A special barolo vintage

Barolo is one of my favourite wines. At best it combines the subtlety and perfume of great Burgundy; the power, backbone, and ability to age and build complexity of great Bordeaux. And it has mystery and fascination. But it’s also different from all other wines.

Every year, the winemakers of Barolo pour their new releases for the world’s wine media at Nebbiolo Prima, and this year’s vintage release, 2010, proved to be something special.

The 2010s are, at their best, elegant and balanced, charming and fruity, and a far cry from the dry, overly tannic, old-fashioned Barolo style, which once tempted descriptions such as ‘rusty-nails’.

The word from producers is that 2010 was an excellent nebbiolo season with cooler than average temperatures and excellent phenolic ripeness. The wines are being compared to the outstanding 2004s.

Nebbiolo Prima is held in Alba, the wine capital of Piedmont, where 100 wine writers from 33 countries tasted 400 wines, most – but not all – Barolos. The new release Barbaresco and Roero (both 2011 vintage) were also poured during the five-day blind tasting.

Broadly speaking there are two styles of Barolo: the traditional style which is aged only in very large, mostly old barrels called botte, which impart no oak taste or aroma. These wines can be quite pale and mature in their colour, and not so fruity or bright in flavour. Then there’s the modern style, which have deeper, brighter colour, more youthful and fruity aroma and flavour, and occasionally a touch of oak as a result of being aged in small barrels in addition to, or instead of, large botte. And of course there are many permutations between the two extremes. My personal preference is for the brighter, fresher wines which show good aromatics and plenty of fruit, but not overt oak; wines that are reasonably soft on the palate and approachable. That doesn’t mean low-tannin: tannin is an important part of nebbiolo and great nebbiolo always has a lot of tannin. But, these days with modern know-how Barolo can be produced in a more approachable style that is far more attractive than those of the distant past, without sacrificing structure or typical style.

The first of the 2010 Barolos are just starting to be shipped. Five Way Cellars in Paddington last week released a pre-arrival offer (with discounts for pre-payment) for eleven 2010 Barolos from six top-line producers.

Barolo is expensive, thanks to rising world demand. Expect to pay between $70 and $100 for basic Barolo, between $90 and $150 for single-vineyard Barolo and over $150 for Riservas (of which 2008 will be the new vintage). My list of top wines of Nebbiolo Prima is drawn from 14 wineries which export to Australia (many more great wines that I tasted are not). Most will arrive between June and year’s end, so keep your eye out for them – especially the pre-arrival offers, which have the best prices.

Fratelli Alessandria, Monvigliero

Paler colour; mature, savoury, dried-herbs, firm but forward. 89 – view on huonhooke.com

Fratelli Alessandria, Gramolere

Vanilla, chocolate, medium-full body, richness and length. 91 (Importer: World Wine Estates) – view on huonhooke.com

Brezza, Cannubi

Forward colour, sinewy, high tannin and acid; trad style, needs lots of time. 88 – view on huonhooke.com

Brezza, Sarmassa

Forward colour, toasty, lean, grippy, traditional; needs time and food. 92 (Importer: Deja-Vu) – view on huonhooke.com

Cavallotto, Bricco Boschis

Youthful colour, pine, resin, full-bodied, dense, rich, chewy tannins, serious structure and flavour to balance. 92 (Importer: Bibendum) – view on huonhooke.com

Ceretto, Prapo

Oaky, dense, rich, some sulfides. 90 – view on huonhooke.com

Ceretto, Brunate

Oaky, big, muscular, dense, tannic, needs ages. 93 (Importer: Terroir Selections) – view on huonhooke.com

Fontanafredda, Serralunga d’Alba

Spice, dark-cherry, clean and fresh; tight, firm, good flavour and balance. 91 (Importer: Fourth Wave) – view on huonhooke.com

Giovanni Rosso, Serra

Tobacco, herbal, dense, fleshy, grippy but balanced. 88 – view on huonhooke.com

Giovanni Rosso, Cerretta

Great colour, fresh, roses, Turkish delight, elegant: a Burgundy-style Barolo. 94 (Importer: Andrew Guard) – view on huonhooke.com

Luciano Sandrone, Le Vigne

Rich, chocolaty, star-anise, full-bodied, freshness and depth; long-term. 95 (Importer: Bibendum) – view on huonhooke.com

Mauro Molino, Conca

Forward, vanilla, smoke, cherry, full-bodied, soft but tannic. 89 – view on huonhooke.com

Mauro Molino, Bricco Luciani

Forward, cedar, vanilla, very long, nicely balanced. 91 – view on huonhooke.com

Mauro Molino, La Serra

Earthy, woodsy, rich, fruit-sweet, fleshy, big structure. 92 (Importer: Beaune & Beyond) – view on huonhooke.com

Paolo Scavino, Bricco Ambrogio

Violets, rose-petals, power and impact, very full-bodied, long-term, very impressive. 96 – view on huonhooke.com

Paolo Scavino, Monvigliero

Brick dust, spices, foresty, full-bodied, multi-layered, big attack but approachable. Great Barolo. 96 – view on huonhooke.com

Paolo Scavino, Bric del Fiasc

Rich, chocolate, oak-tinged; fearsome tannins but flavour to balance. 92 (Importer: Fox Beverages) – view on huonhooke.com

Pio Cesare

Ironstone, oak, lots of impact and power, firm tannins, long aging. 94 (Importer: Arquilla & Dan Murphy’s) – view on huonhooke.com

E. Pira & Figli – Chiara Boschis, Via Nuova

Deep colour, superbly rich, fruit sweetness, deliciously fleshy, outstanding. 97 (Importer: Trembath & Taylor) – view on huonhooke.com

Prunotto

Lighter colour and body, elegant, relatively early drinking. 90 – view on huonhooke.com

Prunotto, Bussia

Lighter colour, ethereal, fine style, fragrant, chocolaty, approachable. 90 (Importer: Negociants) – view on huonhooke.com

G.D. Vajra, Albe

Bright colour; chocolate, vanilla, cherry, burnished timber, good potential. 91 (Importer: Enoteca Sileno) – view on huonhooke.com

Vietti, Lazzarito

Raspberry/red fruits, vanilla; great depth, flesh and power, seriously great Barolo. 96 – view on huonhooke.com

Vietti, Brunate

Complex spices, black fruits, profound flavour, outstanding depth, elegance, and an element of mystery. 96 (Importer: red + white) – view on huonhooke.com


First published in Sydney Morning Herald, Good Food – 27 May 2014.

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