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A Look at 2012 Barolos
By Ed McCarthy
Feb 21, 2017
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I recently attended a tasting of 15 Barolos from the 2012 vintage, with the winemakers or family members presenting their wines, and I was impressed with the overall quality of the vintage.  The occasion was Antonio Galloni’s annual La Festa del Barolo tasting in New York.

The climate in 2012 in the Barolo region was relatively cool.  I compare the 2012s with the 2008s, another cool vintage that I really enjoy drinking.  Consumers will love the 2012 Barolos for several reasons: they are delicious, and drinkable even now; they will not be overly expensive; and they are available now, especially in the U.S., Barolo’s best import market--even though they are generally sold out in Piedmont.

If you long for big, full-bodied, tannic, long-lasting Barolos, such as 2010 (especially), 2011, and 2013 (available next year), 2012 is not your vintage.  But if you treasure medium-bodied wines with lots of flavor and acidity that will go well with food and will be drinkable now and even better in the next six to eight years, 2012 is the vintage to buy.

Personally, I love this vintage.  Barolo critics will not give the 2012 Barolos the high score that the 2010s deservedly received, but frankly I am currently focusing on wines that I can enjoy now and in the near future¬--not the full-bodied, tannic Barolos that need 10 years of ageing or more to develop.  Italian wine writer Kerin O’Keefe, in an article about Barolo, asked two leading Barolo winemakers about the 2012 Barolo vintage.  Maria Teresa Mascarello, owner-winemaker of the great Cantina Bartolo Mascarello, calls the 2012 Barolos “delicate and direct.”  Fabio Alessandria, owner-winemaker of the venerable Burlotto winery, describes the 2012 Barolos as having “balance, fragrance, and elegance.”

I list here the 2012 Barolos I tasted--in the order that they were presented--with a brief description of the wines, and my rating of them at this time. The presenter’s name follows the winery name in parentheses:

The first four Barolos are from the famous vineyard, Cannubi, in the town of Barolo:

1)  E. Pira (Chiara Boschis, owner-winemaker): Light in color, perfumed, with good acidity; bright, elegant; well-balanced, with soft tannins; pure Nebbiolo flavors. Its acidity and balance will guarantee at least another ten years of good drinking.  92

2)  Francesco Rinaldi (Paola Rinaldi): Pale in color, but with ample, red fruit; high acidity combined with a plumpness of fruit gives it substance. Very traditional style, typical of Francesco Rinaldi.  92

3)  Elio Altare (Silvia Altare): Silvia works with her father, Elio, in the winery. Their 2012 Cannubi has a crimson color, with an herbal aroma and traces of new oak; lovely, delicate Nebbiolo flavors. High acidity, with lots of balancing rich fruit. Long, rich finish.  Very elegant, typical of 2012 vintage.  Cannubi is Altare’s best Barolo, in my opinion.  93

4)  Luciano Sandrone (Barbara Sandrone):  Luciano Sandrone is already regarded as one of Barolo’s best winemakers, even though his winery only debuted in 1981 with the great 1978 vintage.  His 2012 Cannubi Boschis is a standout; dark in color, with lovely, perfumed aromas combined with a tannic structure. The wine is immediately satisfying with its juiciness and fruitiness.  95

5)  Giuseppe Rinaldi (Carlotta Rinaldi): 2012 Barolo Brunate.  Ultra-traditional Giuseppe (Beppe) Rinaldi is rated Barolo’s greatest producer by some, and certainly is in every true Barolo lover’s list of top three or four producers.  He has now been joined in his village Barolo winery by his daughters, Marta and Carlotta, insuring the legacy of Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolos.  Beppe produces four Barolos from his small production (16,000 bottles).  His 2012 Brunate, the wine we tasted, shows very precise fruit flavors; it has a soft texture, with high acidity; it has rich, red fruit, with perfect balance.  A graceful, very great wine in the making.  For me, the best Barolo in the tasting, indeed the best 2012 I have tasted.  97

6)  Roagna (Luca Roagna):  2011 Roagna Barolo Pira Vecchie Viti.  I was about to write that Roagna is one of the upcoming stars of the Langhe region, but the truth is that Roagna has already arrived.  Alfredo and his son Luca Roagna are making some of the finest Barbaresco and Barolo wines in the region in a completely traditional style.  Their winery is located in the best area of Barbaresco, surrounded by the village’s finest vineyards.  But Roagna also makes very good Barolos from Castiglione Falletto; in fact, today Roagna produces twice as much Barolo as Barbaresco  Luca brought his 2011 Barolo Pira Vecchie Viti because Roagna’s 2012 is still aging in barrels (normally at Roagna for five years).  It was a good opportunity to compare this 2011 to the other 2012s.  The 2011 Roagna  Barolo Pira Vecchie Viti comes from ungrafted vines up to 75 years in age—surely among the oldest in the Langhe.  This 2011Roagna is clearly heftier than the 2012s I tasted; it is full and rich, with solid acidity, but without the delicacy of the 2012s.  It needs time to develop, at least 4 or 5 years.  94

