1985 Barolo: A Peak at 25


After a day of drinking Giacosa (admittedly, that night preceded this, but I have yet to write up those notes), what could be better than a follow up tasting of some excellent 1985 Barolo?

I remember the hoopla when these wines were released. It was called the best vintage ever, and everyone was praising the quality of the fruit before the first drop had even begun fermentation.

There was a lesson to be learned here, or, actually several:
The first was that the wine world had begun to change. Forget about the emerging modernist movement in Piedmont, the world of wine had begun to act like big business, integrating hype into the annual routine. It's an embedded feature of the current marketplace where every other vintage is the best ever, anywhere.

The second was the climate was maybe changing. There had not been a vintage like this in decades, and the preceding vintages, with the exception of 1984, had been pretty decent, although the string from 1978-1983 pales in comparison to any run of near current vintages. I think one can look back and see that something might have been afoot as far back as 1985, if one were to look for such a thing.

But the most important lesson to be learned from 1985, and one that can only fully be appreciated with the benefit of considerable hindsight, is that wines really do reflect their vintages. By that I mean that easy vintages have a tendency to produce easy wines. Challenging vintages, challenging wines.

The wines of 1985 are a lovely set of wines, still fruit-driven, gentle, and to an extent, easy. I love these wines, and find them to be at their peak right about now, but they have not fulfilled their early promise of the “best ever.” Not that that is particularly important.

So what can be said about the vintage right now from this sunset of wines? They are delicious, generally significantly more rustic than their current incarnations, which in a vintage like 1985 with its soft, obvious nature, works to the wine’s advantage. In a sense -- and its sort of hard to justify saying that these 25-year-old wines are early maturing -- but, they are. Much softer and more giving than vintages before (1978 and 1982 for example) or after (1989 and 1990), but that is to be expected.

Is it a first class vintage? Probably not, but it's firmly at the top of the second tier, though. They are beginning to represent dubious value, so I’m not running around buying many of these, but for those who find well-stored, well-priced examples, they are worth adding to the cellar. While these wines are in no danger of dying a sudden death, they won’t make particulary old bones either.

So if you have 'em, start drinking 'em. Share them with friends since they are in such an easy-to-appreciate style, or don’t, since we really don’t need anybody else chasing these down!

Here’s my line-up in the order we tasted them. My wines of the night were the Giuseppe Rinaldi, Aldo Conterno Colonnello, and the two Villeros, with which we closed out the evening. I have always loved Vietti’s wines, but this 1985 Villero really blew me away. Certainly one of the finest wines of the vintage. I wish I had more left!

My tasting notes can be found on the following page.

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  • Snooth User: guymandude
    292055 16

    Thanks for your take on those wines, would love to try some. Guess you can't wait to try the 2000 in 2025.

    Apr 07, 2010 at 8:35 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    I can wait, though there will be many other tastings before then!

    actually the 2000s are already drinking fairly well so I would not hesitate to try them in 2010 2015, 2020....

    Apr 08, 2010 at 8:58 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 6,197

    Thanks for these notes, Greg. They'll definitely help me the next time I sit down to make detailed Barolo purchases, whether bottles with age on them or newer ones to lay down for awhile.

    Apr 12, 2010 at 10:27 PM

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