Editor's Note: This is a vastly expanded version of a column that first ran in 2020, before many of the 2016 Barolo wines were available for sale. Now that some of the best wines are starting to sell out, the time has come for a "last call" regarding this phenomenal vintage. Brunello di Montalcino was also graced by a fabulous growing season in 2016, so be sure to see the column by my friend and colleague Michael Apstein, also running this week. Maybe you are a wine lover who isn't subject to "FOMO" (fear of missing out), but regarding this vintage for these two great wine categories, FOMO is definitely not irrational....
I started writing about wine more than 25 years ago for The Washington Post, and over this span I have seen my colleagues write again and again—breathlessly—about more than a few “historically great” vintages. Not wishing to seem ridiculous, I’ve tried to avoid swooning over growing seasons that produced striking wines. This has proved to be a sound approach to critical writing about wine, preventing me from having to recant praise for a “best ever” vintage when another, even better one subsequently came around the corner.
But my turn to recant has come, as extensive blind tastings of 2016 vintage Barolo wines in the area in late January of 2020 convinced me that these wines are even better than their extraordinary predecessors from 2010. I was once sure that 2010 would be the best year I’d live to see from my beloved Barolo district, and though I’ve definitely not changed my mind about the greatness of the wines made in that year, I confess to having fallen even more deeply in love with the 2016s.
Granted, they are not quite as dramatic and “impressive” as the 2010s, which combine acidic freshness, full ripeness, remarkable palate impact and big, tannic structure like no vintage I’ve ever experienced. But with that noted, along with my enduring conviction that I was wise to buy every single bottle from 2010 that I bought…the 2016s are more harmonious, proportional and simply beautiful wines as a group.
I don’t quite know how I’m going to manage to buy as many of the 2016s as their magnificence warrants, but I will find a way. Stated differently, don’t leave your wallet untended in my presence, no matter who you may be--family and friends included--as I'll resort to almost anything to stock up on these wines and assure my happiness over the decades ahead.
I’m fully aware that all this gushing could come back to haunt me if another vintage of this caliber comes along before long, as my opening paragraph shows. Yet, I’m not much concerned about that happening, due the fact that I’m all-too-concerned that climate change in Barolo and Barbaresco simply won’t allow another growing season like 2016 to occur.
To cite a specific fact underlying this concern, the warmest segment of 2016 didn’t witness a single day when temperatures exceeded 35 degrees Centigrade. Based on recent trends, that’s a record that may take a long time to break--if ever--in this rapidly warming region. However, adding in another couple of facts will help indicate how truly historic 2016 will likely look in retrospect: The Nebbiolo fruit in Barolo and Barbaresco achieved absolutely full ripeness despite the aforementioned lack of heat spikes, as proved by average measured quantities of malic acid below 1 gram per liter.
Add to that the third fact that average alcohol levels were quite moderate despite perfect ripeness, and you could start to believe that the ancient Roman goddess Fortuna blessed this vintage. Could this combination of factors ever recur, or even be surpassed? Sure, anything is possible, in the same sense that it is possible that Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record for hockey assists will be equaled, or that pigs will fly.
How do I love thee, 2016s? Let me count the ways. First, the wines are beautiful to behold, with excellent color at this point in their development, and rarely the slightest hint of any premature brick-ish tint, as with some wines from hot years like 2011.
Second, their bouquets are very expressive as a rule, with lovely floral scents (think violets) but almost never any aromatic suggestion of stewed fruits.
Third, they show generous flavors with a lovely streak of sweetness, but their generosity almost never tips over the line separating stylishness from flamboyance, just as their sweetness never seems candied, as can result when sugars in the grapes soar during heat spikes at harvest time.
Fourth, they hold lots of tannins, but ones that are very fine in grain and almost never overly astringent, even with some still-to-be-absorbed wood tannins still evident in these very young wines. Consequently, they exhibit just the right degree of “grip” in their finishes to balance and frame the lovely fruit without foreshortening the aftertaste of the wines.
Fifth, there is an (almost uncanny) inner proportionality and harmony in a very high percentage of the wines. This may look strange in print, but their deliciousness comes across as effortless: None of their elements seem to be pushing or pulling against any of the other flavor or structural elements. Everything fits, and everything seems to have fit in easily.
