2016 Vintage Barolo Wines Of Italy: Overview Of A Tremendous Vintage Plus Highlights Of What’s Available Now
by Ken Gargett
Every so often, there is a vintage that all wine lovers want in their cellar. Bordeaux 2010, 2009, and 2005; Burgundy 2010, 2002, and 1999; Champagne 2008 and 2012; Vintage Port 2011 and 2016; and so on. It’s worth noting that any listing of these years will fire up endless debates, but they are generally considered great examples of the best their regions can offer.
One vintage about which there seems to be no argument is 2016 Barolo of Italy. Very early days, of course, and many of the top wines are yet to see the light of day, but this is a year that has wine lovers and collectors prepared to crawl over broken glass for their allocations.
What is Barolo?
Barolo is the great wine of Italy and one of the truly great reds made anywhere on the planet. Books, many of them, have been written about these wines, so we need do little more than a very brief outline here.
The wines come from the Piedmont region in northern Italy. The grape that makes these extraordinary wines is Nebbiolo. It is grown elsewhere on the planet, but nowhere does it scale the heights as it does in this region. There are several communes – Serralunga, Castiglione, Monforte d’Alba, La Morra, and others – each offering their own unique characters. We are seeing more and more emphasis on these individual communes and vineyards rather than the typical across-the-region blends.
In days gone past, the wines were fiercely tannic and usually not approachable for many years. They are famously described as having the aroma/flavors of “tar and roses.” Good bottles will age for many, many years.
These days, the wines tend to be drinkable at an earlier stage, but they will age just as well (personally, I think the Barolos we are tasting in recent years are better than ever). Nebbiolo, in common with most grapes, prefers a lengthy growing season. This increases the complexity of the wines and benefits the balance.
Basically (and legally), the wines need three years of aging after the vintage (at least 18 months of this in oak) before release. Riserva wines need five years – hence why we have not yet seen what promises to be the best of the vintage as yet.
The oak was always large old casks, usually Slavonian, but there was a modernist move opting for the newer, smaller French oak seen in regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. This has been controversial and created considerable angst throughout the region. It was the modernists and traditionalists at ten paces.
Barolo’s top vintages
If we look at top vintages, 1990 was a classic. Then there was a run of superb years of varying character from 1995 to 2001 (usually, only Margaret River can boast such a long run of successively great years).
There was another very fine run of top years from 2004 to 2011; 2013, 2014, and 2015 all have their devotees; but 2016 is the shining star for many.
As Luca Currado, winemaker from one of the region’s top producers, Vietti, has said, “2016 was the vintage we were all waiting for.” Franco Massolino of the famous eponymous estate in Serralunga d’Alba has been quoted saying, “It was the best we could have hoped for.”
The conditions have been described as warmer and drier than usually experienced, but not excessively so. There was sufficient rain during the summer to keep the temperatures down with the evenings becoming colder in the last month. Basically, a mild winter followed by a cool spring and average rainfall.
Paola Rinaldi of the Rinaldi winery has noted that 2016 avoided the heat of the vintages either side, more typical for the region.
Potential buyers should note that 2016 is a vintage where quality, rather than quantity, is key. The wines are seen as elegant yet concentrated, complex, and offering soft tannins. There is both power and balance. The famous floral notes appear in abundance.
Everyone agrees that these are wines that will more than stand the test of time. If you want to put down wines for your unborn children’s twenty-first birthday parties, you could do much worse. Many of these will easily age and improve over the next couple of decades.
Many winemakers compare it to 2010, though even better. Some mention 2001. It doesn’t offer the power of 2006 or 2013 but has more finesse and elegance instead.
The 2016 wines will certainly be more approachable when young than the vintages of the past, but will age for many years; 2016 Barolo is a vintage set to appeal to novice wine lovers and old hands equally. If Barolo has not been your thing, this is the vintage that will surely convince you of its glory.
Some tasting notes
It would be trite, although possibly true, to say that you can’t go wrong in 2016, but naturally some producers and wines are better than others. Remember that there are many stunning Barolo producers, some of which appear here (but many who do not).
Fratelli Barolo 2016
Pale crimson. Kicks off with an earthy, muscular nose. Cherries, florals, spices. There is a sweet core of fruit, but plenty of burly tannins. The wine does have a little hint of mongrel about it, not always a bad thing. There are some days, and some cuisines, that just call for some rough edges. It has serious grip. A wine that will sail through ten years in the cellar. Serve it with a slab of dinosaur or a big powerful cheese. 90.
Fratelli Barolo Bussia 2016
An earthy crimson note here. Really lovely fragrances. This is from the more refined end of the spectrum. Florals, cassis. This is much silkier. All class. Coffee bean notes. There is a hint of sappy briary notes, but it is all finely balanced. A much longer palate than the standard Barolo. Maintains its intensity throughout and there is even a hint of the famed Burgundian peacock’s tail one occasionally encounters in the top wines from that region on the finish. This is really good. 96.
Fratelli Barolo Castellero 2016
Deep red here. Wonderful fragrances. Tobacco leaf, warm earth, truffles. Sour cherries. This is a hint more rustic than the very refined Bussia. Serious acidity and plenty of length. Has both the fruit and the tannins to match the acidity. Plenty of grip but those tannins are very fine. Has a good ten years plus ahead of it. This is a very good wine and has a lovely cigar box finish. 93.
