Barolo is the greatest wine of Italy, in my considered opinion, and once again this summer, I made a pilgrimage to Alba to taste the new releases. Exactly 235 of them, to be precise, and now that I’m sufficiently recovered from encountering all of those tannins, I’m ready to weigh in on the 2009 vintage. That growing season was irregular and challenging in some important respects, producing wines that are--you guessed it--irregular and challenging. At their best, the 2009s from Barolo are wonderfully complex and remarkably approachable. At their worst, they are cooked and disjointed and marred by harsh tannins, characteristics that moved one of my fellow tasters to deem them “fit only for sale in supermarkets in France.”
Yikes! That opinion is too harsh in my view, but it is an opinion with plenty of evidence behind it, as enough bad Barolo was made in 2009 to turn almost anybody cranky after days of intensive tasting. But the truth is, dozens of excellent wines were also made in 2009, so it would be a bad mistake to write these wines off as a group. Better to explore the reasons behind the vintage’s inconsistency, and to take note of producers who managed to excel under conditions that proved too challenging for their neighbors.
For one thing, late July and most of August were quite hot in Barolo, with unusually intense sunlight day after day. Growers who have adapted to an unprecedented and nearly unbroken streak of hot years since 1997 managed to cope quite well, whereas those who failed to shade their crops with adequate leaf canopies had to make wine from grapes that were flawed before they ever reached the winery. Some of these wines show raisiny, stewed aromas and flavors from overly ripened grapes or ones that were downright sunburned. Others are “disjointed,” by which I mean that they show signs both of over-ripeness and under-ripeness, with harsh tannins that couldn’t get fully ripe before sugar rose and acidity fell to levels forcing the grower to pick despite insufficient maturity in the grape’s seeds.
Another peculiarity of the vintage (reported to me by several candid producers) was rain that interrupted the flowering of the vines in spring. Grape clusters that began maturing on either side of the interruption finished maturation at different times, requiring multiple picking passes through the vineyards if all of the fruit was to be harvested at optimal ripeness. Not all producers were able or willing to do that, with predictable results. What isn’t predictable, however, was whether it was the big names or the rising stars who got things right. Plenty of famous producers did very well in 2009, but others did not--perhaps due to complacency. In other instances, producers that were previously barely known to me made excellent wines, perhaps due to a hunger for recognition and a concomitant willingness to make repeated slogs through their vineyards to harvest balanced fruit.
Accordingly, 2009 is not a vintage in which it makes sense to place a standard order for wines from producers who have been favorites of yours in the past. Reading reviews from those who’ve tasted the wines is definitely advisable, as store shelves will soon be stocked with $100 wines that aren’t worth $50, as well as $50 wines that are clearly worth $100.
All of the wines reviewed below were tasted and scored under strict blind conditions in Alba in May (at Nebbiolo Prima, which may well be the world’s finest event for the debut of new releases). Any references to the producer that you may find within a review was added during the past week, when I expanded my tasting notes into publishable reviews. After an initial tasting to determine the top wines presented during each of the five days at Nebbiolo Prima, I then re-taste all of them in a different order to assure that they were scored properly--and I do this before I pick up sheets identifying the producer of any wine.
All of the wines below fall under the Barolo DOCG designation, but for each wine, I've also included the commune (e.g., Serralunga D’Alba, La Morra, Barolo, Monforte D’Alba, etc.) for serious students of these wines who might appreciate a more precise indication of the fruit source.
You may experience some confusion when looking at the producer name that begins each entry on account of the fact that some prefer to lead with a family name, whereas others start with a given name, as is customary in English-speaking countries. Figuring that producers should be allowed to call themselves whatever they wish, I’ve rendered almost every producer name exactly as it was designated by the organizers of Nebbiolo Prima. You’ll find that search engines are perfectly capable of leading you to the producer regardless of the order in which the name is rendered, so this is a minor point that I note only because some of the producer names look jarringly odd to readers from English speaking countries.