Finally, and following from the last point, these wines will be incredibly easy to enjoy when young…needing a lot less time to settle and soften and integrate than the 2010s. The ‘10s were also very balanced in terms of acidity and ripeness, but did a lot more pushing and pulling to achieve balance in their youth, and took a lot longer than the ‘16s will need to hit their stride.
Indeed, many of the 2016s have already hit their stride, with the likely result that a lot of them will be consumed before they can attain their full potential. Graceful as they are, they will be hard to resist in the years immediately ahead. However, savvy consumers will be handsomely rewarded for disciplined restraint, as these wines will remain graceful as they become even more complex while tertiary notes from time in bottle are layered over their lovely primary fruit and generally restrained oak treatment.
I’ll still need to add a few more reviews to include all the top wines and best values from this amazing vintage, but the profiles below will offer you plenty of motivation to budget for the arrival of the 2016s, which is just now underway.
To explain the entries below, what you'll see in the parentheses (after producer name) is the name of the village or comune with which the vineyard is associated. This is only confusing when the comune in question is Barolo, for the obvious reason that that is also the name of the broader appellation. Although these village names are obviously not as fine-tuned as particular vineyards, they are still stylistically indicative, just as in Burgundy, where vineyards cluster meaningfully in style at the level of the village, as with how "Gevrey-Chambertin" provides a pretty reliable first clue by contrast to "Chambolle-Musigny."
In quotation marks is the name of "cru," to use the French term for a meaningfully distinct vineyard site that includes parcels farmed by different producers. There's an Italian term "MGA" (short for Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive
) that may someday become sufficiently familiar to replace the French word, but we're not there yet.
The wines appear in order of preference based on point scores, with alphabetical order by producer name used for wines earning the same score. The producer names are themselves potentially confusing, as the local tradition among producers around Alba is to indicate the family name before any given names, though this is not uniformly practiced...this being Italy, after all. Prices are approximate, based on recent vintages of comparable quality such as 2015:
Vietti (Serralunga) Barolo “Lazzarito” 2016
($200): In the 2015 vintage, I thought “Ravera” from Novello was Vietti’s best bottling (and my “Wine of the Year” for all of 2019), but this Lazzarito is my pick from 2016. It is breathtakingly impressive, with an almost eerie combination of power and grace. For example, it is hugely flavorful but not huge, really being just medium-bodied. Similarly, it carries loads of tannin, but so fine-grained that there isn’t the slightest sensory astringency, even at the end of the finish. The proportions of everything seem unquestionable, and the integration of the elements is likewise seemingly perfect: Acid, fruit, tannin, wood… everything is just right, and everything lets everything else express itself. Delicious now, but surely even better 25 years from now, this is the kind of wine that can defy
belief that such a work of art could result from… grapes. Even at 99, I may be under-scoring this. 99
Brezza Giacomo E Figli (Barolo) “Sarmassa” 2016 ($75): Brezza made a wonderful 2006 from the Sarmassa cru, but this is certainly even better, with much more up-front charm and sex appeal. The fruit shows great ripeness even aromatically, with a subtle suggestion of caramel in addition to other scents. In terms of texture, the density is really just moderate, yet the “feel” is so broad that the wine seems “lavish”—a term that rarely appears in my raw notes when tasting young Barolo “blind,” especially from a late-ripening year such as 2016. There’s enough tannin and wood to give this shape and structure and age-ability, but still, this is a sexpot for a cool vintage. 98
Poderi Luigi Einaudi (Barolo) Barolo “Cannubi” 2016 ($110): Six wines from the famous cru of Cannubi were entered and shown “blind” in the 2020 Nebbiolo Prima tastings, and I thought this was the best of them. It shows a substantial dose of spicy oak in the bouquet and also on the palate, yet extremely expressive fruit scents and flavors easily counterbalance the woody notes, with some nascent savory undertones also presenting themselves. This shows quite striking primary fruit sweetness without the slightest hint of the flaws I would term “confected” or “raisined.” The decision on when to pick the fruit was clearly perfect, and it will be fascinating to watch this develop over the years, as bottle age adds additional complexities. 98
