The Langhe, one of the most important territories in Italy and the world of wine, like everyone else, is facing climate change. A constant horizon of these years of viticulture, but that the territory of Barolo and Barbaresco, and not only, can face with a present of a certain economic solidity, and with great vintages in a bottle, despite difficult harvests. Synthesis of the sentiment that emerges from Nebbiolo Prima (Albeisa event), which leaves room for Grandi Langhe, today and tomorrow in Alba, with the signature of the Consorzio di Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Dogliani (together with that of Roero), which will fly to New York on February 4-5, for the first-ever edition of “Barolo and Barbaresco World Opening”, with 200 producers, gathering the best of the world’s critics and media together with the great cuisine of Massimo Bottura, the music of the international phenomenon Il Volo and the conduction of the famous Alessandro Cattelan. Meanwhile, the numbers of the economy are clear: Piedmont’s wine exports, of which the Langhe are the primary pillar, exceeded one billion euros in 2018, and in the first nine months of 2019 growth was 5.2, according to ISTAT. An economic solidity that bodes well for the future, also thanks to the wines that are entering the market in these hours, the new vintages and reserves of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero, the result of happy harvests, such as 2016, and others not so easy, such as 2014 and 2017. Irregular trends that challenge the territory of the Langhe, which is economically healthy, working on about 10,000 hectares for just over 62 million bottles covering 10 different denominations of origin. For Barolo, in 2015, from its 2,091 hectares, the production of 14 million bottles was exceeded for the first time, by desisting the Consortium to issue the annual call for the extension of 20 hectares of the denomination (which has been growing since 2010). “A choice dictated only by caution,” said Emanuele Coraglia, the technical representative of the Consorzio di Tutela Barolo, Barbaresco, Alba, Langhe and Dogliani, “waiting to see how the wine industry reacts to this significant increase in the number of bottles introduced. The production of Barbaresco, on the other hand, is more stable, at around 4.5 million bottles in 2015 of 750 hectares, with regular annual growth of 7 hectares.
Both Barbaresco and Barolo are denominations characterized by family farms: in Barolo, over 60% (172 out of 351) produce less than 30,000 bottles per year (2,300,000 in total, about 18% of total production) counting on an average of 5 hectares each. A guarantee of a short supply chain even more marked in Barbaresco, where 87% produce less than 30,000 bottles, covering more than 32% of the 3,884,000 bottles produced. The additional geographical mentions, introduced for Barolo in 2010 and for Barbaresco in 2007 (created not so much to define qualitative rankings, but to give an order and historical and territorial value), are slowly becoming part of the company’s strategies. In 2014, for example, harvest declarations in both denominations reached 50%, while 25% were bottled: a guarantee that the winemakers themselves are also willing to give it up if they are not fully convinced of the result at the end of the wine’s maturation.
The Roero is a small denomination born in 2014 that today contributes with its 2,475 hectares to the 10,000 previously named, of which 249 dedicated to Nebbiolo with a production of over 482,000 bottles in 2017. “From the foundation to today the hectares registered in the register has increased by 20% – explained Francesco Monchiero, president of the Consorzio Tutela Roero – a positive sign dictated both by the increase in companies and by the contribution of young people”. Unlike Barbaresco and Barolo, here the additional geographical mentions were outlined by the producers following the geographical conformation and the exposures of the plants. A pedo-climatic practicality that also defines the two types of Nebbiolo that produces this denomination: more structured from clay soils (which therefore require longer ripening to become Roero Riserva) and more elegant and ready from sandy soils, excellent for Roero Annata, certainly with the necessary company exceptions and, even more, annual.
Comparing with so many different versions of Nebbiolo – the prince grape of Piedmont that has managed to fascinate the world – in such different vintages, is a stimulating exercise, which is able to give a good measure not only of the vine’s ability to adapt and react to the pedo-climatic conditions to which it is subjected, but also of the pulse and maturity of management that the winemakers (and the territory they represent) succeed in implementing. The vine, after all, is a climbing tree, and like all trees it must spread in nature by chance, without knowing what kind of situation and soil it will grow in. This makes it very adaptable to the resources it finds. And if it is true for the vine, it is even more true for the native vines, of which Italy is rich and of which Nebbiolo is a part.
The vines planted in a vineyard are, however, subject to forcing and hormonal stress conditions, due to the limited space, the organization of the planting and the agronomic practices that are put in place, which is why, according to Professor Monticelli, professor of agronomy at the Scuola Enologica Umberto I in Alba, “the objective of the wine producer must not be to prepare the vine for production, but to implement interventions that provide for the widespread prosperity of the plants within the vineyard. Flourishing – from the foliage to the roots – which then allows an optimal production of grapes and therefore of wine, but which also allows the plants to grow more balanced and therefore more resistant to the increasingly frequent extreme weather events and its consequences in terms of pathogenic pressure.
