Thursday, February 17, 2022

Great Vintage BAROLO 2016


The star grape in Italy’s northern Piedmont is nebbiolo, named for the misty fog that drifts over the hills at harvest time, when aromas of white truffles and fermenting wine fill the air. It’s the Italian equivalent to Burgundy’s pinot noir, as important to the region as cabernet is to Napa Valley.

Nebbiolo is a tricky grape, thin-skinned and difficult to vinify. To fully ripen, it requires a long growing season, which tames its famous tannins yet lets the wine age in deliciously complex ways. The haunting blend of licorice, cherry, and floral aromas along with its layers of complex flavors and elegant structure are key to the appeal of its most famous wine: Barolo, named after both a village and a part of the region.

In 2016, wine growers were anticipating a magnificent vintage before they picked a single grape. For starters, the weather was perfect throughout the growing season, says Jimmy Minutella of Renato Ratti, whose single-vineyard Barolo Rocche dell’Annuziata ($105) brims with a rose-petal bouquet and glides over the tongue like velvet.

No heat waves, frosts, or hailstorms interrupted the season. The months of July and August had low humidity and temperatures that were above average but no hotter than 95F. Occasional rains prevented heat stress. September brought cooler evening temperatures, extending the growing season.

But labeling 2016 a great vintage for Barolo is not only a reflection of the weather. Add some science: The local government’s agriculture department and faculty at the University of Turin check the quality of grapes by measuring components such as sugar levels and acidity in clusters plucked from 15 strategically chosen Barolo vineyards. “We start with data,” says Matteo Ascheri, president of the regional consortium of winemakers in Piedmont, which represents more than 500 producers.

To the analyses and their implications for the final product, the consortium added ratings from producers and critics at a Nebbiolo Prima preview event in Alba earlier this year, as well as from global sommeliers and critics like me, who tasted the wines in New York in February. Afterward, all were averaged together to come up with the final official score, which rang in at an almost-­perfect 99.3 out of 100 and was announced at the first Barolo Barbaresco World Opening gala dinner. There were 200 producers on hand.

“This is one of the best vintages I’ve ever made, with 35 harvests on my shoulder,” said Luca Currado, winemaker at Vietti s.r.l., whose stunning single-vineyard Barolo Rocche di Castiglione ($200) nicely illustrates the character of the year: perfect balance, along with expansive anise, mint, and spice aromas; dark plum and cherry flavors; plush, smooth texture; and the structure to age for 30 years longer.

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