One of the many reasons I love wine is the difference between vintages. I had the fortune early in my career to hear the dynamic and philosophical grower Nicolas Joly, of the famed La Coulée de Serrant vineyard in the Savennières region of the Loire, describe wine as time capsules. He described it as the essence of what happened in that place, to its people and to the world at a moment in time. The variation in temperature, rainfall or any other factor that affects the vintage is trapped in that bottle and when you open it, you get to feel it and, in a sense, be there.
While many describe a vintage as “good” or “bad,” I prefer to describe the differences between them and then allow individuals to decide which they prefer. There are vintages with extreme challenges such as drought, hail or a water bomb that force growers to adjust in the vineyard creating unique wines for that moment, and there lies the beauty.
A vintage may not be as complex, dense or long-lasting as what most think a great vintage, but that is too binary. Looking at each vintage and understanding its dynamics is what makes each vintage great. They may or may not be to your liking, but you get to experience time in a bottle, and that to me means it is always great.
Tasting the 2019 Barolo Vintage
I recently returned from a marathon tasting in the Langhe region of Piemonte, Italy where I focused on tasting the much-talked-about 2019 Barolo. By all measures, 2019 was a vintage that, at first, looked to be difficult. The year had a dry winter, warmer temperatures earlier than expected and rain.
But, the rains stopped, temperatures rose just enough and the rain returned when it was needed, as if on cue. Maturation of the grapes took a more classic path, with most growers picking in mid-to-late October.
Most growers I spoke with see this vintage as a vintage that reminds them of Barolos past with lower alcohols and higher acidity. The wines, on average, are all very good and show the depth, complexity and beauty of the region.
This vintage is characterized by the purity of fruit and the “Nebbiolo-ness” of the final product. Across the 11 communes of Barolo and the single Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva (MGA), the wines showed varying depths of high-toned red fruits, beautiful floral components, distinctive minerality, fine and firm tannins and vibrant acidity, all marks of Nebbiolo.
This is a very pretty vintage that shows how terroir-specific Nebbiolo can be with distinct differences being very easy to pinpoint between single vineyards from the same producer.
The tannic structure and vibrant acidity will see these wines well into the future, but do not be too stubborn not to try these pretty wines now as well. It is the reason I try to buy all wines by the rule of three. One for now, one for later and one for beyond later.