Renato Ratti (La Morra) Barolo “Rocche dell’Annunziata” 2016
($110): The bad news is that this wine is now priced near the quality tier on which is
sits in the Barolo hierarchy, with top vintages such as 2015 and 2016 selling for over $100 (and for $130 at Zachys in New York, which is usually competitive nationally). The good news is that both the 2015 and 2016 are fabulous, and still less expensive than some of their quality peers that have a bit more “cult” status. The ’16 is notably different than its predecessor, with significantly lighter pigment concentration as well as physical density. However, it would be a very bad mistake to downgrade the wine for those reasons, as it displays absolutely gorgeous aromas with floral notes, woodspice and ripe scents of dried cherries that could hardly be more seductive. The flavors follow suit, but also add a wonderful savory note recalling cured meat. In overall profile, this offers an incredibly high ratio of aroma and flavor to weight, and in that respect will remind many tasters more of Grand Cru Burgundy than their stereotypical notion of Barolo. But make no mistake: This is truly great Barolo, and a jaw-droppingly beautiful wine. 98
G. D. Vajra (Barolo) Barolo “Bricco delle Viole” 2016 ($90): This was an obviously great wine tasted “blind,” and for a wine so young to prompt me to include “complete” among my first descriptors when encountering it in a very long lineup of wines attests to that. The balance of ripeness to acidic freshness could not be better, and ultra-fine-grained tannins enable the gorgeously pure fruit flavors to linger very, very long in the finish. I was surprised to read Antonio Galloni’s review of the wine as, “…a tightly wound, classically austere Barolo…” because it didn’t present itself at all that way on the day I tasted it. (His review is very positive, and I think he’s a terrific Barolo taster…we just had very difference experiences.) My raw note refers to it as having, “…silky and effortless texture…excellent depth and length…not a rough edge to be found, but full of flavor and poised for greatness once age adds tertiary notes.” I stand by every word of that. 98
Ettore Germano (Serralunga) Barolo “Cerretta” 2016 ($70): This is an already-superb house that still seems to get stronger with each passing vintage, and here’s a fabulous case in point. Fresh and pretty in line with the vintage, but also with prodigious depth and power as expected from Serralunga, this is an obviously great 2016 Barolo. It isn’t weighty, but the depth of flavor seems almost bottomless. Similarly, it is quite expressive and complex, but there’s really nothing “showy” about it. Rather, its excellence seems “effortless,” a term that reappears frequently in my raw notes from blind tasting the top 2016s. A wine of great beauty, but of the classiest sort… as in Grace Kelly beauty. 97
Tenuta Rocca (Monforte d’Alba) Barolo Bussia 2016 ($60): First, the bad news: I can’t find evidence of any vintage of this wine being offered by any retailer in the USA, though it is both available and nicely priced in the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Brazil and Italy (of course, though not widely even there). The good news is that this is flat-out fabulous in 2016, and clearly one of the two best releases from the Bussia cru that I tasted blind, along with the very differently styled “Dardi Le Rose” bottling from Poderi Colla. Of those two, this is much more flamboyant, with incredible richness and depth of flavor, but no overt heat in the finish and no sense of stewey, over-ripe fruit character. Nor is it notably woody, though the fruit could have easily counterbalanced more oak, judging from its prodigious density. For anyone who thinks that the 2016 vintage in Barolo just produced wispy, wan wines…here’s your case in counterpoint. Find it and buy it. 97
Virna Borgogno (Barolo) Barolo “Sarmassa” 2016 ($70): This house made a stunning Cannubi Boschis in 2015 and this wine may be just as strong. It shows very deep color and actually seemed a bit bigger, riper and more structured than the amazing Sarmassa turned out by Brezza in this same vintage. My guess is that this was picked a bit later, but in any case, a liqueur note on both the nose and palate suggests that the fruit was left to hang in this late-ripening vintage, and was then taken in just when it has achieved maximum phenological ripeness but before showing any over-ripe notes or excess sugar that could make for a hot finish after fermentation. If I’m right that this risk was run, the gamble paid off and the result is sensational. I’ve already purchased some of this for my cellar, and the process of fleshing out my raw note from January makes me wish I had purchased more. 97