These different vintages have not inconsiderable consequences on the plants, on the soil on which they grow and on the grapes that are harvested and the wine that is obtained from them. The climate crisis, moreover, is also affecting the Langhe, with its sudden events (water bombs and hailstorms), stagnant periods (drought, heat, humidity) and general irregular and “out-of-season” weather conditions, which affect the physiological cycles of the vine and consequently also the typical aromas of Langhe grapes, including Nebbiolo. Changes that wine producers (but not only) struggle to manage, especially in the long term: because they require, first of all, a capacity for planning and far-sighted agronomic investments that are difficult to implement in the absence of solid scientific data and because, on the other hand, “there is a lack of professionals capable of creating clear and precise communication bridges between science and producers, both producers and consumers”, as Mauro Buonocore of the Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change explained, who brought together experts in physics, calculation, economics, agronomy, and communication to build climate prediction models and find concrete answers to the socio-economic problems that populations will have to face with the expected increase in temperatures.
“There are concrete solutions that science is already able to give today, together with forecasts,” Buonocore said in inviting journalists and producers to put scientific research back in communication with those who daily deal with the climate crisis. For example, climate studies divided into sectors each 5 km wide, carried out in Prato, which provides solid information in the field of forecasting to implement positive long-term reactions to weather events. Projects that would certainly have a useful use in the case of frosts, such as those that have cut down not only production, but entire plants in the vineyards of the Langhe in April 2017, or in the case of the intense rainfall recorded in 2014, or even in the long weeks of increasingly frequent drought.
Let’s see, then, in concrete terms these 4 vintages so different that have accompanied the wines of Roero, Barolo, and Barbaresco. A 2017 (which affects the preview of Roero and Barbaresco) from the mild winter and a hot spring, both with little rainfall, which awakened the vines in advance, which were in difficulty both at the bottom of the valley and at the top of the hills (due to the wind) from a freeze in late April. The high temperatures of the summer were only partially mitigated by the cool nights, forcing the vines to stop the metabolic processes. Harvest, therefore, early (two weeks – among the earliest), but with normal alcohol and pH levels, low total acidity values and lower yield. The result was wines that tended to be perfumed, but more unbalaced on the sip, with a bitterish tendency at the end of the sip for Roero and some gustatory imbalance for Barbaresco (with Treiso which, however, amazes for elegance).
Winter 2016 (about Barolo Annata and Roero Riserva) brought good but late water reserves (February and March) delaying the awakening of plants and phenological development, which continued until the end of summer due to a cool spring and rainy and a summer without significant heat peaks that lasted for a long time, allowing the harvesting of an optimally ripened Nebbiolo from mid-October, which has benefited from good autumn temperature ranges. Intense wines were born, with still strong tannins, clear varietal aromas and excellent aging potential (both for the Roero Riserva, but undoubtedly for the Barolo Annata, significantly for the areas of Monteforte d’Alba and Verduno).
We remember a hot 2015 (for the Barbaresco Riserva), not permanently but for heat peaks. The abundant winter snowfall and the mild spring have certainly helped the plants to cope with it, regulating their vegetative cycle well and not sending them into water stress. A good agronomic management to reduce the solar radiation of the bunches was necessary. A slight early harvest for the Nebbiolo, which presented unusual concentrations of tannins, good total acidity (6.5 grams/litre) and significant alcohol content (14-14.5% vol.), characteristics managed quite well by the producers of Barbaresco Riserva. Finally, the Barolo Riserva presented itself for 2014, complex in terms of humidity, low temperatures and pathogenic pressure, which led to a decrease in grape production and an average good, but not surprising, oenological result. Nebbiolo in particular enjoyed a September and October much better than the previous months, benefiting in extremis from the ripening point of view. Very few, in any case, the labels presented.
Here are the best samples of the editorial staff.