One last note: All of these wines will be released into commercial channels soon, if indeed they haven’t already been released. However, it is still too early to determine average pricing for any particular national market like the USA, and prices vary so widely across countries that any guessing on my part would do more harm than good. Wine reviews are ordered from top to bottom by score, with alphabetical ordering used for entries concluding with the same scores. As you will see, there are lots of terrific 2009s to be found, so don’t be scared off by the bad ones:
Bric Cenciurio, Barolo, Barolo “Coste di Rose”: Gorgeous from stem to stern, this wine is a fantastic success in 2009. It shows very little overt oak, but the wood that is present is just prominent enough to structure the strongly appealing sweetness of the fruit in perfect balance. Soft floral aromas make a delightful first impression, and on the palate, pure red fruit notes are accented with delicate impression of baking spices. Remarkably soft and open, even for a 2009, this will prove very difficult to resist during the next few years. 96
Alessandria Crissante, La Morra, Barolo “La Punta dei Capalot”: A remarkable success from a village that had a very tough year in 2009, this wine from La Morra shows very dark color and extremely prominent aromas of black fruits but also cherry liqueur and red raspberries. The oak seems quite restrained, but that could simply be the result of being overwhelmed by the sheer expressiveness of the fruit. The tannins seem very ripe, but the wine shows no raisiny character and there’s no heat in the finish. An indisputable star of the vintage. 95
Marcarini, Barolo, Barolo “Brunate”: Although this wine shows a very ripe profile that is reflective of the heat in 2009, the results are still outstanding for those who enjoy open, supple Barolo. Scents of kirsch and stewed cherries are very appealing, and the flavors are penetrating and persistent thanks to subtle wood and ripe, soft tannins that lend a lush, rounded texture. It isn’t clear to me how well this will develop or hold up over time, but it is certainly a terrific wine for near-term consumption. 95
Mauro Veglio, La Morra, Barolo “Rocche Dell’Annunziata”: An absolutely outstanding wine from La Morra for this vintage, this shows a remarkable combination of darkness and depth with exceptional purity of fruit. Whereas many 2009s from La Morra show cooked or stewed characters, this shows very expressive fruit with predominant red tones showing moderate ripeness and big, billowing aromatics that are very enticing. There’s plenty of oak in the mix, but it is not remotely overbearing, and the wine’s impeccable balance will likely enable it to develop better with age than the vast majority of wines from this vintage. 95
Paolo Scavino, Castiglione Falletto, Barolo “Bric dël Fiasc”: One of the best wines of the vintage, this shows excellent depth of color and a strong but balanced dose of spicy oak. Very dense on the palate, this shows deep flavors that totally envelop the wood and tannins, with marvelous fruit sweetness but no heat or over-ripeness. This is a 2009 that I’m confident will improve with time, but it is also very promising for relatively early drinking. 95
Sebaste, Barolo, Barolo “Bussia”: This traditionally-styled wine is among the most aromatically expressive and exciting of the hundreds of 2009 Barolo bottlings that I tasted in May of 2013. Scents of ripe red berries are enveloped with complex nuances of damp earth, cured meat and wild mushrooms. The wine could hardly be more open and engaging at this point, but it also shows ample acidity and structure to hold it together over time. There is a question regarding whether the earthy components will overtake the fruit, but that may be a moot point--in view of how difficult this will be to resist in the early years after its release. 95
Virna Borgogno, Barolo, Barolo “Cannubi Boschis”: One of the very best Barolo wines of 2009, this even looks the part, with impressive dark color and pigment concentration. Scents of spices, toast and woodsmoke are very expressive, but the wood-based notes never overwhelm the fruit on the nose or palate. With exceptional depth of flavor and driving fruit that manages to outlast the wood and formidable tannins in the finish, this is already very sexy but still likely to be one of the most age-worthy wines of the vintage. 95