Abrigo Fratelli (Novello) Barolo “Ravera” 2016
($60): Abrigo is a fairly common family name around Alba, and I have no direct experience at this house, though this exceptional wine from the great cru of Ravera makes me determined to change that. Ravera is rapidly becoming one of the most highly esteemed vineyards in all of Barolo, and in 2016, all six renditions that were included in the Nebbiolo Prima blind tastings were excellent, scoring at least 93 points in my assessments. Only 333 cases of this were produced, so you’ll need to be lucky to find it at all, but it is well worth a search. A billowing, dramatic bouquet is entirely arresting, and the wine follows through brilliantly on the palate with intense flavor impact. Most impressively, though, it provides layers of intense flavor without ever teetering from its near-perfect balance nor showing anything short of impeccable grace. My raw note ends with the words, “bloody impressive.” 96
Cascina Ballarin (Monforte d’Alba) Barolo “Bussia” 2016
($70): This wine put in a sensational showing when tasted blind in January 2020, though I
wonder whether it might be a bit prematurely developed. That’s impossible to assess from a single tasting, but I should note the caveat before heaping praise on this wine. The bouquet is simply terrific, offering balsamic and leathery notes in addition to scents of ripe fruit. The texture and flavors are similarly styled, with “deep, soft, ripe and rich” being my descriptors from the blind tasting, though I added that the wine still seems adequately structured and focused by acidity, wood and tannin. 96
Boasso Franco (Serralunga d’Alba) “Margheria” 2016 ($60): This is the best wine I’ve ever tasted from this family’s estate, and a remarkable accomplishment. A very big, concentrated wine for a 2016, it nevertheless shows marvelous balance and proportionality. Packed full of fruit but still very savory and complex, it is neither more prominently “fruity” nor “savory” in any obvious sense, as these characteristics announce themselves at the same volume aromatically and in terms of flavor—rather like the experience of listening to a piece of music when situated exactly equidistant between a pair of stereo speakers. Similarly, there’s a lot of wood evident in this young wine, but also so much dense fruit that the wine doesn’t seem “oaky”…just bolstered with a very judicious dose of toasty, spicy notes that lend layers to a wine that remains exuberantly fruity. The Margheria cru was the source for two amazing wines from the house of Luigi Pira in both 2015 and 2016, which I note here simply out of personal astonishment that this wine is even better than either of those, if only narrowly so. 96
Brezza Giacomo E Figli (Barolo) “Cannubi” 2016 ($75): This house made a spellbindingly great Sarmassa in 2016, but this Cannubi is so good that it deserves to be reviewed in its own right, rather than having a mere mention of it tacked onto a review of the Sarmassa. It shows a lot of fruit and a lot of wood, but these two main aromatic and flavor elements are beautifully balanced against one another, and I have exactly no doubt that this will age beautifully. Although its flavors are quite deep and long, the body is really just moderately weighty, which keeps this seeming very classy and composed through the long finish. 96
Cavalier Bartolomeo (Castiglione Falletto) Barolo “Altenasso” 2016 ($65): With all due respect, I have had rather inconsistent results with wines from this house, which has some seriously enviable vineyard plots but sometimes makes wines that seem over-ripe and overblown. However, in a high acid year like 2010, the wines were fantastic, and that seems to be the case again in 2016…for the same reason. Still, though the growing season of 2016 seems to have greatly benefitted this wine, it actually performs more like an excellent release from a hot year like 2007 than a 2016, so if you are after an understated, cool seeming Barolo, you’d do well to look elsewhere. Yet this is an utterly delicious fleshpot of a wine, with rich, fleshy fruit that shows its ripeness in both the aromas and flavors, but doesn’t come off as stewed in fruit character, and doesn’t display any heat in the finish. The designation provided for the particular wine I tasted blind in January 2020 was, “Altenasso o Garblet Sue’ o Garbelletto Superiore,” which could give anybody a migraine. Some vintages have been labeled, “Solanotto Altenasso,” but based on the producer’s website, it seems likely that the same vineyard site is the source for a single wine that gets called different names from year to year, or for different purposes or markets. Sorry for all that, but this is a stunning bottle of wine that will really prove to be a show-stopper for those who like the profile, which is “impressive” more than “stylish,” and “sexy” more than “beautiful.” 96
