Living just an hour drive from Piedmont, I spend a lot of time in the region, and travel there for days at a time at least nine or ten times a year. In the fall of 2019, I spent several days in Barolo dedicated to informally previewing a number of the already bottled 2016s that will be released later this year.
To say I was extremely impressed by the quality of the wines would be an understatement: these are some of the most magnificent young Barolos I’ve ever tried. But I was expecting nothing short of greatness based on the fantastic Barbaresco 2016s I reviewed earlier in 2019. Although it isn’t always the case that vintages will have the same results in Barolo and Barbaresco (as 2014 demonstrated), 2016 presented near perfect conditions for Nebbiolo in both denominations. It’s hands-down the greatest vintage I’ve ever tried so far in Barbaresco as my scores reflect: Out of 138 wines reviewed, I gave 99 of them 90 points and above, 38 of which received 95 points and higher:
A classic, Old School vintage, 2016 had a cool, wet spring that delayed the vegetative cycle but thanks to the development stage the plants had already achieved, vines were spared damage by fungal diseases. The delay in the growing cycle continued throughout the summer as did cooler temperatures. 2016 had ample water reserves and no extreme heat spikes, a rarity in the area which has definitely been feeling the effects of climate change over the last two decades with overall hotter, drier summers that can negatively impact sensitive Nebbiolo. The summer extended well into September and Nebbiolo enjoyed ideal conditions that month and the first half of October that led to healthy grapes.
2016 was one of the longest and latest harvests in recent years.
“We started harvesting Nebbiolo on October 13,” Marta Rinaldi told me during my visit. Bottled at the end of August, by late September her Barolos were already showing beautifully. “2016 was a year for Nebbiolo,” confirmed Maria Teresa Mascarello, whose ‘16 is drop-dead gorgeous. “2016 is a happy combination of 2006 and 2008: it boasts the structure of ‘06 and the elegance of ‘08,” stated Enzo Brezza, whose perfumed 2016s are radiant, with captivating tension.
The luminous 2016 Barolos are fresh, fragrant and loaded with finesse. They feature bright red berry fruit beautifully balanced by vibrant acidity and refined tannins. While site expression is often muffled in hot vintages, the different expressions of the various townships and vineyard areas come singing through on the 2016s.
The best 2016s are already dazzling, with remarkable depth and energy. They’ll be ready at the 10-15 year mark but they also possess incredibly age-worthy structures as well.