First off 2010 was a cool vintage, there was enough accumulated heat to get the fruit ripe, but the character of a cool vintage is imprinted on that ripeness. There are vegetal edges, not as pronounced as with 2008 but adding tension and freshness in the background. There is also a smoky note that some of the wines have. Something that knits together floral and soil perfumes. These are not negatives, but they do show that the character of the vintage is savory as well as fruity.
The fruit, as most of the wines show, is decidedly red fruited and fresh. I noticed red currant notes in many of the wines. Slightly astringent and perhaps indicative of a touch of un-ripe tannin in a cross section of the wines. Again, not a negative per se, just something to be aware of. Unripe tannins may resolve just beautifully, but it takes quite some time. As evidenced by the brilliant performance of a horizontal of 1980 Barolo enjoyed earlier this year.
The vintage seems to have two great strengths, purity and elegance. There are some very powerful wines in 2010 as well, but structurally they are lean and fast, like a racing chassis drilled for weight reduction. Everything is held in place by balance and tension, but these have very little extra padding and like with those race cars that can mean a bit of a brutal ride. There is little buffering material on many of these wines. They seem to already be shutting down, meaning that many of you will be buying on faith. Here’s what you need to know. This should prove to be a long lived, slow ageing vintage. There is plenty of fruit, but it is not obvious and fabulous. For that I would suggest waiting for the 2011s.
These are wines for people who already love Barolo. Understand their ageing trajectory, enjoy austerity, tannin, nuance, promise, and being disappointed. If you want to know what I mean by that, try a couple of 1996 Barolos. 2010 is much in the mold of 1996, another cooler vintage that produced great wines that have had little to say for more than a decade. While the 96s are starting to wake up, and just to make sure I’ll be cracking into a case in the coming months, they still will not supply the hedonistic experience many wine drinkers prefer.  Perhaps more than any other wine, Barolo in particularly reveals the shortcomings of the 100 point rating system we have universally adopted. Too many people are buying by points, and not enough are stopping to think about what they are getting themselves into.
I think I’ve given a fair early peek into the vintage, with much more to come after a return to the region in May, but at this point, for the wine market at large I am more excited about the prospects for 2011 than for 2010. Which is not to say that 2011 is a better vintage, though is may very well be preferred by many consumers. It’s just to say that 2010 is a grand, classical vintage that has produced wines that demand ageing, and seem particularly unwilling to compromise in that regard. So be forewarned. Buy carefully. Read everything you can, and speak to trusted retailers, many of whom will be in Piedmont in May as well.
2010 is a tricky vintage, and the bottom line is that many critics mis-read vintages, and then say oops, my bad and the public instantly forgives them. 2008 was a prime example. A vintage that was dismissed as underwhelming only to explode from the glass. I tasted several 2008s during this trip and can report back that their early exuberance, particular aromatically, has faded, the wines are gaining weight, and slowly shutting down. Time has proven though that 2008 is a very good vintage, one to add to one’s cellar.  Are they at the level of the 2010s? I don’t think so. Would I trade my 2008s for more 2010s? Not a chance.
That is the bottom line. We obsess over trying to create an artificially hierarchy for wine, but the truth is that 2008, 2010, and 2011 all offer brilliant examples of Nebbiolo as seen through different vintage lens. It is of course a cop out to say buy them all, you are after all looking for some guidance here so let me just end with a word to describe each vintage. Let me know what you think about this single word replacing the idea of scoring, or ranking a vintage. yes it’s easy to say that these three vintages are standouts, and lets just leave it at that. But what do they stand out for?
2008 Elegance
2010 Purity
2011 Fruit
That was harder than I thought, and I’d love to add a few words to each, but for the moment let’s just say that’s all folks. Please let me know if you have any questions, as I would love to continue this conversation with you!