Don’t believe the hype.
So a quick review of first to market reports in the US and Europe on 2007 Barolo reveals gems such as “buy them fast as they will never be this cheap,” a litany of “best wine ever from this producer”-type comments, more gushing prose than a freshman English class and point scores that are through the roof.
Thanks to the great Nebbiolo Prima event, I was just able to try a couple of hundred and all I’ve got to say is: Are you kidding me?
Now you might just love the style of wines from 2007; but for me, it’s an average vintage, which is unique in character, but full of pitfalls. To say this is a great vintage is a stretch at least and to not recognize the character of each commune (for that is one thing the vintage does not lack, variability) is to lead the consumer astray.
I’m not sure why many people write about wine. Is it to sell wine, sell themselves, or in some rare cases, to help the consumer? I’ll let you decide, but I thought long and hard about how to rate 2007 as a Barolo vintage and at this point, a point in time that is several years too early to be definitive, I see 2007 Barolo as an 86-88 point vintage.
Don’t believe the hype here, folks. Try some wines before you buy or you could be very disappointed.
The main reason that 2007 is being called great is because of the wonderful growing season the vines enjoyed. A very mild winter with virtually no precipitation allowed for the vegetative cycle to arrive almost a month early. The summer was warm but generally not hot, and the cooling nights of fall arrived a few weeks early, slowing the maturation cycle down just prior to and during harvest, preserving the acidity in the grapes that in turn delivered freshness to the wines, right? Well I’ll get to that later, but no, not really.
So it was a fine year temperature-wise, as everyone will happily tell you, but you know what, it really wasn’t. It was a hot year, not so much because of the temperatures during summer, but rather because of the temperatures during each cycle of the vines’ growth. Yes, it was a normal August, but having the vines almost a month ahead of schedule meant that what was happening among the vines was taking place in a normal August, not a normal September. I’ve put together a little graph just to help illustrate the situation.
This graph (see 'Related Imagery' above left) illustrates the 20-year average for median daytime temperatures over the period 1970-1990. I’d use more current information, but I couldn’t find any; and considering the way temperatures have been going, I think it would just further illustrate my point.
As you can see, I’ve broken down the vines’ growth cycle into five steps, roughly divided into budbreak, flowering, fruit set, veraison and harvest. The last two steps, veraison and harvest, are the crucial steps in this graph. As you can see, the precociousness of the 2007 vintage forced these two periods of vine growth into markedly warmer temperatures than a more typical vintage may encounter. 2007 simply was not so historically cool to prevent this shift from having a profound impact on the vines.
So where does that leave us? Well, in short, with many wines that show the effects of excessive heat: cooked, fruit flavors and flabby textures. The regional variation that makes Barolo’s villages distinct is fairly obvious in 2007, and the crus that are most famous have sometimes suffered from an excess of sun or heat due to their usually ideal exposition.
For example, in La Morra, the wines were, as a group, fat and sweet with cooked or roasted flavors and sadly low acids. At first I thought that this was indicative of a vintage that presented growers with a particularly narrow window in which to harvest. While this goes contrary to the cool temperature model claimed for the season, it would explain why so many of the wines suffered from low acid and cooked flavors – they were harvested too late.