2015 Barolo - A few thoughts

2015 is a very good vintage and will prove to be a very important vintage as well. Allow me to explain.

We have been living through an era of rapid climate change, and perhaps nowhere has been as affected as the Langhe. 2015 has been another hot vintage, though not as hot as some other notable exceptions to historic averages. Still it was HOT, over 40 degrees Celsius for a few days over the summer, and yet the wines, while full, a bit supple, and decidedly generous, are delicious, well balanced, and evocative of their respective terroir. What gives?

A few things.

First off while the weather was abnormally hot in late July and August, much of the rest of the growing season was far more typical, and above all, while the weather was hot there were sufficient water reserves in the soil to prevent hydric stress in all but the best drained soils due to plenty of rain early in the growing season. Most of the summer was hot enough to worry producers but three days of rain in mid August signaled the arrival of cooler weather that allowed for a complete and relaxed maturation of fruit on the vines.

Secondly, producers know what they are doing. The whole grape growing game has changed. Where there was once leaf thinning there is now true canopy management, creating airflow through the vines while retaining shade where it is needed. Green harvests have been generally moderated so that vines and the crop load are better balanced for their respective growing season.

And finally, and I truly believe this, the vines know better. Yes I literally mean that. It has taken some time but I believe that in the Langhe today vines have memory, the ability to adapt to the changing weather and the knowledge base to understand that weather. It sounds a bit far fetched even to me, but how else to explain the fine, and in some cases very fine quality of the wines in 2015? It would be presumptuous at best and particularly vain to assume that it is all the handiwork of man.

There is no doubt that my understanding of Barolo continues to evolve. It takes time to understand vineyards and the influence of the winemakers, particularly while each is continuously evolving. With each passing year I find producers whose product increasingly appeals to me and vineyards that give such a unique expression of terroir that I may have dismissed them in the past as being atypical without understanding the unique experience on offer.

Now onto the wines.
There are few surprises this year. Giacomo Conterno and Bartolo Mascarello are arguably the top wines of the year, as they usually are.

Vietti has had a very fine showing again and it is worth noting that this line-up of wines shows something has changed since the sale of the winery. I have been following these wines for almost 40 vintages and have witnessed the ups and downs during Luca Currado’s tenure. This current set of wines exhibited a lightness and confidence that other recent wines, while important and impressive, seemed to lack. I can’t wait to see what the 2016s bring.

Fratelli Alessandria has had a breakout year. The quality of these wines has been on a gradual yet perpetual upswing over the past 15 years and one of the crus has always edged into the top tier of wines, but the 2015 San Lorenzo is just flat out gorgeous, exciting and vivid with the Gramolere and Monvigliero not far behind. A must buy for me, great values.

Elvio Cogno continues to perform at the highest level with the Ravera bottling being one of the great buys in Piemonte and the Cascina Nuova one of the greatest values. While the wines are quite polished I love them and find that Walter Fissore’s line-up is stunning from top to bottom, a feat rarely accomplished. Nascetta this year was stunning.

Brovia continues to produce the most compelling line-up of great, traditional cru wines in the Langhe. Brovia’s Barolo Classico should be in every Barolo lover’s cellar.

Alberto Burzi fairly burst onto the scene just a few years ago, and while he hasn’t gotten some acclaim for his Barolo he remains perhaps better known for his Barbera. That should change. I don’t think these wines have been fully appreciated yet, discounted perhaps for their relative novelty.

Guido Porro’s Vigna Rionda is a standout in his portfolio, which should be no surprise considering the history of the vineyard. If you see a bottle be sure to try it. It is a relative value for the vineyard.

Elio Grasso gets beaten up for the oakiness of there wines. I’ve had mixed experiences, times when the oak shows others when it does not. In my tasting of the 2015s the oak was not overtly evident and the wines were terrific. Your experience may vary but these two wines are worth trying.

Massolino has another very appealing Barolo Classico and a great Parafada, which for the first time in memory I preferred to the more elegant Margheria.

It pains me a little to hype the wines of Baudana produced by the lovely Vajra family ahead of their eponymous wines, but I just love this pair of wines; just a great expression of Serralunga fruit with power but not excessive weight.

G. D. Vajra what’s not to like? Arguably one of the sweetest families making wine in the Langhe, and the wines are consistently terrific. Graceful, sometimes delicate, but detailed, approachable wines than never seem forced. Almost the prototype for the modern generation of winemakers combining classism and elegance.

Giulia Negri is fast becoming a favorite of mine. Such lacy, detailed, and expressive wines. Part of the newest generation of winemakers, she is helping to define a new paradigm for Barolo.

Giacosa is back. Perhaps a bit of the magic has yet to return with Bruno’s passing, but the quality here is once again absolutely top notch and worth adding to the cellar if you are comfortable with the pricing.

Palladino continues to improve. The crus are classic, traditionally styled wines that show a deft touch indeed, no doubt due to the increasing influence of a younger generation of Palladino women involved in the operation.

Aldo Conterno continues to produce wines that lean a touch modern but they are undeniably excellent in that style. In 2015, none of the crus show their alcohol, all are pretty tannic, powerful wines for the cellar. Though they seem approachable today, be fresh and sweet, they are very powerful.

Chiara Boschis still holds a special place in my vinous heart. Her wines remain oakier than I prefer, but exhibit such grace and finesse that I can’t help but enjoy them. If you enjoy more modern Barolo, and these are far from the most modern, you should love these wines.

