Barolo 2018-2021 Vintages Technical Information Dump - Super Geeky

A few people mentioned in the 2018 Barolo thread that the conventional wisdom at this point seems to be that 2019 and 2021 will be exceptional Barolo vintages (with 2019 on par with 2016, 2010 etc) and that 2020 will be better than 2018, which is the worst of the four (though probably still better than 2017). While I had heard great things about 2021, I had heard that 2020 was better than 2019, but had no hard info, so I went digging.

Thanks to a link by John Morris in that thread, TIL that the Barolo, Barbaresco, et al Consorzio is now publishing the technical data of the harvest through readings in several vineyards. Digging some more, I found that, while the 2021 harvest report (comparing the technical data with 2020 [<–Excel file]) was the first time they did it in the English language version of the site, they had actually started doing it in the Italian version starting with the 2019 vintage report (comparing the technical data with 2018’s). So, I joined both for Barolo, added some color features that I could be totally wrong about, and you’ll find it below in its full glory.

Before we get to that, some notes.

  • I’m keeping the picture below to Barolo. But the reports also include Barbaresco, Nebbiolo d’Alba and Nebbiolo d’Roero, along with Chardonnay, Pinot Nero, Arneis, Favorita, Sauvignon, Nascetta, Dolcetto, Pelaverga, Freisa and Barbera.


  • The data for each vintage is apparently taken at the start of the harvest for a grape in a particular area. When dates are outliers I marked them in red. Harvest apparently takes 3 weeks for Nebbiolo in Barolo, so this isn’t the final chemistry, which I’m sure (at least as to everything but tartaric acid) can change a lot in 3 weeks. I’ve added an extra average at the bottom that ignores the values not taken in the common date for the harvest.


  • The tables they publish use BABO instead of Brix. I found this website that converts between the two, but I have no idea of its quality. BABO is also known as KMW (Klosterneuburger Mostwaage) and is what the Austrians also use. According to that conversion website, the lowest BABO on the table, 20.2 (Serralunga La Rosa 2021) is equivalent to 23.81 Brix and 13.58% potential ABV. The highest BABO on the table, 23.5 (Castiglione Falletto Bricco Boschis 2020) is equivalent to 27.76 Brix and 16.22% potential ABV.


  • The Consorzio had highlighted just one technical fact when reporting on the 2016 vintage:

Full ripening was achieved in all cases with no technological or phenological problems. This was shown by the low quantity of malic acid, which is an important ripening indicator (… less than 1 g/L for the Nebbiolo grapes).

I’m presuming that refers to the average at the start of the harvest as well. If that’s the case, I’ll note that, on average, Barolo musts showed more malic acid (less ripeness) in both 2018 (1.1 g/L) and 2019 (1.3) and achieved the 2016 levels (slightly less than 1.0) in 2020 and 2021. In fact, 2019 jumps out for its comparatively high malic acid levels at the start of the harvest.

  • The 2020 and 2021 vintages jump out for their apparently very high tartaric acid levels. This seems probably good, especially to balance the very high alcohols that are probably coming our way in 2020. But it’s the high tartaric acid levels and the relatively low alcohol of the 2021 vintage that seems most exciting to me. In fact it somewhat reminds me of the 2021 German vintage with tartaric acid also through the roof. (Am I right about all that?)

Here are their vintage notes edited to Nebbiolo only.
2018

Summary

The 2018 vintage opened with a long winter with plenty of rainfall, restoring the soil’s water supply which had diminished due to the weather conditions in the previous year.
The winter season extended until the beginning of March, with temperatures which were lower than in recent years.

This led to a gradual, slow resumption of the vine’s vegetative phase, which was completed by the end of the same month. Bud break was regular, with none of the problems caused by late frosts. Spring continued in keeping with what had been seen at the end of the winter, with frequent rainfall and temperatures which were not high, suggesting that the vintage would develop along “classic” lines, and in any case not earlier than usual as had happened the previous year; this expectation would then be confirmed by the course of the season. Between the end of May and the beginning of June there was a period in our vinegrowing area marked by numerous storms, bringing copious rains that created some difficulties for vinegrowers from a vineyard management point of view.