For more information, please visit www.baralefratelli.it.
This is more floral and pretty than most from the vintage. The color is a mahogany red. Notes of mushrooms and roses. Quite chocolatey near the end of the palate. Plenty of grip. Some red apple notes, florals and chocolate. Attractive wine but does not have the endless length of the very best. 90.
For more information, please visit www.brezza.it.
Tenuta Montanello Barolo Castiglione Falletto 2016
Very young but the complexity is immediately obvious. Red fruits, sour cherry notes and a lovely chocolatey finish. This one stands back, confident in its sheer class. Silky tannins but serious grip. Excellent balance. This is a cracker. 96.
For more information, please visit www.tenutamontanello.com.
Sordo Barolo Perno 2016
Deep, brick red. Spices, chocolate, florals, licorice, and earthy notes. Good concentration here. Seamless, but there are abundant and ever so slightly rough tannins. Good acidity and excellent length. A very good future. This should age superbly for many years. 91.
Sordo Barolo Ravera 2016
Deep, earthy red. Opens with an intriguing hint of baked bread. Is there some oak evident here? A little toasty. Quickly moves into notes of black fruits, chocolate, and florals. The palate shows more refinement than one might initially expect. There are significant tannins here, but they are delightfully silky. Good balance, excellent length. 92.
Sordo Barolo Monvigliero 2016
Red/purple color here. This is beautifully fragrant. Strawberries, blackcurrants, florals, coffee bean notes, cocoa powder. More focused than the previous wines from Sordo. Has grip but is even finer. A wine that lingers beautifully. A wine with balance, length, concentration, and flavor. What more do you want? A superb Barolo. 95.
For more information, please visit www.sordogiovanni.it/en/wines/barolo.
Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot-Mentin 2016
I’ll confess, this is a favorite producer for me and one that was always going to be a star in 2016. Impossible to imagine otherwise. Dark red. Some chocolate here and there appears to be a hint of lingering early oak notes. Coffee beans, florals, dark cherries, vanilla. This is complex, has really good length, silky tannins, and exhibits a glorious elegance. Finely balanced. 95.
Domenico Clerico Barolo Pajana 2016
The complexity of this wine is evident from the first moment. Flavors move through mushrooms to smoked meats. This wine gives the impression that one has just arrived at a really good barbecue. Underlying florals. Good acidity. Power with elegance. Really impressive length. A seamless wine that persists and persists. The tannins are silk personified. Really like this. 96.
For more information, please visit domenicoclerico.com.
Trediberri Barolo 2016
A lighter red here. Dry herbs. It might sound odd but the aromas are reminiscent of a fresh mountain meadow. Behind that, handfuls of warm earth. This is a little more rustic than some but no less appealing for that. Quite fine acidity and tannins. Nice length. This is a 2016 that will appeal, and drink, earlier than many. 91.
Trediberri Barolo Barolo dell’Annunziata 2016
The bottom line here is that this is a superstar. Dark red. Beautifully aromatic, this is an ethereal, elegant Barolo. Great balance and length. Nothing out of place. Seamless. Finesse. The tannins are microfine, impressive even for this vintage. Red fruits and florals. Blew me away. 97.
For more information, please visit www.trediberri.com.
Poderi Luigi Einaudi Barolo 2016
This is a plush style, not as focused as some and perhaps a little broad. Medium length. Plenty of tannins. Possibly not quite as balanced as we would wish. A mix of both red and black fruits and chocolate notes. For me, this one is for the next three to five years. 89.
Poderi Luigi Einaudi Barolo Terlo Vigna Costa Grimaldi 2016
In comparison with the standard Barolo from Einaudi, this is a step up. More florals, more refined, more concentration. Spices, blackberries, mulberries, roses, dry herbs. Dark color. This wine has good focus. Nicely balanced. There is plenty of grip but it is much finer and this undoubtedly has a better finish. A lovely wine but if one wanted to be picky, it perhaps lacks a smidge of intensity on the finish. 92.
Poderi Luigi Einaudi Bussia 2016
This exhibited a slightly funky note in the most positive sense. Warm earth, truffles, a lovely fungal note. Muscular it is, yet those tannins are ever so fine. Some pleasing chocolatey notes on the palate. A little more concentration on the finish here, but one feels that it is still building, and this is definitely a wine that will be better in five years. And go for much longer than that. Lovely flavors, a powerful style. 93.
Poderi Luigi Einaudi Cannubi 2016
For me, hands down the pick of the Einaudi Barolos here. Youthful, tight, complex. A deep, dark color. Truffles, florals, dry herbs, roast meats, black fruits. Fine acidity. This has 10 to 20 years ahead of it, which it will do standing on its head. Superb quality here. Very fine tannins, very good length, and the intensity is maintained right through. 96.
For more information, please visit www.poderieinaudi.com.
Gioso Barbaresco 2016
For fun, I have thrown in a Barbaresco – also stellar in 2016. Spices, florals, raspberries, roses, warm earth. This is open and supple. Fine tannins, firm acidity. A seamless style with excellent length. 92.
For more information, please visit www.gioso.wine.