The third great vintage in a row
January and February were mainly very mild. Growers were concerned with the virtual absence of rain or snow. In March the weather was very dry and warm. Temperatures even hit 20-24 degrees C in Serralunga and Castiglione Falletto. As in 1997 bud-break and all subsequent phases of maturation were about 2 weeks in advance of the norm. Frosts were not severe and vines remained healthy. April and May saw a welcome return of rain in higher than average amounts, albeit with accompanying problems of peronospora, especially in the communes of Barolo and La Morra. Flowering took place without problem at the end of May. June marked the beginning of one of the hottest summers of the century, with temperatures peaking at 35 C in Castiglione Falletto. There were sporadic hailstorms in Monforte and La Morra. The heat continued, peaking between 9 and 12 August, with temperatures recorded at over 40 C in parts of the Asti area. September put the brakes back on the ripening process with the return of normal seasonal temperatures and cooler nights. A few days of rain at the end of September and beginning of October did little damage to the crop, and there were few problems over what ended up a surprisingly prolonged harvest.
Early ripening varieties such as Moscato were lacking acidity due to the great heat. Dolcetto was mainly successful if sometimes overripe and lacking freshness. Piedmont 1998 was perhaps the ultimate year for Barbera, with unsurpassed levels of concentration and ripeness and naturally moderate acidity. Sugar levels in Nebbiolo again surpassed 20 degrees Babo but did not quite reach the record levels of 1997. The 1998 vintage must, however, be categorized in the same, exceptional, class.
Many outstanding Barberas have now now been released and should be snapped up for medium term drinking. Some of the exceptional examples include:
Barrel samples of Barolo and Barbaresco show superb colour and very ripe style. At this stage it looks as if the 1998 Nebbiolo-based wines may be drinking slightly before the 1997s, in some cases lacking (only by comparison) the last ounce of complexity and structure. As in 1997, low acidity is the only question mark against the long term keeping properties of the vintage.