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The Great 2010 Vintage from Barolo, Volume One
By Michael Franz
Jul 1, 2014
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Let’s not beat around the bush here:  The 2010 vintage wines from Barolo are the most complete and compelling group of wines that I’ve ever tasted from this region. 

Just to be clear about what’s entailed in that assessment, I might also note that Barolo is Italy’s finest wine region, and that the region has enjoyed a historically unprecedented string of 12 excellent to very good vintages out of the past 14 years.  Add all of this up, and you get a conclusion of obvious importance:  The new releases of Barolo from 2010 stand as one of the most extraordinary sets of wines ever made on this planet.

Despite the rather grandiose nature of my pronouncement, there’s actually not much about it that’s open to dispute.  Only Brunello di Montalcino is a serious threat to Barolo’s status as the King of Italian Wines.  I respect those who side with Brunello over Barolo, but for me, Barolo is more intricate in aroma and flavor, more varied from vineyard to vineyard, and at least as age-worthy.  Additonally, Barolo is capable of an uncanny combination of huge generosity with modest weight that isn’t often found in Brunello (and has a parallel only in great red Burgundy).

As for 2010s status relative to the other 11 strong recent vintages, I’ve come to believe that only 2004 is really on a level comparable to the overall greatness of 2010.  Both 1996 and 2006 will be longer-lived than 2010, but the wines from “the sixes” are much more angular and nowhere near as enjoyable during their first decade of development.  Similarly, 1997 and 2007 are both richer, rounder and softer than 2010, but the “sevens” aren’t as fresh, complex, or capable of extended ageing.  1999 and 2001 are terrific vintages, but neither seems quite as consistent across communes or producers as 2010 is.  That brings us back to 2010 vs. 2004, and though the ‘04s are undeniably superb, the 2010s just seem to have a little bit more of everything at this stage than the 2004s did when first released.

Time will tell which vintage ultimately proves itself superior, but it is already clear that they share a strong stylistic resemblance.  Both growing seasons produced an abundance of wines that seem almost perfectly ripened.  I mean something very specific by this:  Wines that are open, expressive and generous in aroma and flavor, but still marked by fresh acidity and appropriately firm tannins to balance the natural sweetness of the fruit. 

Another hallmark of 2004 and 2010 is that the raw material provided by both vintages could produce excellent wines in either the “traditional” or “modern” style of Barolo.  That is to say that the wines are ample enough to support a significant dose of new oak as in “modern” renditions, but also aromatic and flavorful enough that they don’t need oak to seem complete or convincing.  When blind-tasting the wines in Italy in May, I found plenty of 2010s with overt oak that were extremely successful, yet I found even more wines that were made with a very light touch in the cellar that were fantastic.

What was so appealing about these relatively simple, traditionally made wines?  The answer can be conveyed with two words:  Purity and proportionality.  These descriptors show up again and again in my raw notes from five days of blind tasting.  Both characteristics seem to stem from very healthy fruit that was ripened in a sustained and even way, without major heat spikes in a September that was graced by cool nighttime temperatures.  Are there exceptions?  Of course there are, as some producers got greedy and over-ripened their fruit, resulting in raisiny flavors or volatile acidity.  But wines of this sort are conspicuous by their rarity in 2010, with the norm being wines that are sweet but still fresh, with beautiful symmetry between fruit, acidity and tannin.

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.

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.

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.

One last note:  I tasted so many outstanding Barolo wines from the 2010 vintage that I’ll need to break my roundup into two columns, with the next edition featuring top releases from the communes of Barolo, La Morra and Serralunga D’Alba.

