Sunday, May 07, 2017

Piedmont’s controversial 2014 vintage in the Langhe

How important is vintage? Does terroir prevail over the wind and the rain and the sun? Does a farmer, who works the land for 40 years, have special tools to overcome the vagaries of the land? Or is it all a cosmogonic crap-shoot?

Those are questions people, far better connected than me, have been grappling with for aeons. But nonetheless, those were the questions I too asked as I stood on the tower in Barbaresco, overlooking one of the dearest wine producing spots on earth. And 2014 was the vintage in question.

The 2014 vintage overall, in Italy, presented a number of quandaries. Italy experienced a wet and cool growing season followed by rain during harvest time. Or so one would think, reading prognostications from the “influencers” on the internets. One would lead to believe the vintage a complete “wash-out” if one never set foot in the vineyards and post-harvest, the cellars. And for many, that will be the case. But it would be a grave mistake to take the word of bloggers and other sharpshooters, looking to make their mark by firing into the crowd of the 2014 vintage. There are plenty of innocent producers in the congeries - producers who made admirable wines.

Piedmont wasn't without its share of problems. Producers in Barolo are not looking forward to explaining it away, when the wines will be released next year. For now, they have 2013 to work with and 2013, in Barolo-land, did not disappoint. 2014 however, I am sure, we will hear from many that the bad weather “narrowly missed their plot,” that “ we worked our land carefully and harvested only the best grapes,” and “our winemaker, in concert with the moon and the cosmos…” We will hear it all. And some of it will be the truth.

Meanwhile, the folks in Tuscany, Chianti Classico, Brunello and Vino Nobile producers, will have to contend with the “judgement of 2014” in their lives. Brunello will fare well enough, for by the time the wines are released, in two years (2018), everyone in Piedmont will be waxing over the glories of the 2015 vintage. And Brunellopoli will have been in in the rear view mirror 10 years hence. A lifetime in the wine world. Chianti Classico is now dealing with it, and the chatter is still at a low-decibel level. Etna escaped the wrath of 2014, but is also dealing with outsider's murky perception of the vintage, on the whole. Etna is still a darling. There wasn’t enough wine made to fret over. And, the wines were damn good.

No, the burden falls square in the lap of the Barbaresco producers – and right now – as the wines are in release. I first tasted the 2014 Barbaresco (in barrel) in the spring of 2015. It was in the cellar of Carlo Boffa, a small producer, neighbor to DeForville and Gaja, two renowned producers in their own right. When I tasted his Barbaresco I made a note, “Buy all you can of this wine.” When I tasted the wine again, last month, at the winery, I did just that. The wine was a benchmark for what Barbaresco means to me: fresh, elegant, balanced and still very affordable to those of us who still yearn for value in their wine.

Aldo Vacca, who is the director for Produttori del Barbaresco, also has good response to the 2014 vintage. His notes on the 2014 vintage follow:

“2014 was a quite difficult season in the vineyards all over Europe; however the favorable end of the season proved to be a pleasant surprise for the quality of the grapes on the Langhe Hills. In particular, the region of Barbaresco was a shining exception in a difficult vintage.

After a mild winter we experienced the usual up and down. Unfortunately this climatic pattern continued through June and July resulting in a mix pattern of cool / warm days and frequent, heavy, extremely localized rainfalls. The ideal conditions for the spread of vine diseases made vineyard management and spray timing absolutely crucial in order to save grapes through the harvest. Summer green harvest was mainly focus onto limiting the potential risk of botrytis spread; the work in the vineyard was crucial and painstaking through the summer.

By mid - August, however, Barbaresco was experiencing a much better situation, far dryer than the rest of Piemonte. September was undoubtedly a more positive month with good day/night temperature difference which proved to be fundamental for the ripening of the grapes and the complexity of the aromas.

In the end, the total rainfall during the growing season in Barbaresco was almost one third than the rest of Piemonte and almost half of the one in Barolo. As we know a dry end of the season is all what it takes to make a great vintage. We were therefore able to wait and Nebbiolo harvest started late in Barbaresco, at least by the new millennium standards, on October 8th and ended, under dry and sunny conditions, on October 22nd.

2014 wines will be similar to those from the 2013 vintage, medium in body, but well balanced, rich in color and aromas, with great mineral finish and long lasting potential."

A further signal that Aldo Vacca and Produttori del Barbaresco is invested in the greatness of the 2014 vintage is that they will release the Riserva Cru wines from the 2014 vintage, something the winery opted out of for the 2012’s ( the winery will also release the Riserva Cru wines from the 2013 vintage).

Yes, there will be blood, when the 2014 wines get into the system. And there will be more blood, when the Barolo wines are arraigned within the commercial vein. There will be divinations (in real time) from the “sky is falling” set. The heavens will rain blood red, the blood of insipid Nebbiolo that missed its mark in the 2014 vintage. All for the sake of attention, or hits on their blog/web/Instagram feeds. And who will believe this “fake news?” People who don’t take the time to dig in for themselves, the “followers.”

I’m not asking anyone to follow me. That is, unless one is looking for supple, graceful, delicious wine. I am an unabashed fan of Barbaresco. I have more of that wine in my wine closet than any other wine. It is part of my pension plan, the wine I wish to drink in my dotage, when I have stripped away most of the chatter and distraction that the material world clamors over. It will be the wine I will drink when I am in my cave facing the wall, looking towards a more introspective (and introverted) segment of my life. And the 2014 Barbaresco will be there with me in my cave, long past the screeds of the attention-addicted naysayers and the din of the thundering herds.

Highly recommended reading - additional links:

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