Einaudi has finally given up on barriques, joining a growing movement, and the wines are of course better for it. I have always had a little soft spot for these wines, worth breaking out for a crowd more accustomed to oakier wines, but now they are rejoining the ranks of the more firmly traditional.

These wines were tasted in March and May of this year both in Piedmont at the cantinas as well as at ProWein. Some notes are longer and more detailed than others. Sometimes that means I found more of interest or expressiveness in a particular wine, other times I might simply have had less time to linger with each wine. This is of course simply a snapshot of each wine, a still frame from the movie that is each wine’s life, so you should judge each opinion accordingly. I generally prefer traditional made wine and will almost always opt for a Barolo free of new oak over one that wears its oak obviously. That is reflected in my reviews, but at the same time there are producers who bottle undeniable gorgeous, if oak tinged wines, and I make note of those here.

2015s, I love so many of these wines. They are rich, powerful, with tannins that are unusually ripe and polished for a warmer vintage, accompanied by fine acids There is some jamminess here and there, but I believe that is simply baby fat that time will take care of. Many of these are really quite powerful, but the balance and transparency of most bodes well for the future. At the same time, so many of these wines exhibit astounding elegance for the proportions. To a certain degree the slight dryness of the tannins in certain wines contributes to that classism and elegance, and I expect those wines with these noble, dry tannins to close up tightly, so the early approachability of many of these wines will be deceiving. I expect some monumental wines at maturity. As a final note, I have re-tasted several wines in September of this year only to find that the wines have gained further structural firmness. I am absolutely convinced that most of these wines will age spectacularly well and will emerge from the cellar as quite classic, if richly fruited wines. Buy what you can for we are certainly in a golden age for Barolo!

For individual wine notes please visit my site.

1 Like

Thank you for the great comments, Gregory. I have yet to dive into the vintage, but how would you compare it to 2016? Seems that in your notes, there are still a couple of references to the heat of the vintage (not unexpectedly of course).

Update: I did like the nebbiolo langhe from 2015 a lot: very accessible and sufficiently ripe. Could it be that hot vintages favour the less well exposed barole vineyards?

Yes, a great, informative report.

Now, will this shift some money from the '16s to the '15s?

love these notes. thanks for them! Who is actually making the wines at Giacosa now? is it Bruna?

Thanks for your thoughts. Always enjoy your notes. How would you compare 2015 to other recent vintages in the “warm/hot” column such as 2009 and 2011?

Thank you Gregory for sharing the info. I am deep in the ‘15 vintage including the 140 Barolo tasting (twice) in Barolo, and I mostly agree with your thoughts.

Thank you …

I personally bought (in small quantities) :
Massolino Barolo Parafada 2015
Massolino Barolo Margheria 2015
Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero 2015
Burlotto Barolo 2015
Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2015
Giuseppe Rinali Barolo Brunate 2015
La Ca Nova Barbaresco Montefico 2015
La Ca Nova Barbaresco Montestefano 2015
Luca Caligaris Gattinara 2015
La Prevostura Coste della Sesia Muntacc 2015

I really appreciate posts like this, thanks Greg! I’m a few cases deep on the 15s so far, and looking for more- glad to hear the sales chain hype aligns with experienced tasters.

2016 is going to be a better vintage, if you like more elegant, refined wines. 2015 reminds me just a touch of 2006 in some places but is closer in kind to 2011, though with darker fruit and more assertive structure. Hot vintages like 2015 definitely favors lesser sites.

Shifted some of my money, about 20% of what was allocated towards 2016 has been shifted. I might return that 20% to the pile next year, but I can’t imagine not buying some of these 2015s.

Is that official? Scaglione is back in the fold?

Also, have you had a chance to sample any of Scaglione’s work with Barbera these last few years?

That was an enjoyable and informative read. Thanks. Did you taste any of the wines from Clerico or Scavino, and if so, what are your thoughts?

I did not. It has been several years since visiting either so perhaps a revisit is in order for next year.

It is true. I tasted only one bottle, probably three years ago and while it was a nice bottle of wine it didn’t strike me as something special.

I would love to here your thoughts on what’s been going on at Scavino. The portfolio has a whole new life these days.

Great notes, thank you

Hey Greg, great report. Good to know you’re drinking well!!

BUT -

And finally, and I truly believe this, the vines know better. Yes I literally mean that. It has taken some time but I believe that in the Langhe today vines have memory, the ability to adapt to the changing weather and the knowledge base to understand that weather. It sounds a bit far fetched even to me, but how else to explain the fine, and in some cases very fine quality of the wines in 2015? It would be presumptuous at best and particularly vain to assume that it is all the handiwork of man.

You’re not getting all gooey on us are you? Vines, if managed well and not abused, will survive. Maybe it’s not so much that they “know better” but perhaps some of them are older and/or some of them have not been pruned so hard? I don’t know, but it’s pretty much impossible to imagine that vines make plans. The fruit for the 2015 year was set in motion in 2014, so maybe it’s something in that year that’s responsible.

There is no doubt that my understanding of Barolo continues to evolve. It takes time to understand vineyards and the influence of the winemakers, particularly while each is continuously evolving. With each passing year I find producers whose product increasingly appeals to me and vineyards that give such a unique expression of terroir that I may have dismissed them in the past as being atypical without understanding the unique experience on offer.

Palate shift with age dude! Next you’ll be extolling over ripe CdP! neener

Anyway, nice thoughtful report. Cheers!

It would have to be a miracle, since Scavino was the producer who scared me off Barolo for nearly a decade.
('How much wood could a woodchuck chuck…")

These days? 12% new oak.