Tasting 1980 Barolo

A Fascinating Horizontal Tasting of 1980 Barolo


Here’s an article that had a slim chance of being written. Pull together a case of wine from a vintage that is deemed passable at best and drink them at 33 years of age. I mean what the hell do you expect to find?

How about:

People, even the experts don’t know much.

What is written about older vintages is a pile of steaming supposition.

We are just beginning to understand what makes for a good, age worthy wine.

There are moments when the wine Gods smile on you.
Let’s turn the clock back and think of the state of affairs in 1980. This was not the golden age in Piedmont. The previous decade had seen two great vintages (71 and 78, which was a small harvest) and three modestly acclaimed vintages (70, 74 and 79). Historically about par for the course and balanced by unmitigated disasters in 72, 73, 75,76,77. Times were lean, and the temptation to aggrandize must have been strong. And yet no one really seems to have found much to celebrate in the vintage. Contemporaneous accounts talk about a useful vintage. Quantity is mentioned more often than quality.
It was, after all, an easy story to recount. I mean, it SNOWED during the harvest. On the grapes. How can you make something useful out of that? Take a picture and write about the bad vintage, that’s how. In fact the entire growing season was supportive of just such a conclusion. Why else would growers be waiting until November, and snow, to harvest their fruit? Spring and early summer where unremarkable, if damp and cool, though there was enough nice weather in August and September to give producers hopes of a grand harvest. But then rain, followed by the snow arrived. How could one make great wine from this fruit? Obviously such a thing could not happen.
It might easily happen today, but 1980 was another era entirely in Piedmont. Luciano Sandrone was just turning out his own first vintage. Valentino Migliorini at Rocche dei Manzoni was a few vintages in to his enthusiastic use of barriques of French oak for ageing instead of the more traditional large format botte of Slavonian oak, yet the Barolo Boys were just a figment of imagination, a year or two away from fruition. Not only was the fruit under-ripe in 1980, but everyone’s facilities were, shall we say primitive. And mostly unkempt as well.
So these wines from this rather well known vinous backwater came to market. They probably were fiercely tanic. Many of the wine I procured for this tasting were in fact Riservas, left in cask for years to try and tame the tannins. They came to market with people being entirely aware that a truly great vintage was harvested in 1982. We wouldn’t want to overshadow what the expert have told us is a fabulous vintage, so perhaps our enthusiasm was tempered when these 1980s were first tasted. Let’s call them solid if uninspired and move on to something more interesting.
And that is exactly what the media did. And since then these wines have been little thought of. Probably consumed early in their lives seeing as the quality couldn’t warrant additional cellaring. They are tough to come by. I spent many years assembling the 12 bottles we tasted this day. They were not terribly expensive though, I’ll tell you that. 

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: snoman
    229582 210

    Wouldn't this be "6 Amazing 1980 Baroli"?

    Feb 20, 2014 at 4:14 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Well, that's a sticky question. the rigidly correct answer has always been no. You don't pluralize Barolo, or Barbersco for that matter. The truth, as is typically the case in these sorts of things is much hazier. I have heard winemakers use the plural Baroli before, but rarely. Consider Bordeaux as another example. We don't say 6 great Bordeauxs.

    Feb 21, 2014 at 1:34 PM

  • Snooth User: fiataruolo
    1136699 22

    Interesting - and quite a coincidence. We tasted six 1978 Barolo and one 1978 Barbaresco last night. A couple surprises, but on balance a nice tasting as one might expect of the 1978 vintage.

    Feb 24, 2014 at 3:25 PM

  • Snooth User: Toma60
    1472584 16

    .... interesting take on grapes(wine) and snow'
    In the Niagara Peninsula (wine country Canada near Niagara Falls; yes! Niagara Falls)
    we relish the snow and harvest of December thru January when temps hit 15 Fahrenheit : the perfect weather conditions for ICEWINE a unique and decadent ultimate sweet wine, where 80% of the worlds' ice wine is produced; 99% of the worlds' red icewines is produced(CabSauv and Franc to name a few; vidal, reisling, gewurts, chardonnay and many more.

    Feb 26, 2014 at 11:39 AM

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