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Heat Wave: Striking Successes from Barolo in 2011
By Michael Franz
May 31, 2016
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Virtually every serious taster of Nebbiolo-based wines from Piedmont praised the 2010 vintage in Barolo to the heavens.  And for good reason.  The growing season provided grapes that made wines of near-perfect balance and proportionality.  As in Bordeaux in 2005, almost everyone made excellent wine, and those who didn’t were at fault themselves…the fruit was just that good.  “Hard act to follow” is a cliché that doesn’t quite do justice to the reality, and since 2011 was a hot year regarded as anti-climactic by the producers themselves even before the wines were released, I tasted hundreds of these wines a year ago figuring that they’d be a big step down from their predecessors.  But I was wrong.

It can be impressive when people admit errors, but I acknowledge that there’s nothing particularly impressive about my admission.  Almost everybody under-estimated the 2011s too, and mea culpa is fairly easy to say…when you get to say it in unison.

Judged as a group, the 2011s are indeed a notch or two down from the 2010s, but that’s it.  The big gap in quality and consistency that was expected simply didn’t emerge once the 2011s got to four and a half years from the harvest.  Although they won’t develop for as long as the 2010s will, they make up for some of that by being softer and more enjoyable in their youth.  But don’t mistake take that for damning with faint praise:  The 2011s are accessible, but they’re not lacking for structure, nor are they grapey, obvious wines.  Of recent vintages, they most closely resemble the 2007s, which have turned out very well (far better than predicted by the many “classicist” critics who initially slammed them for being too ripe and “New World”-ish).

One other worthwhile comparison is to the Barolos from 2009--another hot year.  The 2011s are better as a group in absolute terms, and they are also less variable.  A single factor may explain both of those facts while also making it easier to understand why the 2011s were under-estimated:  Vintners in Barolo are simply becoming more adept at dealing with hot growing seasons.  Not one of the world’s top winemaking regions has experienced as dramatic climatic warming during the past 20 years as Barolo and Barbaresco, and growers have had to learn quickly.  Which is exactly what they’ve done.

Below you’ll find reviews of some of my favorite Barolos from 2011, appearing in rough order of preference.  All wines were reviewed “blind” in the region in May of 2015.  I’ve held back the reviews until now because the wines were very slow to appear in the USA, largely because importers bought heavily from the 2010 vintage even though many of them had inventory from earlier years still to clear.  A majority of the wines reviewed below are now available in the USA, though some have yet to arrive:

G.D. Vajra Barolo “Baudana” 2011:  Aside from being one of the most delicious of the 2011 Barolo wines, this is also among the very most admirable in stylistic terms, with striking purity and an intriguing combination of fresh red fruit notes.  Excellent acidity for the vintage also makes this stand out, yet it shows the richness of the year as well.  A complete wine, I’ll bet that this will be mistaken for a 2010 Barolo many times over its long life.  96

Massolino-Vigna Rionda Barolo “Margheria” 2011:   A model of perfectly ripened fruit and irreproachable decisions in the cellar, this shows all of the generosity of a top wine from Serralunga but also a lot more freshness and energy than one might expect from 2011.  Marvelously proportional and integrated, this is a thoroughbred with a very long run ahead of it.  96

Mauro Veglio Barolo “Castelletto” 2011:  Veglio seems to get superb wines from this site in Monforte d’Alba in warmer years, as the 2007 was superb, and this wine is on track to be every bit as impressive.  Conspicuously dark in the glass, it follows through on that initial visual cue at ever stage, showing ripe, brooding aromas of dark fruit, very deep flavors with excellent concentration, restrained oak, and lots of muscular fruit to counterbalance all of the tannins.  The sheer longevity of this might be doubted, but it is so delicious in its youth that it will still have a broader span of excellence than most wines from firmer years like 2005.  Veglio turned in a terrific performance in 2011, and the “Arborina” bottling from La Morra earned a score from me that brought it within a single point of this beauty from Monforte d’Alba.  96

Dario Stroppiana Barolo San Giacomo 2011:  This is a seriously under-rated producer on a roll, and those who care more about the quality of their wine than the name recognition of their labels would be well-advised to look for Stroppiana Barolos.  This San Giacomo from La Morra was among the handful of most expressive and exciting of all the 2011s that I tasted, showing astonishing aromatics recalling roses, incense, cola and ripe fruit.  The flavors are very deep, and the texture quite rich, with tannins in evidence, but just barely due to the sheer richness of the wine.  Extremely impressive.  96

Sobrero Barolo “Ciabot Tanasio” 2011:  I have not followed this producer’s wines closely in past years, but this wine will put an end to that.  Among the most vibrant of the top Barolo wines of the vintage, this is rich and lush, but also shows a fresh beam of red-toned fruit that brightens the wine and lends linear energy and freshness.  Layered and highly complex, this is a terrific success in a distinctly warm year.  96

Pecchenino Barolo “Le Coste di Monforte” 2011:  This producer was most famous for years for excellent renderings of Dolcetto from the Dogliani district, but a move into Barolo with purchases of a few choice vineyard sites and a small cellar are yielding clearly outstanding wines--and doing so every single vintage.  This shows a little spicy oak, which helps to frame the rich fruit.  Oak spice shows up again in the finish, but there are also savory notes that undergird the fruit flavors, providing a layered impression throughout the sensory experience.  A beautiful wine that will provide great pleasure for many years.  The San Giuseppe bottling is also quite good in 2011, but this certainly seems like the one to buy if offered a choice.  95

