminent approachability. Tobacco, forest floor and vanilla infuse deep, dark fruit. Firm, powerful tannins build across the palate but remain well-padded and balanced. Solid midterm drinking.
Mauro Molino ‘Bricco Luciani’ Barolo DOCG 2018
Both trained oenologists, siblings Matteo and Martina have recently taken over this estate which their parents established in 1982. Of the 4 cru bottlings, Bricco Luciani presents as the least wood driven. It comes from a southeast facing, windy site. Scents of iron lend intrigue to mint and baking spice. On the palate, sweet, ripe cherry is hemmed in by supple tannins which provide some chew. All neatly wrapped, it’s got a solid decade ahead of it.
Ciabot Berton Barolo del Comune di La Morra DOCG 2018
Assembled from the estate’s collection of crus in La Morra to demonstrate the elegance and perfume of this township, this is a medley of small forest fruit. Currants, raspberries and strawberries are lifted by tangy acidity and framed by graceful tannins. There is finesse and fluidity here. While not overly complex or flashy, it is pretty and should be tasty over the next 8 years.
Franco Conterno Pietrin Barolo DOCG 2018
Franco founded his estate in 1995. The future looks bright since his son Daniele started as winemaker in 2017. The backbone of Pietrin comes from Castiglione Falletto’s Pugnane cru blended with fruit from Panerole in Novello and Monforte’s Bussia. It is a savoury specimen evoking chestnut and hazelnuts. The palate brings in attractive red berries matched by resolved powdery tannins. Midweight but finishes with a charge. Drink this now and over the next 5 years.
Photo Credit: Michaela Morris