Indeed, problems were recorded associated with fungal diseases wherever it was not possible to intervene in time. Flowering and subsequent berry set took place regularly and in optimal climatic conditions, immediately suggesting that it would be a plentiful vintage, as proved to be the case following the closing up of the clusters of grapes. Green harvesting became necessary for nearly all varietals in order to curb production to within the limits provided for under the various production regulations. Development was gradual during the summer, with temperatures rising considerably from mid-July on, and a long period of constant fine weather helped the grapes to ripen without the harvest needing to be brought forward. Harvesting operations began in September with the sparkling wine grapes, and continued with the other white wine grapes until around September 20th.

The data at our disposal suggest not too high an alcohol content, which – together with a sufficiently high level of acidity – guarantees good support to the aromatic properties of the grapes. Dolcetto was the first red varietal to be picked, and it is showing an average sugar content, while the acidity is lower than in recent vintages, even though the levels of pH in the musts are as usual. This is due mainly to the ratio between the two main acid components: indeed, the malic acid degraded thanks to high daytime temperatures in late August-early September, while a good concentration was preserved in the grapes of the tartaric acid which formed early in the season when lower temperatures helped its synthesis. This phenomenon was also seen in the later-ripening red wine varietals.

… As has been the case here for several years now, the weather in September was good for the vines, contributing to the quality of the wines produced using medium-long vegetative cycle varietals, which were able to benefit to the full. As a matter of fact, the Nebbiolo grapes were ripe for harvesting as per tradition in early October, with picking operations taking around three weeks in all. Unlike the other varieties, Nebbiolo yields were limited, with certain situations in which there were few clusters in parts of vineyards.

This phenomenon can be attributed to the weather during the previous year, in particular the abnormal heat recorded during the period when fruit bud differentiation takes place. In both the Barolo and Barbaresco growing areas the sugar contents increased over the last part of the season, and an acceleration was also seen in the phenolic ripening, which made it possible to arrive at the harvest with excellent parameters. Combined with a perfect level of acidity, all of this will allow for well-balanced wines with excellent ageing potential. In conclusion, we can say that its has been a vintage in the traditional mould which demanded the attention of vinegrowers in their management of the vineyard in order to achieve results which were better than had been expected at the beginning of the campaign.

2019

Summary

Unlike last year, which was particularly precocious, the 2019 vintage will be remembered for its decidedly more conventional course.

The year in the vineyard began slowly due to the winter season lasting until February. This resulted in a delay in the arrival of spring, which brought about a period of rain and low temperatures until the middle of March. Nevertheless, plant growth resumed as per normal, and though it was slowed down initially by abundant rain in April, this also allowed a considerable amount of water to accumulate in the soil, compensating for the minimal rainfall during the winter. The changeable weather with mild average temperatures continued throughout May, confirming a delay of around two weeks compared to the growth patterns that had been seen over the previous few years, but in line with more traditional development.

The high temperatures during June combined with the availability of water in the soil to create the conditions for rapid plant growth, which required vinegrowers to take great care over containing any plant protection issues. The hottest period in the season was recorded between the last week in June and the first in July, followed by days on which milder temperatures alternated with rain. The second heatwave of the summer was recorded at the end of July, ending in storms which did not damage the vines even though they were intense at times; the remainder of the summer season was marked by a mild climate, with regular, sporadic rainfall that proved challenging for vignerons in terms of plant health. September began with the only hail recorded in the Langa, when considerable damage was caused in limited areas hit during the most violent storm of the season on the 5th of the month. We can say that the damage was substantial, but fortunately … missing most of the Barolo, Barbaresco and Dogliani growing areas.

The harvest began around mid-September with the white wine grape varieties, then continued without interruption with the Dolcetto, Barbera and finally Nebbiolo. We have seen a slight drop in production for all varietals, and as a result for all appellations, benefitting quality and balance. … Along with nebbiolo, barbera is maybe the varietal that most reveals the difference vineyard aspect can make, so the peaks of heat during the summer that accompanied temperatures otherwise within the norm for our growing area allowed the barbera to reach excellent phenolic levels at harvest-time, with slightly less alcoholic potential than last year and substantial acidity. The nebbiolo grapes were picked in the second half of October, and analysis parameters show them to be “classic”: in other words, with good sugar levels and an excellent polyphenol profile, which should ensure wines with good structure and excellent ageing potential.

Worthy of note in particular is the high accumulation of anthocyanins, so the wines can be expected to have excellent color, especially considering the varietal’s genetic properties. In conclusion, in the winery the vintage can be said to be traditional, with a quality production despite a slight drop in quantity compared to last year.

