May 31st, 2019/ BY Gurvinder Bhatia

Piedmont is where terroir defines vintage character

When wine folk speak of wine having a sense of place and expressing the site where it has been grown, the two regions that are most often referenced are Burgundy in France and Piedmont in Italy.

Comparisons between the two regions and the predominant red grape varieties (Pinot Noir in Burgundy and Nebbiolo in Piedmont, both of which are excellent at translating terroir) are common and Piedmontese producers will often allude to possessing a Burgundian philosophy of wine growing, where expressing site in the bottle is paramount.

As an agricultural product, wine should always, in my opinion, be a reflection of place. It should also reflect the vintage to which the grapes belong.

At the recent Nebbiolo Prima and Grandi Langhe events in Alba, the heart of Piedmont’s Langhe region, producers and wine professionals gathered for all things Nebbiolo and to taste the soon-to-be-released 2016 Barbarescos, 2015 Barolos and a plethora of other vintages of these wines composed exclusively of the regal Nebbiolo grape.

What struck me most were the comparisons between the wines of 2014, 2015 and 2016, three vintages that could not be more different.

A comparison of vintages… 


According to Aldo Vacca of Produttori del Barbaresco, when the grapes were being picked late in the third week of October, growers were happy because they felt that they had saved the vintage from the effects of the heavy rains in the first part of the season. Later on, he says, they would come to realize that not only did they save the vintage but that 2014 was also a very “interesting” vintage, “exciting” and “one of a kind,” which Vacca cannot relate to any other vintage from the past.

Nadia Curto of Curto Marco in La Morra says that when September arrived, they had a sense of desperation as the grapes were not ready and the harvest was getting close. But, Curto smiles and goes on to note, “a miracle happened” and September and October maintained good weather, with warm days and cool nights allowing the grapes to ripen and maintain freshness. Curto indicates that they worked a lot in the vineyard and dropped fruit almost every day during August and September. In the end, there was less quantity, but today, when they drink 2014, they are happy as the wines possess good acidity, nuanced structure, fresh floral aromas, balsamic and mint notes, and they are “very, very elegant.”

The sentiment that the work done in the vineyard saved the vintage was echoed by all the producers. Vittore Alessandria of Fratelli Alessandria in Verduno insists that if 2014 had happened 30 years ago, the results likely would have been much more negative. But today, with improvements in viticulture, growers are better able to manage their vineyards. Alessandria also adds that the wines benefitted from Nebbiolo being a late-ripening grape since the weather was great from the beginning of September to the beginning of October while several early-ripening grape varieties had a much more difficult time. Alessandria describes the resulting wines as having verticality: good acidity, beautiful aromas, freshness and length.

Luca Currado of Vietti in Castiglione Falletto calls 2014 the most surprising of vintages. At the beginning of the harvest, he was not expecting such high quality as there was a significant amount of hail damage. Vietti was only able to bottle 55 percent of its production but Currado indicates that the vineyards not damaged by hail performed very well.

Piedmont producer Elvio vineyard
Nadia Cogno (daughter of the late Elvio Cogno), her husband Valter Fissore and their daughter, Elena.
Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Riserva Pora 2014 ($75)

Firm and fresh with a tight tannic core, bright red fruit and spicy flavours. Balanced and elegant but structured and linear with great length.

Rizzi Barbaresco Nervo 2014 ($50)

Fresh, elegant, floral and engaging with aromas of mint, leather and spice. Flavours of bright cherry, spice and tartness with elegant tannins and fresh acidity on a bright finish.

Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera Bricco Pernice 2014 ($90)

Perfumed, structured, refined and layered with incredible complexity, bright fruit, fresh herbs and spice. Well-integrated tannins, vibrant acidity and a long, lifted finish.

Luigi Baudana Barolo Baudana 2014 ($95)

Focused and floral, with mint, spice and a purity of fresh fruit accented by mineral notes, firm, yet not overpowering, tannins and a vibrant acidity. The wine is both structured and fresh. Powerful yet accessible.


Piedmont Azienda Vinicola Palladino S.R.L
The team at Azienda Vinicola Palladino S.R.L


Aldo Vacca calls 2015 “the classic global warming vintage.” He describes the summer as quite warm, so the grapes ripened but that ripening happened fast. During the harvest, Vacca says they were not particularly excited, believing that the wines would be good, fruity, approachable and easy with ripe tannins. However, thanks to cool September nights, the wines are more complex than what they expected. Although, he adds, “the balance is not there yet. The tannins are a little not ripe, fruit is very sweet. So, with time, it will reach a more balanced complexity.”

Nadia Curto says 2015 was “easy work” in the vineyard and that the wines are “relaxed,” meaning more fruity and approachable, but also big and fat, rich and powerful.

Luca Currado also believes that 2015 was an “easy” vintage. He indicates that the picking time was very dry and allowed them to harvest every vineyard “at the moment” that they wanted. Currado emphasizes that this is very important for a wine grower because you can choose what style you wish to grow. A producer can choose to have higher acid — like Vietti does, says Currado — or another producer could choose to have more opulence and higher alcohol.

