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