Palladino (Serralunga d’Alba) 2016 “Ornato” ($70): I’ve tasted extremely impressive wines from Palladino in past vintages, but never one that attained this level of excellence. Additionally, the Ornato cru has been the source for many superb vintages made by the famous house of Pio Cesare, but I’m having trouble recalling one that was as impressive in overall terms as this wine. It is broad and weighty in overall profile for the vintage, yet shows remarkable purity of fruit for a big, powerful wine. Moreover, its weight and size weren’t achieved at the cost of any over-extraction, as it shows not hard edges from an overly long maceration or an excessively hot fermentation. The oak is very well measured, lending spice notes but never intruding on the core of fruit. As for that fruit, it really displays the wonderful character made possible by the vintage, showing primary sweetness all the way through the finish, but never any candied or stewed character indicating an overly ambitious late picking date. Quite simply, a marvelous achievement from this house. 96
Aurelio Settimo (La Morra) Barolo “Rocche dell’Annunziata” 2016
($58): This is the second-best wine I tasted blind from the highly regarded cru of Rocche dell’Annunziata, and surely the best value. It is a conspicuously big, rich wine in the context of the 2016 vintage, with very ripe fruit that packs a very prodigious punch … but shows no heat in the finish. There’s also quite a bit of overt wood at this point in the wine’s development, but the concentrated fruit will surely be up to the task of absorbing and integrating the oak notes…in time. Although one of the virtues of the 2016s from Barolo is their elegance and early approachability, this is an exception to the rule, requiring a good five years from now to really hit its stride. But with that caveat noted, this is a complete wine that represents a sure bet for those with decent storage conditions and adequate patience. 96
G. D. Vajra (Serralunga) Barolo “Baudana” 2016
($85): The 2016 vintage
was truly a great one for the Vajra family, as this wine clearly demonstrates. This is rich and even succulent, but still structured and capable of aging gracefully in a positive direction even though it is delicious now. The fruit shows great expressive punch, but still, this is hardly a mere fruit bomb, as the accents of cola and cured meat are wonderfully alluring and just as prominent overall as the pure fruit notes. Probably the best this bottling has looked since 2006, and I’d rather own this vintage than that one, though I’ll soon own both once this becomes available. 96
Vietti (Novello) Barolo “Ravera” 2016
($200): Vietti’s 2015 release from the Ravera cru was my “Wine of the Year” for 2019, but the 2016 is down just a couple of clicks, and when tasted blind in January of 2020, finished a bit behind this great house’s Lazzarito bottling from the comune
of Serralunga. But with that said, this is still a sensational wine that anyone should feel extremely fortunate to own or taste. Aromatically, it is phenomenal, showing an amazing array of notes recalling violets, spices, incense and cured meat…and more. The flavors seem more compressed and the wine a bit thinner than its one year older sibling from 2015, but when I returned to it after another hour after my initial blind tasting, it had filled out a bit, and may very well just have been in a bit of a lull on the day when I tasted it. (Nebbiolo-based wines definitely go through phases in which they are alternately more expressive or “dumb,” and though the wave form isn’t as dramatic as with Pinot-based wines from Burgundy, this really is “a thing.”) Based on the bouquet alone, this is a great wine. 96
Cascina Adelaide (La Morra) Barolo “Fossati” 2016
($70): This house has risen like a rocket in my estimation during recent years, backing off on oak influence in favor of primary fruit purity and gaining softer texture by shedding some of the wood tannin that marred earlier releases. I’ve driven by the winery countless times but have never visited, so my entire first sentence here results not from interviewing anyone on the winemaking team, but rather from inference based on the performance of the wines starting about in about 2010 or 2011. This 2016 Fossati shows marvelously rich, soft fruit with deep, dark flavors that seem like they’d surely go hard in the finish…but never do. Savory, balsamic aromas are very enticing, and the balance and integration of all the wine’s structural elements is impeccable. Surely the best Fossati I’ve ever tasted from Cascina Adelaide. 95