Alario Claudio Barolo Sorano 2015 ($55)

Lots of ripe fruit, but good balance, a tight core and big, lush tannins. Doesn’t cross the line of being over opulent and still maintains freshness and bright acidity.

Giulia Negri Barolo Marassio 2015 ($60)

Grown at over 500 metres, in limestone-rich soils, this stunner is enticing and engaging with power and finesse, just the right amount of austerity, fruit, spice and mineral. Vibrant and built for the long-term. This young producer is one to watch.

Fratelli Alessandria Barolo San Lorenzo di Verduno 2015 ($70)

Pretty, perfumed and elegant. Refined with juicy fresh fruit and fine-grained tannins. Well-balanced with a mouth-watering finish.

Palladino Barolo Ornato 2015 ($60)

Full-bodied with a big structure, firm core, incredible complexity and a long, long finish. A fantastic wine that kept bringing me back for another taste as even in its rather closed, youthful state, it continued to evolve and show more as it opened in the glass. Needs time, but already appealing from start to finish.

Vietti Barolo Rocche di Castiglione 2015 ($140)

Nicely balanced and a wonderful freshness to the ripe fruit, firm structure and good acidity on the long finish.




Francesca Vaira of G.D. Vajra in Barolo calls 2016 the kind of vintage they are very grateful for — “a farmer’s vintage” — amazing quality, beautiful fruit and beautiful freshness, together with a little bit more quantity relative to the relatively low yields of 2013, 2014 and 2015. She goes on to explain that a farmer’s vintage gives confidence to the farmer after losing quantity for three years in a row.

Luca Currado describes 2016 as difficult to compare to any other harvest that he has done. He calls it something completely different — “like the Cristiano Ronaldo of Barolo.” Currado believes that 2016 was one of the best in his 30 years of winemaking.

Vittore Alessandria calls 2016 the best in terms of balance and complexity, with every element in harmony — acidity, structure, aromas, fruit — and it seems right now that the wines are going to be beautiful. He adds, though, that at the beginning of the harvest, it’s not always so easy to understand the quality of the vintage.

Ca’ del Baio Barbaresco Asili 2016 ($70)

Loads of layers and so well integrated with aromas and flavours of red berry and spice. Focused and elegant, bright and complex, with a long finish. Should provide many years of drinking pleasure.

Ca’ del Baio Barbaresco Vallegrande 2016 ($55)

Lovely fruit with layers and an elegant structure. Tight core, balanced and fresh with spice. Firm tannins and refreshing acidity.

Giuseppe Cortese Barbaresco Rabaja 2016 ($75)

Intense with red berry and warm spice, ripe fruit, firm tannins, juicy acidity. Well constructed and quite tasty now but this one is built to last.

Giuseppe Cortese
Giuseppe Cortese
Rizzi Barbaresco Pajore 2016 ($55)

Engaging with great construction, layers upon layers of flavour nuances. Fragrant, juicy and elegant with an abundance of red fruit and liquorice, but extremely fresh, well balanced and focussed.

Castello di Neive Barbaresco Santo Stefano 2016 ($65)

Firm and linear with floral, red berry and spice aromas and flavours. Nice balance and complexity. The tannins start a little hard but become integrated rather quickly with a little air. Finishes long and with a youthful vibrancy.



Good producers will make good wine, regardless of the vintage…

In comparing the anticipated longevity and drinkability of the three vintages, Aldo Vacca believes that 2016 is the one with the longest potential, perhaps 30 years due to its complexity and structure. He describes 2014 as a beautiful vintage to drink young, ideally within the first 10 years of its life, as the balance is so pretty. He also describes 2014 as a vintage where it is fun to enjoy the young Nebbiolo fruit, which he says is normally killed a little by the tannins in a young Barolo or Barbaresco. For 2015, Vacca believes that the wines will not age very long because the fruit is ripe but the tannins are aggressive. He says 2015 is the one with the smaller drinkability window, perhaps between eight to 15 years.

Vittore Alessandria concisely agrees, saying that 2014 will keep longer than 2015 because of the acidity. According to him, 2015 is not a vintage to wait that long to drink and that 2016 is a classic vintage that will age well.

The lessons to be learned regarding vintage variation: 1) it is important to remember that good producers will generally make good wine regardless of the vintage, but the wine will, and should, reflect the vintage; 2) vintage should not trump site. Wines will be influenced by the vintage, but wines from good producers should always express the site where they have been grown; and 3) perhaps the greatest takeaway is to not get too caught up in the hype of a perceived great vintage and, more significantly, the avoidance of a perceived poor vintage. If producers admittedly have a difficult time predicting the quality of the wines at the time of harvest, who are the rest of us to declare “vintage of the century” or “avoid like the plague.” Hindsight is 20/20 for a reason.



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