Renato Ratti Barolo “Conca” 2011:  Some vintages of Ratti’s Conca can seem impenetrably hard and oaky, but the wine is terrific in 2011, and one won’t need to hope for the best for 15 years before being rewarded.  There’s plenty of toast and vanilla up top, as usual, but the sheer sweetness of the fruit derived from this vintage over-rides the oak notes and tames the tannins as well.  Still, there’s loads of coiled power in this wine, which shows very dark-toned fruit.  It may well firm up at some point in its development, but it is already a great wine.  Pietro Ratti turned in a sensational performance in 2011, and I had his (always striking) bottling from Rocche dell’ Annunziata also scored at 95.  The Conca got the write-up here because it rarely attains the level of excellence of the Rocche, but the real star of the year may be the “Marcenasco” bottling, which is blended from several different sites in La Morra.  Ratti makes much more of it, with a lot less fancy oak, but it has been superb in 201o as well as 2011 (94 was my blind score), and is a terrific value at the top level of quality.  95

Marziano Abbona Barolo “Pressenda” 2011:  Marziano Abbona has made this vineyard sing every year of late, and 2011 certainly shows no break in that streak.  Balsamic and floral aromatic notes are very expressive, and though the fruit is ripe and forceful, it also shows some savory layering and a very appealing edge of wood spice in the finish.  Excellent already, but built to last.  95

Paolo Manzone Barolo Del Comune di Serralunga 2011: 
I chose to visit this (energetic, engaging and innovative) producer in 2016 based on how well his 2011 wines showed in the 2015 Nebbiolo Prima tastings.  The cru offering from Meirame is more firmly structured and will probably surpass this at some point, but for pure pleasure and also on grounds of value, I’ll be buying this from the 2011 vintage and save some money for the Meirame from 2012 (which is fabulous).  Rich and very powerful but also admirably pure and focused, this offers all of the muscle one would expect from a Serralunga wine in a warm year, but also shows more composure and class than virtually all of its village counterparts.  95

Cascina Adelaide Barolo “Pernanno” 2011:  I often come away from wines from this producer thinking they are a bit too woody to respect the terrific vineyards owned by the estate, but there’s no doubt that this is one of 2011’s best wines from Cstiglione Falletto.  Although it is very deeply flavored and richly textured, it is also driving and detailed, with the wood providing some welcome firmness in the finish.  95

Camparo Barolo “Boiolo” 2011:  This traditionally styled wine offers a wild ride based on huge aromatics and very deep, exotic flavors that show all sorts of mushroomy, leathery, gamy characteristics.  There’s plenty of ripe fruit in the wine as well, which suggests that this won’t simply go rustic and funky all of a sudden, but this sort of wine need not be held to get complexity from bottle ageing.  Better to drink this in the near term, but first…you’d better buckle up.  95

Conterno Fantino Barolo “Sori Ginestra” 2011:  Conterno Fantino almost always treats wines from this top Monforte d’Alba site to a lot of new wood, and consequently they can take years to loosen up and show the wonderful appeal they often achieve in their maturity.  However, the 2011 is very quick out of the starting blocks, with some topnotes of smoke and toast that indicate the wood treatment, but then a lovely swath of ripe fruit that dominated the mid-palate and over-rides the tannins in the finish.  94

Giovanni Rosso Barolo “Ceretta” 2011:  This is a multi-dimensional winner from Serralunga that succeeds on the strength of restrained winemaking that permits prolonged interplay between ripe, sweet fruit and interesting savory undertones.  Rich but relatively soft, this is already completely delicious, but is structured adequately for another five years of positive development.  As an aside, this was no fluke, as Giovanni Rosso’s “Serra” bottling is every bit as good as the “Ceretta.”   94

Marcarini Barolo “Serra” 2011:  This is an unusual wine for the vintage, with a feminine, graceful, silky profile that seems out of keeping for the year but very much in the mold of what Marcarini tends to coax from this site.  Sweet aromatics recalling cola and pressed flowers are quite lovely, and soft texture with gentle tannins make this seem very harmonious in all respects.  94

Mario Gagliasso Barolo Rocche dell’ Annunziata 2011:  This producer flashed onto my radar with a terrific wine from this site in La Morra in 2008, and has remained impressive with every release since then.  The 2011 from the small Torriglione vineyard earned the same score as this Rocche, and is actually a little bigger and more expressive, but also shows the heat of the year with some noticeable alcohol.  The Rocche is the one to buy if offered both from 2011, as this shows lovely cola and spice notes on a sweet, soft core of fruit.  Although this is a quite modern-looking cellar with new-ish cooperage, the wines often show tinges of volatile acidity and brettanomyces, which is not a reason to avoid them, but is a reason to drink them relatively young.  94

Cavalier Bartolomeo Barolo “Altenasso” 2011:  Rich, warm, soft and deep, this offering from Castiglione Falletto is certainly a wine of the vintage, with low acidity and very notable sweetness.  It shows the barest hint of heat, but this is certainly not problematic, as the sheer generosity of the sweet fruit sweeps away all of the tannin and leaves a deeply satisfying impression.  93

Boroli Barolo “Villero” 2011:  An admirably light, fresh and restrained rendition of Barolo from the vintage, this shows nice acidity and delicate floral topnotes that are rare from 2011.  A bit of an outlier, but in a good way.  93