In case you missed my report last year on my tastings of the 2008 vintage, which you can find here, let me just say that I was thrilled with what I tasted in Piedmont last year. Wine after wine showed a lean, racy character with terrific perfumes and pure, bright, crystalline fruit. The wines were fairly structured early on, if not large-scaled, and I had hoped that they would continue to gain weight and depth in the bottle, as Nebbiolo based wines so often do.
I was not disappointed by the wines I was able to taste. In fact, they have gained depth and complexity after a year in the bottle while retaining the hallmark freshness of the vintage. To be clear, not all the wines thrilled me; it was a vintage where winemakers needed to tread lightly and use a gentle touch if they were to be able to capture the essence of the vintage. I come to the table with a certain prejudice against excessive use of new oak in Barolo, particularly smaller-sized barrels, and several of the wines tasted this day did indeed show excessive wood influences that obscured some of the nuance of the vintage.
I’ll be following up with many of these producers over the coming days, tasting their 2009s; a ripe, overt vintage based on the general consensus as well as on barrel tastings from last year, and one that should be much better able to absorb the levels of new wood I found objectionable here. I just hope that these producers didn’t ramp up the wood to match the intensity of fruit the warmer weather allowed in 2009.
The takeaway here is that 2008 is a vintage to buy. In some cases it already shows very well indeed, though I do expect the wines to shut down in time. They should open up fairly quickly and will enjoy a moderately long life based as much on their bright acids as the moderate load of crisp tannins so many of the wines are carrying. It’s a vintage of uncommon transparency, meaning that you really can get a sense of the terroir that each of these vineyards expresses if the wood is not too overt, as well as the winemakers influence, which can be a positive or a negative.
Following a pair of rather exalted vintages -- 2006 for its power and structure, and 2007 for it’s opulence and intensity, and to be followed by another pair of vintages that promise to receive tremendous media endorsement -- I have a feeling that 2008 will get lost in the mix and end up being significantly discounted over the next two years. While it is a vintage to buy, with few exceptions, you might make out better by waiting a bit to see where the prices go.
NB I wrote this before researching the prices for these wines, which in many cases are kooky. This was a special event tasting featuring distinctly high end bottles. In light of the pricing of many of these wines waiting to see if they appear on sale is even more strongly suggested since I see little upside potential for these wines over the short term, say 2-4 years.