Virna Borgogno, Barolo, Barolo “Sarmassa”: One of two stunning successes from Virna Borgogno in 2009, this is a wine of impressive depth and dimension, showing explosive aromas of smoke, spices and damp earth that lead to admirably pure fruit notes. Although it is strikingly flavorful, the wine is really rather moderate in density and weight, which is an accomplishment in the context of the vintage and a feature that will likely make this one of the top performing 2009s at the table. Modest oak is also a big plus, and this open, fruit-driven, natural-seeming wine is one of the stars of the year. 95
Andrea Oberto, La Morra, “Vigneto Rocche”: This wine will turn off a few purists with a slightly but notably stewed cast to its fruit profile, but even taking that into account, there’s no denying that this is one of the top sexpot wines of the vintage. Impressively dark but hardly forbidding, this is richly aromatic and flavorful, with notable high-class oak riding up front. The fruit is very ripe and succulent, and it just starts to turn stewey as the finish gets underway when the wood and grape tannins slap the wine back to attention. That’s a welcome slap in this case, which is really saying something about the wine’s succulence, as this was the 189th young Nebbiolo I had tasted when it arrived in the lineup--not a point at which one commonly places an order for tannins. 94
Angelo & Davide Germano, Monforte D’Alba, Bussia: Very complex and a standout for stylishness, this shows engaging aromas recalling spring flowers, vanilla, menthol and spices. The texture is rounded and the flavors are quite deep and persistent. Although there are no hard edges showing, the softness of the wine was not purchased at the price of any stewey, over-ripe flaws. Very well done. 94
Anselma Giacomo, Serralunga D’Alba, Barolo: One of the very best Barolo wines from 2009 that doesn’t hold a cru designation, this shows a striking, pleasantly earthy, savory bouquet with a leathery note that seems to mark only the young wines of Serralunga in this vintage. Highly complex with low but notable wood influence, this is a marvelous wine in the traditional mold. 94
Brovia, Serralunga D’Alba, Barolo “Brea”: Quite complex but exceptionally well integrated, this is a superb wine that makes a very big impression despite the fact that none of its aromatic or flavor components are overwhelming. The subtle bouquet shows lovely floral notes with oak, spices and fruit all in evidence. There’s also a wonderful savory character on the palate that works beautifully in concert with the fruit and wood. The texture is rounded and even tender, yet the overt sweetness that often accompanies this textural profile in 2009 is not present here. Very, very impressive. 94
Cascina Adelaide, La Morra, Barolo “Fossati”: This lovely wine shows a purity of fruit that is quite exceptional for La Morra in this vintage. The color is dark and dense, and the flavors follow suit, displaying notes of blackberry and dark cherry. The finish is very persistent, and the purity of the wine is extremely impressive in light of its great power. 94
Ciabot Berton, La Morra, Barolo “Roggeri”: This is an intense, aggressively modern wine with lots of oak showing in its youth, but it also shows excellent concentration and depth that enables it to come off as balanced--if rather brooding. Ripe but not raisiny, with dark toned fruit that is very dense and powerful, this will benefit considerably from five years of ageing, but (like many big 2009s) is already enjoyable with robust food. 94
Gagliasso Mario, La Morra, Barolo “Torriglione”: With very dark color and deep pigmentation, this is imposing at first sight, and the wine really follows through with sappy, succulent fruit that shows both red and black tones. Oak is quite modest, which leaves center stage to the fruit notes and the accents of carpaccio and cured meat. Soft, ripe tannins allow these delicious flavors to persist in a long, symmetrical finish. Sign me up. 94
Gemma Sri, Serralunga D’Alba, Barolo “Collaretto”: Exceptionally expressive and thoroughly delicious, this shows ripe fruit as one expects from the vintage, but the fruit shows a darker tone than most of the 2009s, as well as a leathery character that is extremely rare for the year. This offers remarkable aromatic and flavor impact for a traditionally styled wine that hasn’t been cooked in the vineyard, or beefed up with oak, or subjected to an aggressive maceration. Bloody impressive wine. 94