2020

Summary

The 2020 vintage began with no particular issues in winter, when temperatures were mild and precipitations and snowfalls few and far between.

The first part of spring was relatively dry and sunny, ensuring a homogeneous resumption of plant growth, which began at the end of February and ended – for the later-ripening varieties – towards late March. The months of March and April were marked by fine weather and mild temperatures, with little rainfall, predicting in the first instance an early harvest. This forecast was proved wrong in May however, when a considerable number of rainy days was recorded in an unstable climate that continued until late June. On the one hand, the advantage built up at the beginning of spring was worn out by the slowing down in plant growth, while on the other hand, the accumulation of water in the soil, combined with not overly high temperatures during the summer, prevented water stress issues. … In general, climate conditions were ideal, with some soil management difficulties happening towards the end of spring, due to early fungal attacks, as a result of May and June’s rainfall. Fortunately, these were not accompanied by hailstorms or any other significant weather events.

… As far as the varieties with a longer ripening cycle, such as Barbera and Nebbiolo, are concerned, the harvest looked like being an early one as soon as veraison took place between the beginning and the middle of August. The subsequent drop in temperatures led to a temporary slowing down in ripening, which restarted exponentially in the second half of September. …

Nebbiolo proved to be in excellent condition when it was ready for picking: moderate overnight temperatures led to a rapid accumulation of polyphenols, which were already at excellent levels by the middle of September. Growth was constant, rather than exponential, so the grapes reached technological maturation – in other words optimal sugar levels – between the end of September and early October. In terms of acidity too, neither the Nebbiolo nor the Barbera suffered the losses typical of short-cycle and hotter vintages. This may be due to early growth resulting from the substantial supply of water at the beginning of the summer, which allowed the vines to physiologically develop in the best possible way.

In conclusion, also considering grape ripening control data, the 2020 vintage can be said to be extremely good with points of excellence, especially for the medium-long ageing wines, which are showing characteristics that are perfect for achieving winemaking distinction.

2021

Summary

The two thousand and twenty-one vintage began with a mild winter, though plenty of rain and some snow ensured an excellent supply of water, which proved to be essential over the course of the rest of a vintage where rainfall was at its lowest level in recent years.

Plant growth resumed as per normal and in keeping with traditional timing, rather than early as happened last year, coping well as a result with the last cold snap at the beginning of spring and limiting frost damage to the newly-developed buds. Even the Nebbiolo variety, which is an early developer and therefore potentially more at risk, was not significantly affected by the drop in temperatures, with just slight damage limited to lower altitude vineyards. During the subsequent phenological phases it could be seen that the crop load was not too high – an estimated 10% lower than in 2020 -, reducing the need for green harvesting while allowing the yields provided for under production regulations to be reached.

A long period of fine weather began with spring and lasted throughout the summer, with recorded temperatures in line with averages for the time of year and without excesses, especially at night. Heavy storms in the first part of July reached their climax on the 13th… No damage was recorded to vineyards in the Barolo and Barbaresco growing areas though, and summer continued with little rainfall, contributing to what proved to be an excellent plant health and quality profile at harvest time.

The harvesting of Nebbiolo began during the last days in September, peaking in the second week of October. The grapes were healthy, with optimal phenological maturity facilitated by the lower temperatures and the day-night variations observed from the second half of September on. In terms of quantity, crop loads were optimal and well-balanced, with visibly smaller berries than last year. These factors resulted in a strong polyphenol content, which is essential in order to produce wines of structure and balance intended for lengthy ageing.

In conclusion, we can say that despite the vintage being distinguished by a succession of significant climatic events, with late frosts, storms and hail in summer, as well as drought, remarkable results have been achieved in terms of the quality of the grapes, maybe partly due to the fact that the yields were not too high.

Technical information for individual Nebbiolo wines seems very hard to find. I have no idea if my impressions are right, close or in another universe. I welcome everyone’s opinion and insight.

Edits:
Sept15: Restore 2020 info to its own heading as it seems to have lost the original format somehow (maybe in the move).

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Is the implication 2021 > 2019 > 2020 > 2018?

As far as I can tell, it seems 2021 should be the best of them and 2018 the worst.

I’m still not sure about 2020 and 2019.

  • 2020 is certainly riper, with ABV through the roof, but it also has a lot more acid going for it. After malolactic, the 2019 pH’s should be like 2018’s (I think).