Top Wines from Novello, Verduno, Castiglione Falletto, and Monforte D’Alba:

Marziano Abbona “Pressenda”:  I’ve loved this wine for years, but I’ve never tasted a rendition that could match this stunningly beautiful 2010, which stood out immediately in a giant blind tasting as an obviously great achievement.  Sweet and spicy aromas and flavors are irresistibly enticing, and the texture is supple and seductive.  Showing sensational depth and dimension and integration, this wine has it all, and has it in abundance but also in perfect balance, as demonstrated by its extremely long and symmetrical finish.  One of the two or three best wines out of 400 tasted in Alba over five days in May.  98

Pecchenino “San Giuseppe”:  This house is known most widely as a source for exemplary Dolcetto from the Dogliani district, but my blind tasting over the past few years have indicated that Orlando Pecchenino has also got a golden touch with Nebbiolo.  His 2009s from the Monforte D’Alba crus of Le Coste and San Giuseppe were both brilliant, and the 2010s are even better.  In 2009, I slightly preferred the Le Coste, but in May of 2014, the 2010 San Giuseppe was sensational.  Among the handful of most alluringly perfumed wines of the 400 tasted blind in May, this showed a core of dark-toned fruit with perfect ripeness and gorgeous accents of spices, smoke and cured meat.  The flavors are so deep that my raw note reads, “almost unfathomable,” and yet the wine is no mere powerhouse but also one marked by exceptional purity and integration.  Want to buy this?  I’ll see you in line.  97

Cavallotto “Bricco Boschis”:
  This captivating wine is an object lesson in the completeness as well as the immediate appeal of the 2010 vintage in Barolo.  Moreover, its appeal is not only immediate but also comprehensive:  It looks great (impressively dark color), smells great (pretty floral notes along with spicy, toasty oak and fresh fruit) and tastes great too (with deep flavors driven by dark-toned fruit).  All of the sensory impressions made by the wine are symmetrical and harmonious, adding up to the inescapable conclusion--which I rarely state so starkly--that this is simply a great wine.  96

Germano Angelo “Mondoca di Bussia”:  This producer’s name will be unfamiliar even to most Barolo hounds in the USA, but the estate has been turning in excellent performances in recent vintages, and this wine shows a capacity to craft wines that are close to the very top of the quality pyramid.  Deep color and serious density show this to be a formidable wine, but it isn’t all about power, as it features a lovely bouquet with a complex mélange of fruity and savory notes.  Similarly, the flavors show a highly complex, layered character and a finish that is impressively symmetrical and balanced.  Already gorgeous, and destined to get even better during the coming decade.  96

Luciano Sandrone “Le Vigne”:  Sandrone is widely regarded as one of the most skillful vintners in Barolo, and the 2010 vintage has been hailed as possibly the most complete in a decade, but this wine remains jaw-droppingly impressive even when allowing for all of that.  Highly expressive in aromatic terms, it shows scents of ripe fruit and exotic spices as well as subtle savory accents that lead seamlessly into comparable flavors.  Very deep and persistent in flavor without any extraneous weight or ripeness, this is a classic in the making, with all of its many virtues derived predominantly from perfectly grown and ripened fruit--rather than cellar tricks.  The restrained wood and fine-grained tannins will need several years to resolve before this wine hits its apogee, but it already shows its excellence quite manifestly, so there’s nothing dicey about purchasing this even at its usual high price.  96

Stroppiana Oreste “Bussia”:  I’ve had my eye on this producer for several years, as the quality of the wines has been impressive and consistently improving.  This terrific wine provides final confirmation of potential at this house for actual greatness, as it shows a big, billowing, super-sexy bouquet and set of flavors that show even more savory than fruity character.  Nevertheless, the balance and strength of the fruit is what enables this wine to seem coherent and natural in the presence of all of those savory dramatics.  96

Alessandria Fratelli “Monvigliero”:  This smashingly good wine from the commune of Verduno is all about gorgeous Nebbiolo fruit from a great vintage, as opposed to many excellent 2010s that speak more of the cellar than the vineyard behind them.  Although the fruit shows ample ripeness, there’s a brightness and purity to the aromas as well as the flavors that indicates a virtually perfect picking strategy.  Not heavy at all, the wine nevertheless shows a wonderful rounded texture and terrific immediate appeal, with sufficient acidity and tannin to provide focus and structure, but not so much as to obscure the glorious fruit.  Wines of this type can age very well in some cases, but they rarely get the chance when showing such succulence and appeal in their youth.  95