Alessandria Fratelli (Verduno) Barolo “San Lorenzo di Verduno” 2016
($65): Graceful and gorgeous, this is an object lesson in what a vintner with
taste and restraint could achieve in 2016. I don’t want to undersell this by over-emphasizing the “restraint” that was shown in growing and crafting the wine, which is quite deep in flavor and shows significant wood influence. Still, the fine balance of structural elements and the proportionality of the aromas and flavors is what really makes this stand out—rather than the sheer weight of the wine. Absolutely beautiful. 95
Cagliero (Novello) Barolo “Ravera” 2016
($70): It seems that very little of this wine makes it to the USA, as I could only find one vintage on offer, a 2009 in New York, but I will damned sure be conducting a global search for this vintage from the stellar Ravera vineyard. It is quite ripe but not at all over-ripe, showing sexy cherry liqueur notes with lovely hints of incense and spices. Thanks to its impressive density, it has already absorbed nearly all the oak notes, leaving no overt wood to add to the tannin load, which is low in comparison to the savory and fruity signature of the wine. 95
Cavallotto (Castiglione Falletto) Barolo “Bricco Boschis” 2016
($75): A consistently excellent producer that makes traditionally-styled wines from excellent vineyard sites, Cavallotto succeeded in 2016 to the surprise of—I’d guess—nobody. This is a rather ripe and rich expression for the growing season, but the wine remains shapely and stylish, with a lovely bouquet and set of flavors interweaving spice notes, primary fruit, subtle oak and savory undertones. A beautiful wine that comes off as complete and convincing. 95
Poderi Colla (Monforte d’Alba) Barolo “Bussia – Dardi Le Rose” 2016
($70): This wine almost always ends up near the top of the quality pyramid when I taste blind in Alba, and that was the case yet again when the 2016 vintage was shown early in 2020. Twelve bottlings from Bussia were shown, and the tell-tale “Dardi Le Rose” designation for this wine was not included in anything provided by the organizers, so there was no auto-suggestion involved in my evaluation…this rose to the top solely on its considerable merits. Although it shows some meaty richness on the palate, every other descriptor in my notes cites the wine’s “grace” and “class” and “proportionality.” It is virtually perfectly balanced in all respects, with fruit and acid and tannin and wood all seemingly remarkably symmetrical. Poised to age in a harmonious way as a result, and leaving the development of more flamboyant nuances to wait for the arrival of tertiary notes from time in bottle, this is a classic in the making. 95+
Pira Luigi (Serralunga d’Alba) Barolo “Margheria” 2016
($65): The 2015 vintage from this cru was fabulous from the house of Luigi Pira, and the 2016 is hard on its heels, if in a notably different style reflective of the latter vintage. Not as bulky or assertive, the 2016 is much more suave and feminine in character, which would be a bit surprising from Serralunga (which has a well-earned reputation for rich renditions of Barolo) if not for the fact that the 2016 growing season resulted in this sort of profile almost everywhere across the Barolo district… provided that producers didn’t get greedy and wait too long to harvest. Oak is showing but only in the background, and there’s plenty of tannin, but of an unobtrusive sort. Both red and black fruit tones are evident, with lovely floral topnotes to the bouquet. The finish is exceptionally long and pure, and the wine will have a broad window of enjoyability, extending from the minute you bring it into your home until 15 years from now. 95
Diego Pressenda (Monforte d’Alba) Barolo “Le Coste di Monforte” 2016
($65): This is essentially a new wine from the producer, as the vines were only planted in this site in 2008. With that taken into consideration, it is off to a flying start. This shows very sexy, ripe kirsch aromas with no raisining, and on the palate and through the finish everything comes off as graceful and effortless and un-contrived. There’s very impressive energy and vivacity for a Barolo with such ripe aromas, and there’s no question that this is both a wine to buy from 2016 and one to watch in upcoming vintages. 95
Voerzio Martini (La Morra) Barolo “La Serra” 2016
