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Barolo 2011 vintage report

Read Ian D'Agata's summary of the Barolo 2011 vintage in Piedmont, and find a link to his top wines of that year.

Barolo 2011 harvest:

It was an extremely hot, almost scorching August, which led to rapid sugar build-up in the grapes, forcing producers to harvest sooner than they might have liked (or run the risk of making wines very high in alcohol and with cooked aromas and flavours).

Fortunately, timely September rains allowed late-ripening Nebbiolo to recover somewhat (especially those grapes that had endured less heat thanks to northern exposures or thick canopies). Towards the end of the 2011 harvest, most producers were worried about the eventual quality of their bottled wines. So it is a testament to the hard work and skill of Barolo’s producers that in general the 2011s have turned out much better than expected.

Barolo 2011: Expert opinion

Many producers are almost jubilant about Barolo 2011 quality. Ernesto Abbona of Marchesi di Barolo said he had rarely seen better looking, healthier grapes in decades of tending vines – equally, he couldn’t remember the last time he had already finished picking his Nebbiolo grapes before the end of September. Claudio Fenocchio, of the Giacomo Fenocchio estate agreed: ‘By the last day in September, I didn’t have a single bunch of Nebbiolo in my vineyards. I think 2011 wines will prove excellent, at least for those of us who didn’t get carried away deleafing.’

Nicola Oberto, a young Barolo superstar in the making at the Trediberri estate in La Morra, said – almost paradoxically – that it was almost always the sites with the best exposures that gave poorer results: ‘In 2011, many grapes on the south-facing vineyards became raisins and couldn’t be used. Consequently, careful grape selection was the key in making successful wines rather than forgettable ones.’ Aldo Vajra is also a big fan of 2011: ‘It’s the most interesting of any forward vintage in recent times. It is incredibly accessible right now, but has true potential for a wonderful evolution.’

In other cases, it’s the usually less prestigious sites with less favourable exposures that performed best (Trediberri’s Barolo, for instance, is made with grapes from the little known Berri vineyard, which were picked a full month later than those in the more famous cru Rocche dell’Annunziata, giving a better balanced, more complex wine).

Buy wines labelled ‘Barolo’ only

In 2011 there is no single commune that stood out: in fact, there are noteworthy differences in quality within the same producer’s Barolo portfolio. As each site has its own specific requirements (due to various factors such as vine age, rootstock, exposure, slope gradient, and the physical/chemical soil characteristics), making the right viticultural decisions at the right time for each was of paramount importance in 2011.

In many cases I found that a producer did all the right things for vines in one cru but not in another, and the bottled results are telling. So in 2011 you’d be wiser to buy wines labelled ‘Barolo’ only. These will have the benefit often of being more affordable than cru wines, too.

Last but not least, keep in mind that Barolos made from younger vines and sandier soils clearly had the toughest time in 2011, so knowing a bit about the producer’s vineyards and vine age is a big help for finding happiness in 2011. Or be guided by the recommendations above for sure-fire success!

(Editing by Ellie Douglas)

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