So the modernists do seem to have created a new breed of Barolo, one that is more approachable at age 12 than the traditionally made wines. And they are good wines, mostly that is. The most surprising thing about this tasting wasn’t that the modernists made wines that showed well, but rather how poorly the two odds on favorites ended up showing on this night. But I must give Voerzio, Cerlico, Vietti, and in particular Sandrone their due. They all produced wines that intelligently used oak to help soften their wine and make it more approachable without covering up all that is good in Nebbiolo or dumbing down their wines to a fruity lowest common denominator.
At the same time the rest of my top ten list was full of traditional producers who rarely get their due. Hats off to them as well as the four sure to improve from lower down on the list. These are all wines I am happy to have in my cellar. Not only because they’re bound to improve over the coming years, but so I can repeat this exercise in 5 and then again ten years!
So what conclusions if any can we draw from this? First off never judge a wine by a single encounter. Good wine is a living thing, ever changing, sometimes for the better. Sometimes for the worse. Wines have good days and bad days. There are also good bottles and bad bottles of every wine.
Barolo from a classic vintage really needs about 15 year to begin to show its best and judging from the vintages that are drinking at peak today remain at peak for about 20 years after that. Warmer vintages definitely do show better earlier on, as evidenced by 1997, 1998, 2000, and even 2003, but they don’t have the legs of the classic vintages. In a very interesting observation Levi Dalton mentioned at the end of the tasting that the results could have been quite different if we had been tasting a warmer vintage, such as 2000, where it was much easy to go over the top with the fruit. It’s a theory worth exploring.
2001 is a classic vintage and people should not take the results of this tasting as sign of impending doom. If anything the takeaway here is that what was once thought to be a somewhat early maturing vintage is in fact developing to be a more classic vintage that previously thought. The results are also fascinating because they sort of break down the wines into groups of producers whose wines are relatively more and less approachable, lending further credence to the thought that modernist wines are often ready earlier, arch traditionalists later, and the enlightened middle somewhere in between.
Don’t fall into the trap of disliking a wine because of a moniker attached to it. I’ve found that there are a number of modernist producers whose wines I truly admire. Now granted I don’t prefer them to my favorite traditional wines but they are very attractive and valid expressions of Barolo and I enjoy drinking them.
There are of course also producers whose wines I don’t really like. They do well in the marketplace, so they have found an audience, and I am happy for them because they are almost all being produced by wonderful people, and even I have to admit that it’s difficult to write unfavorable comments about something someone is so passionate about. Yet that’s my job, not making friends and securing invitations to return to the cantina.
Like it or not, I’m writing to try and help guide wine drinkers to better experiences, based very simply on my experiences. Just as the modernists began to shake up the Barolo establishment some 30 years ago, perhaps it’s time to begin some shaking anew. Blind tastings, honest assessments, and periodic retrospective tastings are all part of a system that puts consumers first, a principle that seems to be disappearing from the wine industry.