  • From the vintage notes, all the talk about how the differences in vineyard aspects are noticeable on the 2019s hint at a variable vintage. But they do talk about aging potential in 2019 whereas they hedge on the 2020s talking about medium-long aging.

So maybe the 2019 highs surpass the 2020 highs but 2020 is more uniform quality?

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Personally, ABV through the roof is not a quality I’d be looking for, uniform or not. I’m not trying to manipulate what you are saying. I’m just very shy of ripe, high ABV vintages at this point. I take good acidity as a signature for Italian wines, so merely having it is not a selling point.

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I hear you and I don’t disagree at all. That’s part of why the 2021 numbers look so good to me. Lowest potential ABVs of the bunch, with the difference from the only slightly higher 2019 levels that the grapes were fully ripe (as per their 2016 benchmark) when measurements were taken for 2021 (and mostly for 2020). If producers in 2019 waited for more ripeness after those measurements, ABVs will have crept up and acidity down. Yet another reason to look out for 2019 variability. (Though the truth is Nebbiolo is the grape where I most readily tolerate higher alcohols.)

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The few 2019 Langhe Nebbiolo I’ve had have been very encouraging.

Completely agree with this. Between that and what I’m hearing anecdotally, I expect 2019 to be excellent.

As to the original post, I’ve heard no one suggest that 2020 is as good as 2019, let alone better. I’ve tried a couple of 2020 Langhe Nebbiolo and while they are too young to really say much at this point, showing only very primary fruit. Even so, they seem quite good, not overripe, but also not as encouraging as 2019s. I haven’t heard much about 2021 yet but it’s good to hear that it could be another strong vintage.

I don’t recall where I first heard it, but a quick search on my email brought up this email from Jeff Patten at Flatiron from a few weeks ago. I’m sure he’s not the only one I heard it from, so the intent is not to single him out. It’s just an example.

Well…I like to hear it from someone who doesn’t obviously have wine he needs to sell. Perhaps a couple of grains of salt are called for? And his “rule of three” is trite. If he had kept going backwards, he would have missed 2008, 2006, etc.

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No offense, but, to echo Chris, this comes across as sales pitch. In fairness it may be that I haven’t heard much because the 2020 vintage is simply so young that buzz is logically building first for 2019. It’s also tough because with every new vintage comes a boatload of hype. A Google search looking for vintage comparison comes up with very little, which makes sense, again, due to the youth of these vintages.

From what little I can glean, 2020 was earlier flowering and earlier harvest. I’m seeing words like “round tannins,” compared to people using words like “structure” to comment on 2019. It all sounds a bit like 2015/2016, but in reverse. Since there is plenty to like from both '15 and '16, that would not be a bad thing, especially if '21 is also very good. Personally I’ve bought little from '17 or '18 with an eye towards '19s.

I’ll say this. Up to a few years ago, the opinion of well-regarded retailers (and Flatiron is one of them) would have been most of what consumers had to go on. It’s not lost on me that, even after saying that, he’ll have 2019 Barolos and Barbarescos to sell next year, so I don’t think he had to say that about 2020 just to sell a Nebbiolo d’Alba.

But, in order to accommodate the requirement that it not be someone doing a sales pitch, below is a quote from Tom Hyland, who wrote the book "The Wines and Foods of Piemonte,” which has been recommended here on WB. Tom also writes vintage reports for Wine Scholar Guild.

Tom scored both the 2019 and 2020 vintages 4.5 out of 5 points. You can find his summaries here.

Of the 2020 vintage he said, among other things:

This promises to be an excellent, perhaps even outstanding vintage for Barolo and Barbaresco; indeed some producers believe 2020 to be a better vintage for Nebbiolo than the powerful year of 2019.

I hope this puts to rest the matter of whether some are saying 2020 is better than 2019 or not. I don’t think I should have to prove that in fact I had heard what I said I had heard, but here we are.

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As Michael said, no offense intended. But for the last 20+ years, I’ve relied on wine scholars, trusted wine critics, and fellow (trusted) wine geeks for information. Most of the wines I’ve regretted buying resulted from me “taking the bait” from a “well-regarded” retailer. But then again, perhaps many of us here are not average wine consumers? I also don’t recall ever seeing a retailer send out a message saying, “This wine, this producer, this vintage, etc. sucks! Don’t buy it! Especially from us!”

