As many of you already know, Barolo is my favorite wine. I look forward to my annual visits to the region, where I taste several hundred wines each year. As can be the case with such repetitive visits, I have pretty much settled on my favorite producers, those who can turn out wines each year that are representative of the soil from which they sprang and the seasons of their lives.
I am, of course, biased when it comes to Barolo. I prefer wines with little to no new oak, freshness instead of power and austerity instead of sweetness. In light of this, I am happy to report that 2008 promises to be a very fine Barolo vintage, one that stands in stark contrast to 2007. The difference between the two could not be more vivid.
2007 was a vintage marked by warmth and a shortening of the growing season, not to mention enough hail to make a difference. The resulting wines are occasionally quite good, rarely great, but are mostly marked by excessively high alcohols and lower acids than I prefer. They are easy wines, fruity wines, and what some might call a media-friendly vintage.
In contrast, 2008 is a small-scaled vintage, marked by coolness and freshness. The vintage got off to a rather inauspicious start, suffering from cool, damp conditions that promoted excess vegetation, though it was saved by an Indian summer that allowed producers to pick at their leisure. The resulting wines are more perfumed than powerful, with an elegance that escapes even the finest 2007 bottles. These are wines that combine the austerity and delicacy of some cooler old vintages, such as 1979, with the soaring aromatics of perfect ripe fruit a la 1985.
They are perfect for people just getting into Barolo since they exhibit all the traits of a classic vintage without some of the mouth-numbing tannins that one might expect to encounter. In short, this will be a vintage that creates a new generation of Barolo lovers, not the ripe wines lovers who were seduced by vintages such as 1997 and 2000, but rather people who will grow to have a life long love affair with Nebbiolo.
I’ve listed my top picks for the vintage here, all under $125. Most of the wines have yet to reach our markets, but they are coming. I expect prices to remain soft for many of these wines since the pipeline is now stuffed with great wines.
There has never been a better time to be a Barolo aficionado. Starting with this elegant, refined, perfumed and wonderfully balanced vintage is a great way to become one!
Barolo Bottles image via Shutterstock
2008 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo $90
An abundance of liquory red fruit powers the sweet aromatics, which emerge over a base of dusty white earth with hints of dried rose petal, juniper, mint, salami and old barrel. Gorgeous balance and scale in the mouth is supported by super fine tannins and bright acids that lend lovely purity. The red-fruited, lingonberry-rich mid-palate sees a huge follow through to a wonderful rose hip finish. The only rub might be its small scale, but this is so layered and long that it is truly the essence of Barolo. 94pts
2008 Brovia 2008 Ca’Mia $70
Dark plum draped fruit on the nose is accented by notes of ripe stems, suggestions of cocoa and limestone and a huge sweetness of fruit. On entry, this is muscular, dark, dense and vibrantly clear with amazing cut. The flavors tend toward slightly macerated cherry fruit with hints of raspberry and a huge medicinal, savory spice top note. The finish is equally impressive with an intense sour red fruit finish, almost red peppercorn spiciness and super precise tannins. 94pts
2008 Giovanni Canonica Barolo Paiagallo $75
Liquory and very aromatic on the nose with gentle fruit aromas that are very perfumed with floral, musky base notes. In the mouth, this shows some crazy wild cherry fruit with lovely tannins and bright acids. There’s a bit of rusticity here but also a ton of finesse. It gains complexity with air, as well as a fine firmness and hints of grass and bitter cherry on the palate. The purity of this is really impressive. 93pts
2008 Burlotto Monvigliero $55
Very herbal on the nose with tapenade aromas that are more thyme-driven than olive at the moment, all accented by a dusting of cinnamon and really lovely strawberry fruit. This could be called lush if it wasn’t so nervy, with juicy acidity and super fine tannins supporting wonderfully crisp strawberry fruit. Topped with a hint of truffle, some spice notes and a touch of tropical fruit. It’s wonderfully transparent in the mouth, firming up with a bit of air and offering great lift on the back end and the long, pure finish. 93pts
2008 Oddero Rocche di Castiglione $70
This has a great nose full of nettles, spices, rose petal, smoke and limestone, though not much fruit yet. Intense, round, rich and powerful on an entry that shows more flesh than many 2008s. The mid-palate offers lovely depth with rich wild berry fruit, dusty, austere tannins and hints of lingonberry and mint on the long, aromatic mineral-laced finish. This is a classic wine with great cut. This will be very, very good 93pts
2008 Brovia Villero $70
Very pretty on the nose with notes of raspberry fruit, clay soil and mint. Lightly floral top notes and a hint of cinnamon. Firm, lean and pure in the mouth with unfettered cherry fruit, phenomenal depth and a silky finish. This shows more flesh than many 2008s and should prove to be a knockout with some time in the cellar. 93pts
2008 Brovia Garblet Sue $65
The rather perfumed nose exhibits roses, rose hips, orange pith, raspberries and dusty soil tones. In the mouth, one finds a rich, silky wine based on soft yet firm tannins. Superb layering of savory, soil and firm dark raspberry and cherry fruit flavors lead to a long finish that shows compellingly perfumed fruit. Packed with hints of orange rind, a little licorice and mint on the finish. 93pts
2008 Giuseppe Rinaldi Cannubi San Lorenzo $110
The nose here is rather fine with light mint, wild herbs, jammy raspberry and lingonberry notes. On the palate, this comes off as rather cool, crisp and focused with fine balance to the herbal notes that sit atop the core of sour and slightly bitter cherry fruit. There’s a really fine acid/tannin balance here. This shows good power on the back end and onto the long, perfumed finish. Exhibits great cut and precision to the flavors with a wonderfully engaging texture. 93pts
2008 Brezza Bricco Sarmassa $65
This has a big nose with lots of jammy red raspberry fruits, a little citron peel, spicy fruitcake notes and a hint of incense. Rich and almost soft on entry with a mineral edge and finely integrated acids that might be quite powerful if not for the balance here. The tannins are ripe and supple and there is lovely depth of succulent fruit right through the big, fruity boysenberry finish that retains a lovely vein of savoriness. 92pts
2008 Burlotto Cannubi $60
This exhibits a classic nose featuring cherries in alcohol with hints of cocoa, spices, rose petal, balsamic, ash and roasted herb notes. On entry, this is tense, nervy and taut with fine red cherry fruit, plenty of ripe tannins and good supporting acids lending great freshness. This is classic, lean Cannubi with crisp tannins on the finish, low fruit, savory nuances, and lovely chalky/soil-driven length. 92pts
2008 Oddero Villero $60
The nose shows aromas of clay and a low hint of carob over tar. It’s a lovely, strict nose. On the palate, this is wonderfully portioned with ripe tannins and fine acid lift lending this a precise and firm feel. The fruit is a bit liquory if subtle, with wild berry flavors that lean toward boysenberry with a touch of earthy savoriness from the tannins. Red cherry fruit builds on the back end and through the lengthening finish before the tannins close in. Once again, very fine grained tannins. An elegant wine in the making. 92pts
2008 Brovia Barolo Rocche $70
Musky and smoky on the nose, this almost shows some flint along with the wild herbs and a very clear, slightly antiseptic tone all over a base of lingonberry jam. Smooth and broad in the mouth, this is a touch loose up front. Zesty acids kick in along with the liquory red currant fruit, spice notes, wild raspberries and a little mint that lingers on the long, limestone-driven finish. A lot of potential here. 92pts