Rocche Dei Manzoni “Big ‘d Big”:  Sourced from the Mosconi area in the commune of Monforte D’Alba, this terrific wine shows strikingly dark color and very demonstrative character, with lots of sexy oak but very powerful fruit that manages to keep the wood at bay.  Ripe in profile and quite dense and deeply flavored, with an interesting note of cola and lots of savory spiciness, this is quite a thrill ride that is already intensely appealing but destined for improvement for up to a decade.  95

Paolo Scavino “Bric del Fiasc”:  This producer has gone from strength to strength in recent years, and the 2010s may be the best set of wines ever from Scavino.  This shows terrific fruit that is tender and sweet but not at the cost of any over-ripeness, leading to a finish that is packed with spiciness and structure.  A wine that has it all--in abundance--but with nothing in excess, this is a great example of a 2010 Barolo that is already sensationally appealing but is also built for many years of additional development.  95

Pecchenino “Le Coste”:  Pecchenino’s bottling from Le Coste wasn’t quite as showy as the San Giuseppe in May of 2014, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it is a superb wine that may end up surpassing its stablemate at some point in the future.  It shows wonderful savory accents on a core or dark-toned fruit, with well-measured wood that lends spice notes and a bit of added structure without drying the wine’s finish.  This has a long life ahead of it, but should be ready to enjoy after another three or four years.  95

Poderi Colla “Bussia Dardi le Rose”:  This is a subtle, understated but nevertheless clearly beautiful wine.  It is not conspicuously light or lacking in any respect, so I don’t want to be mistaken for seeming to damn it with faint praise.  The point, rather, is that the wine isn’t conspicuous in any particular characteristic, as it is an object lesson in purity of fruit, structural proportionality, balance, and integration of aromatic and flavor components.  Already delicious, this is extremely likely to stay impeccably balanced as it develops over the next two decades.  95

Bava “Scarrone”:  I blind-tasted newly-released, Nebbiolo-based wines in Piedmont in May, and for me the primary point of the effort is to find producers that are essentially unknown to me that are on the rise and making excellent wines.  There’s no doubting the excellence of this effort, which shows more smoky, toasty oak than I usually prefer, but it doesn’t obscure the alluring ripe fruit or the complex savory nuances that make this an obvious success.  Sharply detailed and immediately engaging.  94

Fontana Livia “Villero”:  This wine was so intensely expressive in aromatic terms that I wondered whether the scents had been juked up with wood, and needed to return to it for a second look after working through another set of wines.  Renewed scrutiny showed a marvelous wine that draws almost all of its overwhelming appeal from beautifully ripened fruit rather than cellar tricks.  The fruit is almost succulent in its sweetness, yet there’s an equally prominent savory streak that recalls cured meat and sautéed porcini mushrooms.  The tannins are quite gentle and rounded in effect, allowing the wonderful fruit to persist deep into the long, lovely finish.  94

Josetta Saffrio:  This is just a straight village Barolo DOCG rather than a wine designated as being sourced from a particular cru, but it would be a bad mistake to dismiss it on that ground.  It shows impressively dark color, and backs up its appearance with big aromas and flavors.  My raw note from the blind tasting in which I encountered it reads, “Just a total kick-ass wine,” with perfectly ripened fruit that is only enhanced by a tastefully restrained dose of oak.  94

Monchiero Fratelli “Rocche di Castiglione”:  I don’t know anything about this producer other than that this wine is a terrific rendering of Nebbiolo from the wonderful 2010 vintage.  The best thing about the top 2010s is that they show completely convincing inner balance, which is to say that the fruit shows sweet ripeness but also acidic freshness and tannic grip in doses that are so well proportioned that the wines seem pure and integrated and natural even at this early stage of development.  This wine fits that description very closely, and I admire the winemaker’s decision to forego any overlay of oak that might have obscured the immediate appeal of its sweet, spicy core character.  94