I agree regarding the bolded part. But I’ve also gotten very good advice. I also know wine geeks aren’t immune to hype. And, in this case, there appears to be some reasonable basis for that opinion on 2020, even if in the end both you and I end up disagreeing with it. As I said earlier, I have not made up my mind on which one is likely to be better of 2019 and 2020, but from all information, they are both very good. Now, we also have a quote from a wine writer who is in turn quoting producers.

Starting to form an opinion on which to prioritize before we make purchases we regret (and find out a decade later) is the reason I gathered all that technical information for us wine geeks to pour over. If somebody could provide equivalent data as to 2016 or 2010 (or any other ones that we’re already familiar with) it would be great.

To update, I just saw that Wine Enthusiast has the vintage rating for 2020 (93 pts) out but I’m not sure if that was Kerin O’Keefe or the new guy, Jeff Porter. Nor do I know which vintages she rated before leaving. The ratings there are 2019 (98), 2018 (89), 2017 (91) and 2016 (99). I presume the last two were definitely her.

Jancis Robinson’s people don’t do vintage numbers, but from the text, it’s clear they think 2018 is better than 2017 (that also seems to be Monica Larner’s take, and I thought that was the consensus), so the WE reverse is curious. For what it’s worth, JR says of 2019 that it’s “considered a good year with several peaks of excellence,” which is not at the level of the glowing language they used for 2016.

Another tidbit, Roberto Conterno likes 2019 (“long-term wines with extra concentration and structure”) much more than 2020 (“more obvious fruit and less structure compared to 2019”). But then again he called 2014 “the vintage of the century,” and prefers 2015 to 2016. So he likes to be contrarian (not that that makes him wrong).

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For me, this board is probably the best source and/or aggregator of vintage information, so I do appreciate your effort even if I am unlikely to read to heavily into the technical data. Critics can vary, producers and retailers have sales to consider, but listening to people here far more knowledgeable than myself has seldom steered me wrong. In particular, with the increase in very hot vintages, I’ve found that critics are far more tolerant of the impact of extreme heat than I am, at least in some regions. A prime example of this is 2018 Beaujolais, which critics seem fond of, but I really dislike. The downside of relying on the board to filter information is perhaps waiting a bit longer but when coupled with available vintage reports and general thoughts from critical sources, it seems that there is a good idea of the vintage by the time the wines are available.

As for the bolded, if both vintages are very good I doubt there will be much to regret from purchasing, unless it’s missing out on something you really want from either vintage. For me the best thing about the very strong vintages is that from many producers even their base level Barolo, and for that matter even Langhe Nebbiolo can be extremely strong and provide good value. So here’s hoping 2019, 2020, and 2021 are all excellent. I’ve bought little from 2017 and 2018, though I’ve had a few pleasing wines from those vintages.

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I agree with you entirely about the value of this board - what I referred to as trustworthy wine geeks. About your quote above, this issue has been a problem ever since 1997 was declared the VOTC. And to drift, critics and retailers did the same thing about the 2014 “miracle” vintage in Oregon.

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Great thread! All i can say is that i really liked the few 19’s i have tasted. Langhe and Barbaresco.

I can’t offer any statistics or charts but having tasted a bunch of Nebbiolo d’Alba and some early tastings of 2019s and 2020s Barolo/Barbaresco, my impression can be summarised in that 2019 and 2020 seem to be two outstanding vintages. Actually, to some extent I have favored the 2020s - possibly because they offer such a beautiful fruit profile without the sturdiness of the 2019s. I will probably buy equal amounts of 2019/2020 based on my impressions so far. As one winemaker pointed out just as I was thinking the very exact thought while sipping and comparing - “the two vintages remind me of the 1989/1990 siblings”. My thought exactly! So whether you enjoy the 2019 or 2020 more, will come down on personal preferences but bottom line is that no matter what, you’ll be drinking first class Barolo from a super vintage. Load up the truck!

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After 2013 and 2016, I need to buy another truck.

Great info Miran. Just had my first Langhe 2020 from Giacomo Fenocchio, which was very approachable after one hour of air in the bottle. Sexy sweet red fruit and all the aromatics you look for in Nebbiolo, certainly more approachable than the 19’s i tasted so far.

Adding Shan’s visit notes here to keep it all in one thread.

This seems to confirm some of what we had been discussing early in the thread last month.