($50): This house tends to make atypically big wines from the La Serra cru, and 2016 is still big for La Serra, but more stylish than usual for the producer. The result is completely convincing and indisputably delicious. It shows wonderful sweetness of fruit but without any confected character and no hint or over-ripeness. The wood is very nicely tuned to the weight and flavor impact of the fruit, making this more approachable in the near term than the 2015, but with a very long future ahead of it. 95
Franco Conterno (Novello) Barolo “Panerole” 2016
($50): I don’t believe I’ve ever reviewed a wine from this cru, and certainly not at this level. It shows very good depth of flavor and impressive concentration and weight on the palate, yet stays pure and proportioned on the palate all the way through the long, detailed finish. First tasted blind and then re-tasted because of my unfamiliarity with the vineyard, it earned exactly the same score in both assessments. 94
Tenuta Cucco (Serralunga) Barolo "Del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba" 2016
($80): This isn’t a designated “cru” wine, but rather one named after the village, so Barolo “Del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba.” But don’t let that give you the mis-impression that this is a second-rate wine…it is a beauty that shows the depth of excellence in the 2016 vintage. Its balance is immaculate, with ripe fruit and alluring savory notes riding in tandem in perfect harmony. The balance of wood and tannin to fruit is also just right, suggesting that a series of good decisions were made from the time the fruit was picked to when the maceration was conducted to when the juice was racked into oak. But then… that’s a hallmark of 2016 in Barolo: Everything seems to have been easy, and good decisions were the rule rather than the exception, as was the case in 2015 in warmer sites. By the way, pricing for this wine is wildly inconsistent, so don’t jump at the first offering you see… unless it is closer to $50 than $80. 94
Curto Marco (La Morra) “Arborina” 2016
($70): I can’t say whether this is the first wine I’ve tasted from this producer or whether it is rather the first one to really strike me…but strike me it did when I tasted it “blind” in Alba during late January of 2020. The Arborina cru can definitely make great wine, as proved over the years by Elio Altare and Mauro Veglio, so I was delighted to find yet another. It gets off to an extremely alluring start with wonderfully ripe scents recalling cherry liqueur with savory undertones, and the flavor and feel are equally enticing, with real breadth and depth on the palate but no excess weight or wood or extraction. Beautifully made wine. 94
Gagliasso Mario (La Morra) Barolo “Rocche dell’Annunziata” 2016
($60): This house makes ripe, fleshy, flamboyant Barolo from this cru as well
as Torriglione, the latter of which is also the source for occasionally astonishing releases of Riserva in high acid vintages such as 2006 and 2010. In 2016, I slightly preferred this Rocche dell’Annunziata, which is a bit fresher and more restrained, or at least restrained for Gagliasso. Light floral and spice aromas get this off to a fine start, followed by dark cherry fruit notes with balsamic and liqueur undertones. There’s plenty of tannins to help this age, but swaddled in fruit as they are, they won’t deter most tasters from cracking into this early on. 94
Eredi Lodali (Roddi) Barolo “Bricco Ambrogio—Lorens” 2016
($95): This is the best rendition of this wine since at least the 2004, and probably better than that vintage. Beautifully ripened, it is rich and soft but not overtly fruity… just open and inviting, with lovely savory accents and wood that lends a bit of spice and grip but never gets in the way of the fabulous fruit. Although this is undeniably delicious now, it will develop beautifully, and become considerably more complex once tertiary notes kick in from time in bottle. 94
Renato Ratti (La Morra) Barolo “Marcenasco” 2016
($50): This Marcenasco bottling represents the bulk of the annual production released from this famous house under the direction of Pietro Ratti. Although it is always less woody and structured than the “Conca” or “Rocche dell’Annunziata” releases and notably less expensive, it can rival them in overall quality in some vintages such as 2012…and now again in 2016. The lovely bouquet shows floral, savory and fruity notes in perfect proportion, and the flavors likewise combine fruity and savory notes with subtle oak and just the right sensation of tannic grip in the finish. Suave and stylish, this is a beauty. 94
Revello Fratelli (Serralunga) Barolo “Ceretta” 2016
