October rains were a problem but the wines from this vintage finally turned out well
Following a mild, dry winter, the first rains fell at the end of March. Spring was rather variable, but because of the generally moderate conditions, budding took place as early as 9 April in Barolo. The uneven weather continued throughout May with heavy rains during the second week. Towards the end of the month, the weather had turned cloudt and rainy with fairly high humidity.
The Nebbiolo vines began to flower towards the end of May, but the variable start to June delayed the other varieties. After some mid-month hail, the rest of June was wet and stormy with high humidity. Following a patchy start, July enjoyed hot and dry weather though humidity levels rose towards the end of the month. Similarly, the first three weeks of August were hot and dry with more uneven weather in the final week, The start of September saw a drop in humidity and the return of cool night temperatures, Most of the rest of the month was fine and the grapes in very healthy condition heading into the final phase of ripening, October began well, but fairly heavy rains between 10th and 16th dashed hopes of a truly great vintage in Barolo (though most of the Nebbiolo crop had already been picked in Barbaresco). However, the sun returned immediately after the rain, drying the grapes quickly for a medium-sized crop of good if not great quality.
After a poor beginning to the growing season in Piedmont , good mid-summer conditions ripened grapes evenly. Barbaresco was in general more successful than Barolo, but those who delayed picking were saved by a sunny, dry spell. The overall style of the Nebbiolo-based wines is quite ripe and forward, but lacking in structure and concentration. Tannins are sometimes rather hard and not supported by sufficient depth of fruit. At the time, 1988 received the typically over-hyped acclaim of a good vintage that follows a couple of poor ones.
Many bottles that were very enjoyable in the mid-90s are now in decline, and 1988 has become a vintage to be enjoyed sooner rather than later. Even exceptional wines such as Elio Altare’s Barolo Arborina, and Angelo Gaja’s Sori’ San Lorenzo are now just past their peak. 1988 was notable for the first release of Gaja’s superb Barolo Sperss.