Piedmont Rises to the Challenge

Vintners adapt to a warmer vintage in 2011 to produce outstanding Barolos and Barbarescos

Excerpted from the April 30, 2016, issue

The excitement continues unabated from Piedmont, fueled by Barolo, Barbaresco and a handful of other reds from this region in the Alpine foothills of northwestern Italy. The 2011 vintage, warmer than its predecessor, yielded rich, fleshy wines, the best of which offer ripe fruit and lively structure.

“The 2011 vintage is as ripe as it gets, but not overripe,” explains Aldo Vacca, director of Produttori del Barbaresco. The decisive event was a three-week heat wave in August that spiked temperatures. Yet growers have learned from earlier warm years, such as 2009, 2007, 2003 and 2000, how to manage the heat, retaining leaves to protect the grapes from excessive sun.

It is the generosity and smooth tannins of the year’s Nebbiolos that make 2011 an approachable vintage to enjoy while waiting for the sterner, more structured 2010s to shed their tannic cloaks.

Vying for wine of the vintage is Massolino’s Barolo Margheria (96 points on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale, $99), which is lacy and elegant for the Serralunga d’Alba commune, whose wines are characterized by structure and longevity. This bright red offers cherry and strawberry flavors accented by licorice, spice and tobacco.

Top-scoring Barolos from Serralunga were also made in 2011 by Azelia—the vibrant Margheria (95, $80)—and by Schiavenza, whose Prapò (95, $65) reveals the muscular, beefy side of Serralunga’s marl soils. Other fine 2011s include the opulent Michele Chiarlo Cannubi; the expressive Giuseppe Mascarello & Figlio Monprivato, with its characteristic finesse; the traditionally styled, harmonious Giuseppe Rinaldi Brunate; and the intense, resonant G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole.

“The 2011s will develop quickly,” says Giuseppe Mascarello, who joined his father, Mauro, in the business fully that vintage. He compares ’11 to 2007, two harvests where Mascarello didn’t bottle its Cà d’Morissio Riserva.

The Ravera cru of Novello also fielded some excellent Barolos in 2011, led by the focused and complex Elvio Cogno, along with versions from Marziano Abbona, G.D. Vajra and Vietti. Luca Currado, owner and winemaker at Vietti, made five outstanding Barolos from the 2011 vintage. “I consider 2011 a blend of 2009 and ’10,” Currado told me when we tasted his new vintages together in New York in February 2015. “It has the acidity of 2010, and the alcohol is less than 2009, about half a degree less. It reminds me of 2001—structured, with good acidity.”

New releases from Barbaresco are primarily from 2012, along with some late-release 2011s. The Cascina Roccalini Roccalini (94, $53) and Moccagatta Cole (94, $70) head the list of 2012s, and the Cascina Luisin Rabajà (94, $60), Falletto di Bruno Giacosa Asili Riserva (94, $400) and Cantina del Pino Albesani (94, $66) top the latest 2011s, though more riservas are still to come.

Other areas in Piedmont are producing excellent wines as well. Antoniolo’s Osso San Grato 2010 and Nervi’s Molsino 2008, both single-vineyard bottlings, show the potential of the Gattinara area, which also relies on Nebbiolo for its reds.

These are some of the highlights from the blind tastings I’ve conducted in our New York office since my previous report (“Pride of Piedmont,” April 30, 2015), representing a handful of the top communes and producers, yet there are many more outstanding wines to be discovered. Of the nearly 800 Piedmont reds and whites reviewed for this report, more than 350 received outstanding scores of 90 points or higher, including 221 Barolos, mostly from 2011. Based on my tastings, I give the 2011 vintage an overall rating of 94 points.

For fans of Barolo and Barbaresco seeking more affordable wines to enjoy right now, Nebbiolos from the Langhe should fit the bill. The Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Langhe No Name 2011 is a Barolo in all but name. Having been refused the DOCG approval in 2005, the wine is now made each year due to its initial success—and also as a protest of sorts. The Cavallotto Nebbiolo Langhe 2012, Pelissero Nebbiolo Langhe 2013 and Cantina del Pino Nebbiolo Langhe 2013 all show enticing strawberry and floral notes typical of the grape, yet they’re ready to drink now and over the next three to five years.

Despite the quality and appeal of the 2011 Barolos, demand is down slightly after the keen interest for the 2010s, particularly single-vineyard labels at the high end of the price scale, according to Mark Fornatale, Italian portfolio manager for Skurnik Wines. What is selling well, however, are more affordable blended Barolos. “2011 is a charming and forward vintage, and the wines found a lot of fans,” Fornatale adds.

These Barolos offer the best value from the appellation. The Oddero Barolo, Giovanni Rosso Barolo Serralunga d’Alba, Paolo Scavino Barolo, Schiavenza Barolo del Comune di Serralunga d’Alba and G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe are all reliable examples.

Looking at Piedmont as a whole, there are plenty of reds and whites—including Barbera, Dolcetto and Arneis—for different occasions and budgets. The top Nebbiolos of Barolo and Barbaresco deliver quality, but the wines need time in the cellar to show all their facets. The region’s more approachable reds and its lively whites offer more instant gratification.

Senior editor Bruce Sanderson is Wine Spectator’s lead taster on the wines of Piedmont.

For the complete Piedmont tasting report—including Dolcetto, Barbera and white varieties—read the full article, “Piedmont Rises to the Challenge,” in our online magazine archives.