($70): This isn’t currently as jaw-droppingly beautiful as the wine from the “Ceretta” cru made by Ettore Germano, but it may measure up to that lofty standard with time. Currently more “punchy” in terms of fruit power and more “spiky” in terms of its oaky assertiveness, it shows excellent balance — just not yet the optimal integration of components. There’s no doubting the excellence of this; it will just take more time to hit its stride than most of the top 2016s. 94
Reverdito Michele (La Morra) Barolo “La Serra” 2016
($60): I can’t recall tasting a wine from this house made from the potentially exceptional “La Serra” cru, and don’t know if this results from purchasing fruit or a vineyard plot…but who cares, as the wine is terrific. It is sleek and elegant and on the “feminine” side of the spectrum, as is often the case for La Serra, but there’s nothing faint or fluffy about the wine, which offers a lot of aroma and flavor for its weight. The fruit shows a lovely streak of primary fruit sweetness that counterbalances its wood and tannin, and the overall profile is one of effortless grace and proportionality. Beautiful wine. 94
Rocche Costamagna (La Morra) Barolo “Rocche dell’Annunziata” 2016
($65): This producer has turned out exceptional wines from the prized cru of Rocche dell’Annunziata in 2012, 2015 … and now again in 2016. A superb value, it shows just as much color and muscle as the most expensive releases from this vineyard in 2016, but not as much wood, which is just fine by me. In January of 2020 is showed just the slightest touch of heat in the finish and a bit less complexity than the astonishing Rocche from Ratti…but at roughly half the price. A wine to buy…right after I get my case, please. 94
Fontanafredda (Serralunga d’Alba) Barolo “Del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba” 2016
($45): Yet another very impressive “sub-cru-level” Barolo designated as, “Del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba,” this is one of the potentially best bargains from a great vintage. Fontanafredda has amazing vineyards in Serralunga, but also buys some fruit from other growers in the village and bottle in 750s, full liter bottles, and magnums that are very attractively priced and fairly widely available across the USA. In 2016, this shows lots of interesting little nuances on the nose as well as the palate, but the star of the show is the fruit, which is absolutely exemplary in its purity. With this pure fruit at its core, and the structural components of acidity, tannin and wood all showing excellent proportionality, this is poised to just get better and better as it develops additional complexities in bottle over time. That’s a key difference in this vintage by comparison to 2010: You don’t need to wait for this to change or for any of its components to settle down or diminish…it is already beautiful and will only get better. 93
Enrico Serafino (Serralunga) Barolo “Del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba” 2016
($55): I can find no record of this wine having been made in earlier vintages, which doesn’t conclusively prove that it wasn’t. In any case, this is one of a number of exceptional 2016s that aren’t cru-designated, which shows that the superb quality of the year runs deep. With that said, this isn’t bottled as simple “Barolo DOCG,” but rather bears the name of the village from which it was sourced (Serralunga), and a bit of digging indicates that the fruit was drawn from two crus (Meriame and Carpegna), though that precludes naming either of these on the label due to recent alterations in the regulations of the appellation. The wine is wonderfully open and expressive aromatically, with very pure fruit notes that extend onto the palate with an alluring ease and gracefulness that makes this a classic 2016. The tannins are appropriately notable for a young wine, but every sweet and fine. Already delicious, this will only get better for a decade. This will be imported into the USA by Dalla Terra, and my indicated price is just a wild-ass guess; let’s hope for lower… but $55 would certainly be fair. 93
Voerzio Martini (La Morra) Barolo DOCG 2016
($42): There’s no question that 2016 was an amazing growing season for this producer, whose wines I have never before selected for review, as even this straight Barolo normale is full of flavor and fun. The color is very dark and concentrated, and that provides a truthful indication of what is to come when tasting: very rich and ripe aromas and flavors, with so much sweet primary fruit that the tannins and wood are just swamped from the mid-palate and through the finish. The wine doesn’t really seem in tune with the rather fresh and restrained profile of many Barolo bottlings from 2016, and there’s just a bit of overt “chunkiness” to the wine, but it is undeniably delicious even if not all that refined. 93