Germano Ettore Di Germano Sergio, Serralunga D’Alba, Barolo “Prapo’”: A very boldly styled wine, this is packed with muscular fruit and punchy oak, but it isn’t merely a two-note wine. The dark toned, strikingly sweet fruit is augmented with appealing savory notes and nice spicy undertones. Terrific inner strength to the raw materials in this wine. 94
Josetta Saffirio, Monforte D’Alba, Barolo “Castelletto”: A highly distinctive and exceptionally pretty wine sourced from a cru that I associate much more with sheer power, this is strikingly floral and high-toned, with wonderful delicacy suggestive of a much cooler year. I’m not sure how the vintner managed to conjure this from Monforte in 2009, but I am mighty impressed. 94
Marcarini, La Morra, Barolo “La Serra”: Cherry liqueur is the prime note in a lovely aromatic bouquet, lending a very inviting cast to the wine before it has even been tasted. This is beautifully crafted wine that is built on what the vintage was giving, namely, lovely red fruit that is soft, open, alluring and actually quite deep in flavor if not overly structured. The tannins are ripe and rounded but adequate to the task of framing the fruit. Don’t wait terribly long to crack this open, and don’t forget to let me know when you do. 94
Pecchenino, Monforte D’Alba, Barolo “Le Coste”: One of two sensationally scented wines from this producer in 2009, this shows gorgeous floral aromas with backnotes of menthol and incense. The fruit is very flavorful but only moderately weighty, with delicate red berry flavors that show impressive purity and delicacy for the vintage. Of the two, this is the more powerful and age-worthy, although it is slightly less expressive now in aromatic terms. 94
Pecchenino, Monforte D’Alba, Barolo “San Giuseppe”: This is one of the most expressive and interesting of the 2009 Borolo bottlings, showing only moderate weight but superb intricacy--especially in aromatic terms. Almost intensely floral, it also shows cardamom and menthol and balsamic topnotes. The flavors are ripe and the texture is smooth, with a lovely sweet impression to the fruit that is enhanced by modest oak and very fine-grained tannins. 94
Poderi Colla, Monforte D’Alba, “Bussia Dardi le Rose”: Lovely floral aromas offer the first of several indications that this is among the most stylish wines of the vintage, with outstanding delicacy and intricacy of aroma and flavor. Only moderately concentrated but still highly expressive, with notable but balanced wood influence, this will likely age very gracefully thanks to the impressive symmetry of its elements. 94
Reverdito Michele, Serralunga D’Alba, Barolo “Badarina”: It is a damned good thing that I resisted the temptation to write this wine off on account of a big blast of oak that hit me on my first sniff of it. A second look at the wine (at the end of the flight in which it was presented to me) showed that the oak is of very high quality, and also that the wine is actually a quite proportional rendition of the modern style, with lots of underlying fruit energy that effectively counterbalances the assertiveness of the wood. The wine will require years of cellaring to hit its optimal balance point, but I have no doubt that it will make the move from excellent now to outstanding in the future. 94
Stroppiana Oreste, La Morra, Barolo “Vigna San Giacomo”: Rather light in color for a wine from La Morra in 2009, this nevertheless shows wonderful expressiveness, starting with heady aromas of fresh flowers, woodsmoke and cured meat. Only moderately rich, but packed with aroma and flavor, this pleasantly earthy wine is among the most complex and engaging of the vintage. 94
Stroppiana Oreste, Monforte D’Alba, Barolo “Gabutti Bussia”: A beautifully perfumed wine, this shows real coherence of style once it hits the palate, as the texture is supple and sexy, just as the tannins and oak are supportive but not assertive. There’s no evidence of over-ripeness, yet the wine is very approachable already. An excellent wine in the traditional mode. 94
