Tasting 1979 Barolo

A Fascinating Horizontal Tasting of 1979 Barolo


While this tasting predates my tasting of 1980 Barolo by more than a year, I have been moved by the performance of those wines to publish these notes. As much a surprise as the 1980 horizontal, though for entirely different reasons, this is the tasting that set my expectations for the 1980 so terribly low. Prior to both tastings I had had enough wines from each respective vintage to believe that 1979 was a vintage that had aged well, better than expected in fact, on it’s acid and rough tannins while 1980 had continued along on its four square path.

Of course these two tastings taken together certainly illustrate that that was a false impressions, and also help to illuminate the fickle world old wine, particular from less than stellar vintages, tends to occupy. There are nogreat wines, only great bottles. I would tend to believe that applies to vintages as well, but when you have such disparate results from two tasting of wines that are so very similar in many ways you begin to question accepted beliefs.
There were only a few producers whose wines were represented in both tastings, and truth be told, the average level was indeed higher with the 1980s that I had accumulated, though this group was fairly strong as well. Still this was a fascinating peek back into the past, once again reminding us that the body of critical work we tend to rely upon as references for these vintages is incomplete at best, and just plain old faulty at worst.
1979 was considered to be a serviceable and sometimes quite good vintage upon release. Volumes were high, the highest of the decade, which certainly made producers happy but the quality was marked by rain and even some snow towards the very end of harvest. Some producers harvest before the rains, but the best wines came from those who harvested after the rains but before the snow. No matter when one harvested though the wines were marked by a cool season with high acids.
Those high acids threw people off during the wine’s adolescent years. Often appearing out of balance and as a result the wines felt thin and under fruited as they aged. Of course the wines were relatively leaner and with high acids, but they also had some hidden fruit that just needed significant time to emerge and add some flesh to palate. No one would say that these wines are still at peak, though the remain in many cases quite enjoyable. They have the acid of a cool vintage which has helped these wines remain fresh even at this age, and the hard tannins that nebbiolo tends to produces except in the finest vintages, but they also retain lovely aromatics and good complexity on the palate. 

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