There are two explanations for the character of the vintage, and they seem to fit together seamlessly. The first was that split flowering. Producers, like Aldo Conterno for example, who made multiple passes through the vineyards dropping fruit managed to discard the fruit that was lagging and ended up with an evenly ripened crop. Other producers who chose not to be as diligent had two choices, pick early when the main crop was ripe, or later when everything was past a certain measure of ripeness. Neither choice produced great wines. Those who chose the first option produced medium bodied fruity wines with big everything, fruit, acids, and tannins, many of which where green. Those who waited until everything was ripe ended up with high alcohols and low acids, and even some green tannin since their crop loads were a bit high.
Interestingly this was not a vintage that favored those who cropped too low. Many producers managed to achieve higher alcohols in 2009 than they did in the so-called cool vintage of 2008. When asked how they managed such a feat I was repeatedly told that they got through the season with more canopy and higher yields, which allowed the vines to stay in balance given the heat, sunshine, and water that was available to them.
The party line on 2009 is that it is a warm vintage, fruity with supple tannins, but honestly nothing could be further from the truth. There really is no way to generalize about this vintage. Those who nailed it produced rich wines, full of fruit but with good acidity and plenty of ripe tannins for support. Not the stuff legends are made of but very complete in a somewhat softer style, a successful warm climate wine that is perfect for early consumption, and yet should age well for up to three decades. There are plenty of tannins to these wines, the question I have as to their ageing is more related to the powerful rich fruit which may not stand the test of time.
Now it’s the time to take a look at the style of wine, loosely placed on a spectrum from modernist to traditionalist for whatever that might be worth. There comes a point when a wine has to stand for something. As it turns out the modernist-traditionalist spectrum is no longer a satisfactory way to identify wines that seem to stand for Barolo, another gradation is needed. We as Barolo lovers need to identify what marks Barolo. For me it is simple, the wines need to taste like Nebbiolo grown in a certain place, and there are quite a few wines that simply taste like Nebbiolo, Nebbiolo grown in any place. Simply put that is not enough to be great Barolo. There are many wines that continue to be intriguing examples of Barolo but I won’t be putting them in my cellar.
I’ve struggled with the issue of how to deal with these wines. They are well thought of and highly regarded but they just don’t taste like Barolo to me. In large part it is the same old problem with the extreme modernist wines, very short macerations and excessive use of oak. To say that these wines are difficult to taste in their youth is an understatement, and that was the goal of the modernists at their outset. In that regard they have failed miserably. Perhaps they will age into something more resembling Barolo, which is entirely possible, but I am not convinced, though I remain open-minded. In fact I’ve already begun organizing a blind tasting of the 2001 vintage which will include two dozen producers, both my favorites as well as these most modern of modernists.
In an effort to put the notes that follow in context I’m including a brief synopsis of the house style for each of the wineries I visited on this trip. I’ve placed them in an order of sorts using imprecise yet familiar nomenclature.