Cascina Adelaide, Barolo, Barolo “Cannubi”: This shows a distinctly modern-style, with lots of toasty, spicy oak adorning its bouquet, but there’s still enough punchy fruit to work in tandem with the wood, which is of such high quality that its prominence is a net plus for the wine. I rarely look favorably on Nebbiolo-based wines with this much wood influence, but this is a remarkably well crafted release. 93
Cascina Ballarin, La Morra, Barolo “Bricco Rocca”: Among the most successful wines from La Morra in 2009, this shows very appealing savory aromas or cured meat and baking spices, with soft fruit, very open flavors, and tannins that are fine grained and well weighted to the fruit. A lovely wine that indicates some very good work in the vineyard and wise decisions on harvesting. 93
Ceretto, Serralunga D’Alba, Barolo “Prapo’”: This is heady stuff, with very dark color and soaring aromas recalling dark cherry liqueur. The fruit shows very deep flavors but retains a softness of texture that is very appealing. There’s a notable dose of new-ish oak in the finish, but neither the tannin nor the wood foreshorten the finish, which is persistent and very nicely balanced. 93
Gabutti Di Boasso Franco, Serralunga D’Alba, Barolo “Gabutti”: This beautiful wine is rich and deep and meaty in character, with low oak and a lovely savory undertone. The aromas show no overt oak, and are relatively mute at this point in relation to the flamboyant flavors, which are sweet and spicy and savory and quite compelling. The sweetness outruns the tannins in the finish, but the wine never seems confected. 93
Gagliasso Mario, La Morra, Barolo “Rocche Dell’Annunziata”: A very well grown and crafted wine from a cru that really shows the heat of the 2009 vintage. There’s a lot of oak showing on both the nose and palate, but the fruit is surprisingly vivid and lively in profile, in a style that is so deftly balanced that the wine is serious as well as charming, and could be described accurately as either masculine or feminine--if one went in for that sort of thing. Very impressive. 93
Grimaldi Bruna, Roddi, Barolo “Bricco Ambrogio”: Gorgeous aromatics are the prime attraction in this wine, with soaring floral scents riding atop red berry fruit with savory backnotes. The savory note re-appears in the flavors, along with perfectly ripened fruit and soft tannins. 93
Guido Porro, Serralunga D’Alba, Barolo “Vigna Lassairasco”: The bouquet of this wine are rather muted at this point, suggesting that time is needed for tertiary aromas to bring its aromatic performance into line with its flavor impact, which is complex and very deep. The flavors are open, generously fruity, and pleasantly earthy, with sweet fruit notes that easily buffer the wine’s tannins through the long but feminine-seeming finish. Lovely. 93
Fratelli Revello, La Morra, Barolo “Giachini”: Although this is not among the kick-down-the-door powerhouse entrants from 2009, it has a lot going for it, with big ripe aromas that lead into broad flavors that show some depth. Thanks to the subtlety of the wood signature, this remains juicy and deeply enjoyable even after the wood and tannin have been taken account of in the wine’s finish. 93
Monfalletto-Cordero Di Monteze, La Morra, Barolo “Bricco Gattera”: Certainly among the most expressive and immediately endearing wines of a very forward vintage, this was showing all of its plumage in May of 2013. Soft, sweet scents of red raspberry and cherry waft up from the glass, and those are likewise the notes that arrive on the palate. There’s just a little wood to lend a spicy counterpoint to the juicy fruit, but also some grippy tannin to pack a punch and give this a chance to develop further complexity over time. 93
Paolo Scavino, La Morra, Barolo “Monvigliero”: Beautifully balanced ripeness is the key to this wine’s success, as it shows dark color and impressive density, but also a fine purity that is often absent from Barolo wines in 2009. The texture I meaty and broad, with fruit notes showing both red and black tones, and very tasteful framing from notable but balanced wood. Very tastefully styled. 93
Pira Luigi Di Gianpaolo Pira, Serralunga D’Alba, Barolo “Marenca”: This wine always seems to be among the darkest, most intense, and most ruggedly structured Barolo bottlings, and the rendition from 2009 is hardly an exception. Brooding black fruit is bolstered by notable but subtle oak, with no hint of over-ripeness. Most 2009s are so accessible that they’ll hit their peak before their comparable bottlings from 2006, but this is one that you should simply forget about for a full decade. 93