7)  Alessandro e Gian Natale Fantino (Alessandro Fantino): 2012 Barolo Bussia-Cascina Dardi.   From Monforte village in the Barolo region, this Barolo shows perfumed Nebbiolo aromas, lots of flavor and lots of fruit, with high acidity.  It is riper than most of the other 2012s, with firm but supple tannins.  It shows sweetness of fruit, probably from the grapes’ longer time on the vines.  A lovely wine.  93

8)  Fratelli Alessandria (Vittore Alessandria): 2012 Barolo Gramolere. The Alessandria brothers are cousins of Burlotto’s Fabio Alessandria, with both wineries in the old village of Verduno, next to La Morra.  The 2012 Barolo Gramolere, from the renowned vineyard of the same name in Monforte village, is a rich, fresh, fruity wine with a tannic but supple structure.  Galloni describes the wine as having “nervous tension.” It is a sumptuous, fruit-driven Barolo, more full-bodied than most of the 2012s.  94

9)  Conterno-Fantino (Fabio Fantino):  2012 Barolo Sori Ginestra.  Fantino’s 2012 Sori Ginestre, from Monforte, has pure, perfumed aroma, reminiscent of the aromatic concentration in grappa, and with great minerality; it has a purity of fruit, along with the tension of a young wine.  Very good even now , but it will be great with a few years of aging.  Excellent.  95

10)  Elio Grasso (Gianluca Grasso):  2012 Barolo Ginestra Casa Maté. Elio Grasso tried banking, but came back to the land of his father and grandfather to make wine.  And Elio, along with his son, Gianluca, has made Elio Grasso the premium winery it is today.  Their 2012 Ginestra Casa Maté, about 1,000 feet in altitude in the village of Monforte, has fresh, concentrated fruit.  The wine is quiet now, but should be brilliant In a few more years.  So well-made.   Now 94, but could score higher with time.

11)  Massolino (Franco Massolino):  2012 Barolo Margheria. Franco Massolino and his brother Roberto, owner-winemakers of this winery in Serralunga village, tried some new methods, but returned to traditional winemaking, and their Barolos have never been better, including their famed Vigna Rionda Barolo . Their 2012 Margheria combines the strength of the Serralunga hills with an elegance of style.  It is deeply concentrated, rich, and harmonious, with a long finish.  A true Serralunga Barolo.  The Massolino brothers have brought their winery to the forefront of great Barolo producers.  95

12)  Giacomo Conterno (Roberto Conterno):  2012 Barolo Francia.  In this group of 15, many producers of the current generation have raised their Barolo wine to new heights.  In the case of Giacomo Conterno winery, son Roberto Conterno has continued the extraordinary level of greatness that his amazing father, Giovanni, and his grandfather, Giacomo, had reached.  Giacomo Conterno is a truly outstanding Barolo producer, number one for many Barolo enthusiasts.  When asked what’s his secret, Roberto always replies, “I make wine the way my father made it.”  That’s good enough for me!  The magnificent Giacomo  Conterno  winery is in Monforte, but Conterno’s vineyards are in Serralunga, mainly the Cascina Francia vineyard.  The best selection of grapes from this vineyard produces arguably the world’s best Barolo, Monfortino Riserva.  Conterno’s 2012 Francia is rich, fleshy, and full-bodied, with notes of licorice, menthol, and mint. It is a complete wine, with an amazing finish that profiles the wine’s quality.  Giacomo Conterno is one winery that never misses.  96

13)  Vietti (Luca Currado):  2012 Barolo Ravera.  The late Alfredo Currado married into the Vietti family in the late 1950s.  He became the winemaker, and with the superb 1961 Vietti Rocche, put Vietti into the highest rung of Barolo producers.  Alfredo’s son, Luca Currado, has continued to keep Vietti at the top of Barolo’s producers.  His 2012 Barolo Ravera, from the village of Novello, is a bit more forward than his Castiglione Falletto vineyard Barolos, such as the great Rocche, and Luca wisely chose the Ravera to present.  The 2012 Vietti Ravera follows the magnificent 2010 Ravera, one of the best Barolos of a great vintage.  The 2012 Ravera has excellent depth, with great fruit, balance, and harmony.  It’s a really fine Barolo that can be enjoyed even now.  95

14)  G.D. Vajra (Giuseppe Vajra):  2012 Barolo Ravera.  A rich wine from a cool vintage such as 2012, this Ravera has depth, yet is soft and harmonious.  Vajra’s Ravera is another wine to drink soon, as it is showing so well now.  93

15) G.B. Burlotto (Fabio Alessandra): 2012 Barolo Monvigliero.  From the finest vineyard in Verduno, Monvigliero; the wine has great concentration and impressive purity of fruit that carries through the finish.  It needs time to develop, and will be excellent.  94

My scores ranged from 92 to 97 for the Barolos of this very good, but not great, vintage. It’s a vintage marked by elegance, delicacy, and approachability.

I love Piedmomtese wines made from Nebbiolo, my favorite red grape variety. The everyday red wines that I drink the most are the fairly light Nebbiolo Langhe wines   priced in the $20 to $25 range--especially the very good 2015 Nebbiolo Langhes. 

But a step up: Now, many 2012 Barolos are retailing in the $50 to $65 range--not the top names, of course, but very good, drinkable Barolos.  I recommend that all Barolo lovers buy the 2012s for drinking now, and in the near future.  They are a treat!