Friday, 13 February 2015

Barolo 2011 - Don't underestimate it!

Posted by Giles Burke-Gaffney, Buying Director
Vintages come in all shapes and sizes: round or racy, sweet or savoury, rich or delicate. However when it comes to ultimate drinking pleasure, and indeed age-worthiness, it is balance that counts. Although it was far from an extreme year, being punctuated by cooler weather either side of August, 2011 was hotter and less uniform than the routinely brilliant 2010. Nonetheless the quality of the best 2011s is not that far behind in our view, specifically amongst the cooler high altitude or southeast-facing vineyard sites. The wines exhibit powerful yet open, sweet, headily-perfumed fruit, which makes them polar opposite to their impressive but more serious, predecessors. We think there are some impeccably balanced wines that are thrilling to enjoy now whilst offering good ageing potential. Following a great vintage is never easy, but don’t underestimate 2011, it is a very good vintage that will surprise many.

Vintage in depth:

Heavy rainfall characterised winter, right up until March. Higher temperatures in April brought the season forward by two weeks and, despite cooler weather returning in June and July, the growth cycle of the vine did not slow down. August was hot but thanks to the good water reserves, ripening continued uninterrupted, even if berries started to shrink in some cases. Rain in the first week of September further aided ripening and hot September days were followed by cool nights which preserved a sufficient level of freshness in the grapes and also helped build up incredibly aromatic components that characterise the resultant wines. Vintage started relatively early at the beginning of October. The crop was healthy and quantities were good. There are a handful of factors vital to the quality of the vintage: The crop was a good sized one and in some areas controlling this was important; vines grown in cooler areas, either at altitude or with southeast exposures, performed best; Late ripening varieties such as Nebbiolo coped best with the vintage conditions; a cooler September as well as the good underground water reserves ensured the growth cycle slowed down and returned to normal, this meant the “hang time” of the grapes was longer than compared to other “hot” vintages such as 2009.

So what of the wines? They are packed with rich, ripe, fruity flavours and intense floral perfumes. The tannins are powerful and evident yet your mouth is left sweet with fruit. The very best wines are those from the cooler sites or those with a cooler site component in the blend, and these wines are utterly compelling. They show a fine, balancing freshness to counteract the vintage’s heady fruit character. There are many excellent wines from La Morra the pinnacle of which are those from Brunate and Rocche dell’ Annunziata. Star performers from other communes were Cascina Francia, Fiasco and above all Rocche from Castiglione, whilst in Serralunga Brea from Brovia and San Rocco from Azelia were exemplary. A little lower down, but nonetheless brilliant, Cannubi showed its quality across the three producers that I tasted – Altare, Scavino and the Cannubi Boschis from Sandrone.

When tasked with comparing it to another vintage producers flitted between 2007 – but with more tannins and acidity (Roberto Conterno), 1998 (Davide Voerzio) and a blend of 2008 and 2004 (Vietti.) They are wines that have a sweetness and fragrance that make them very appealing already, although their structure and exquisite balance should ensure very good ageing ability.