Renato Ratti, La Morra, Barolo “Rocche”: This was among the three or four flashiest wines in aromatic terms of all the 2009 Borolo wines tasted this May. Alhough it shows the heat of the vintage in the form of a prominent stewey character to the fruit as well as a hint of dill, it also shows big, billowing scents of spring flowers, toast, menthol and spices. There’s plenty of new oak for the wine to absorb, but plenty of fruit to get the job done. The tannins are very ripe, and the wine is already sufficiently soft to be enjoyed now, though it will surely benefit from a few years of cellaring to enable it to integrate its components more fully. 93
Roccheviberti, Castiglione Falletto, Barolo “Rocche Di Castiglione”: This is a very stylish wine that shows excellent intensity and persistence of flavor but only moderate weight. Oak shows more flamboyantly in the aromas than the flavors, and the scents of toast and charcoal work very well with the dark tones of the fruit and the appealing accents of spices and cured meat. Quite complex and enduringly interesting. 93
Abbona Marziano, Novello, Barolo “Terlo Ravera”: One of the most successful wines from the commune of Novello in 2009, this shows sweet fruit notes with subtle wood edging and a pleasantly earthy undertone. There’s a bare hint of volatile acidity in the aromas, but the wine seems quite stable and actually more complex on account of this note. 92
Azelia, Serralunga D’Alba, Barolo “Margheria”: A very sexy, immediately appealing wine, this shows ripe red fruit notes recalling kirsch liqueur. Close to over-ripe, with the faintest hint of heat in the finish, this was brought right up to the line of being excessively ripened, but it was caught just in time, with delightful results. 92
Bosco Agostino, La Morra, Barolo “La Serra”: This is a nice example of what could go right with this vintage, as the aromas are soft and sweet, with rich fruit that shows bod red and black tones. The texture is soft and the flavors very open, with restrained wood that really lets the wine show its charms. Whether it will merit such high praise in a decade remains to be seen, or not--if buyers drink it in five years as I’d recommend. 92
Cagliero, Barolo, Barolo “Ravera”: This is an excellent wine for near-term enjoyment, with delicate floral and spice aromas and very soft, open flavors that are framed with just enough oak to lend shape to the mid-palate and finish. There’s just a touch of alcoholic heat in the finish, which is all that holds this below the very top rank of performers in 2009. 92
Camparo, La Morra, Barolo “Boiolo”: This shows subtle sweetness on the nose, with a spicy backnote. Interestingly, the sweet character of the wines shows even more prominently in the flavors, yet there’s real freshness and purity to the fruit—more than is typical for the vintage. Wood and grape tannins firm up the finish, but the fruit outruns both of them, resulting in a finish with real persistence and charm. 92
Cascina Del Monastero, La Morra, Barolo “Bricco Luciani”: A faint but distinctive and appealing menthol note shows in the bouquet, and it offers an interesting counterpoint to the floral aromas. A scent of sweet red berry fruit is also evident, and it shows up again in the wine’s flavors and persists through the finish. Oak shows up late in the sensory sequence, offering welcome firming but virtually no astringency, and the tannins are also quite fine in grain. Very well done. 92
Renato Buganza, La Morra, Barolo “Annunziata”: Lovely aromatics get this off to a great start, and the mélange of sweet and savory scents is backed by flavors that show an interesting combiniation of initial openness on the attack and firm structure in the finish. Oak is present but moderate and balanced with the fruit, which shows mostly red tones and very tasty edges of spice. 92
Viberti Giovanni, Barolo, Barolo “Buon Padre”: One of the most impressive 2009 bottlings of straight Barolo DOCG with a proprietary name rather than a cru designation, this shows impressively dark color and backs it up with deeply flavored fruit showing dark tones and very tasteful framing from oak. There’s a very nice impression of sweetness that buffers the tannins, but no evidence of over-ripeness. Very well done. 92