Negretti “Bricco Ambrogio”:  This is a modern-style Barolo that pushes its luck with prominent wood notes on the nose as well as the palate, yet the wine is sufficiently concentrated and potent to keep the oak in check and achieve excellence.  Dark, dense pigmentation shows the seriousness of the raw materials, and tasting confirms that this wine holds massive latent power that will enable the fruit to resolve and integrate the tannins and wood.  Definitely a wine for ageing, this intense wine will prove highly rewarding for those who can wait until the end of this decade before cracking into it.  94

Prunotto “Bussia”:  This wine stood out among the releases from this famous vineyard in Monforte D’Alba, though not in the way that generally draws gaudy scores.  Conspicuously pale in color, it doesn’t look like an exceptional wine…until one recalls that Nebbiolo--like Pinot Noir--doesn’t reliably show its level of flavor impact accurately from its appearance.  The aromas are extremely expressive and interesting, showing lovely floral, savory and spice notes up top, with ripe fruit scents underneath.  On the palate, the sweet fruit notes effectively counterbalance the wine’s acidity and tannin, making for a proportional and delicate finish.  Excellent, and tasteful, too.  94

Rocche Dei Manzoni “Perno Vigna Cappella di Santo Stefano”:  This producer has turned out some extraordinary wines from this site over the years, and the 2010 will likely turn out to be the equal of the best of them.  Not overly weighty or assertive, it is nevertheless completely charming thanks to lovely scents of cola, wood spice and incense.  The fruit is delectably sweet, with balsamic undertones and a savory hint of cured meat.  Fine-grained tannins lend a soft character to the finish, which is structured for years of improvement…though the tender sweetness of the fruit will lead many to crack into this before it gets much older.  94

Marziano Abbona “Terlo Ravera”:  This excellent producer turned in such a strong performance in 2010 for Barolo that this isn’t even the top wine…which is really saying something.  Although you’d be well advised to watch for the 2010 “Pressenda” bottling, which is nothing short of sensational, this is a wine to buy.  It shows very expressive and alluring aromatics, with notes of fruit, spices, cured meat and wild mushrooms all working in concert to produce a proportional bouquet.  With serious flavor impact and a very persistent finish, this will likely improve for at least five years and perhaps many more.  93

Franco Conterno “Panerole”:  This is a quite traditional-seeming Barolo that offers terrific immediate appeal while standing as a rather dicey prospect for long-term ageing.  Deeply pigmented and explosively aromatic, it starts the thrill ride with a big waft of volatile acidity that lends an earthy, gamy character to the bouquet.  Yet the flavors are surprisingly clean and fresh despite the rather animalistic start, with fruit that shows strong flavor impact and a long, exciting finish with savory and fruity notes tailing off symmetrically.  Many American and English tasters will tell you that you must age Barolo for at least a decade before drinking it, but winemakers in the region advise much earlier consumption for most wines, so don’t be afraid to taste this sooner rather than later, as there’s no telling how prominent the gamy aspect may become over time.  93

Raineri Gianmatteo:  This isn’t a cru-designated wine, but rather a straight Barolo DOCG release from a producer based in Monforte D’Alba.  Nevertheless, it certainly performed on a par with other excellent cru wines, and indeed surpassed many of them in quality when tasted blind in Alba in May of 2014.  Dark and deeply pigmented, with a big, expressive bouquet that isn’t dominated by any particular element, it gets off to a great start before one has even tasted it.  Tasting doesn’t disappoint, as the fruit is ripe and expressive despite the fact that there’s plenty of supporting oak to help structure the flavors.  An excellent example of the modern style of Barolo that is likely to be reasonably affordable to boot, this will need some time to fully integrate its oak, but the craftsmanship of the wine is obviously outstanding, and there’s no gamble involved in buying this for the cellar.  93

Paolo Scavino “Monvigliero”:  This top Barolo producer clearly made the best of the excellent cards that were dealt by the 2010 growing season.  This is deep and rich and immediately appealing in both aroma and flavor, with notable wood that never competes with the concentrated, exceptionally flavorful fruit.  Aside from the slightest suggestion of heat in the finish, which isn’t really distracting, this is an absolutely exemplary wine from the vintage.  93