Morra Diego, Barolo Monvigliero 2016
wine with an elegant nose of rose, strawberry and violet, equally gentle and balanced in the mouth, slightly citrusy
Pelassa, Barolo San Lorenzo di Verduno 2016
reminiscent of the fragrant dunes of helichrysum, rosemary flowers and musk, but there is no shortage of violet and rose; the complex sip is sweet, with long freshness and good flavor, juicy at last
Fratelli Barale, Barolo Bussia 2016
elegant, warm and welcoming sip, scented with red flowers and strawberry, with a well-present tannin that finally gives space to flavor and freshness
Borgogno, Barolo Liste 2016
a sweet and peppery nose, scented with red orange and tarragon that also return to the mouth compensating for a very tight and central sip
La Fusina, Barolo Perno 2016
chinotto, herbs, musk, red orange and gooseberry: complex nose for a sip with firm but not intrusive tannins, which starts sweet and ends fresh
Bruna Grimaldi, Barolo Bricco Ambrogio 2016
clear rose, then raspberries and the delicate freshness of rosemary flowers; balanced sip, fresh and peppery, which ends up consistent with the nose
Brovia, Barolo Brea Vigna Cà Mia 2016
crunchy cherry, raspberries and violet which is enriched with rose in the mouth; warm and central, the sip pleasantly clings to the mouth, ending up perfumed
Batasiolo, Barolo Briccolina 2016
cherry and spices, a few notes of fresh aromas, for a wine that evolves wide, savory on entry and fruity throughout the sip
Mauro Sebaste, Barolo Cerretta 2016
it has the depth of the wood and its freshness, with sweet flavors of cherry on the nose, this fruity wine in the mouth, which then evolves savory and warm
Dosio, Barolo 2016
a crunchy cherry nose but no less hot, and a savory and peppery sip, which finally closes fresh promising elegance over time
Gagliasso Mario, Barolo Torriglione 2016
a lively and pleasant nose of rose and strawberry, an equally fresh, light and fragrant sip, which takes place centrally with returns of rose
Alessandria Fratelli, Barolo San Lorenzo di Verduno 2016
there is the sweetness of cherry and vanilla, you know in the nose that in the mouth, where the tannin balances it well, then giving way to the freshness and the violet finish
Vajra, Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2016
deep wine, sweet peach and cherry, fresh from gooseberry, unfolds decisively but without ever being unpleasant
Poderi Luigi Einaudi, Barolo Cannubi 2016
live nose of crunchy fruit and fresh flowers with a citrus touch, for a fresh and peppery sip, very adherent that yields relentlessly towards a memory of rose
Boroli, Barolo Brunella 2016
The rose and the roots are also present on the sip, first advancing sweet, then balsamic, ending warm and soft
Bava, Barolo Scarrone 2016
this nose is spicy and fruity: blood orange, dog rose, also mentholated in the mouth, where hardness initially prevails, then softening and giving mineral returns
Broccardo, Barolo Bricco San Pietro 2016
hints more balsamic than sweet: chinotto, bay leaf, mint and then violet, for a sip that wanted sweet, fresh, then adherent to close floral
Masseria, Barbaresco Masseria 2017
peach dessert, pomegranate and slightly mentholated, closes with a slight almond note, well integrated in the sip
Adriano Marco and Vittorio, Barbaresco Sanadaive 2017
violet and raspberry, notes of undergrowth, a sip that invades the fresh and finally sweet mouth
Manera, Barbaresco 2017
a wide nose, of berries, blood orange and tamarind, elegant in the mouth returns with notes of violet and a good gustatory complexity
Luigi Voghera, Barbaresco Cottà 2017
a sip of smiling strawberry, with a sweet entrance and a savory, slightly bitter development; a wine that seems light but then reveals itself decidedly
Prinsi, Barbaresco Gaia-Principe 2017
crunchy of red flowers and peach notes, in the mouth it is gentle, almost impalpable and present
Paitin, Barbaresco Serraboella Sorì Paitin 2017
nose of fruity and tertiary notes, of tobacco, the sip starts sweet, then decided, with a central and adherent tannin which then gives in to the cherry
Pelissero, Barbaresco Nubiola 2017
wine with a deep and fruity nose and a tight sip, which gives way to the fragrant juicy cherry
Il Bricco, Barbaresco Il Bricco del Bricco 2017
clean Damask rose nose, accompanied by gentle balsamic notes, consistent sip with firm but not intrusive tannin
Pertinace, Barbaresco Marcarini 2017
strawberries and blood orange on rosemary and lemon balm flowers, which return to the juicy sip to which is added the rose note; spicy and central
Verduno Castle, Barbaresco Rabajà Riserva 2015
deep and warm nose, ripe cherry, pomegranate and tobacco notes, slightly hematic even on the sip, soft and savory with a nice smooth tannin
Marchesi di Barolo, Barbaresco Rio Sordo Cascina Bruciata Riserva 2015
light nose of rose and blood orange, which are presented again on the sip with the fresh sweetness of wild strawberry and a defined tannin
Massimo Rivetti, Barbaresco Serraboella 2015
warm and peppery nose, seasoned with dried rose and red orange, it is explained fragrant in the mouth and slightly vegetal in the center of the sip
Bric Castelvej, Roero Bric Volta 2017
a gentle and delicate wine, sweet with the sip of wild strawberries, well accompanied by freshness and citrus notes
Marsaglia, Roero Brich of America 2017
dried rose and bloodlike notes, strawberry dessert, for a savory, central and fresh sip of gooseberry in the finish
Enrico Serafino, Roero Oesio 2017
raspberry and menthol notes for a pleasant and graceful sip, savory and peppery, still a little vegetable
Cascina Ca Rossa, Roero Mompissano Riserva 2016
elegant wine: wild strawberry and crunchy cherry, which are reproduced in the well balanced sip between hardness and softness
Pelassa, Roero Antaniolo Riserva 2016
very fruity of cherry and raspberry, it has a lively, fresh and pleasant sip that closes rose
Angelo Negro, Roero Sudisfà Riserva 2016
linear and comforting wine, mentholated and scented with rose, which develops in the central mouth and finally softens
Cascina Chicco, Roero Valmaggiore Riserva 2016
complex and warm wine on the nose, floral in the mouth: it starts sweet, continues fresh and has a long tannic adherence
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