Barolo 2002: New Releases

Few subjects have aroused such passionate discussions in recent years as the quality of the 2002 vintage.  t was a damp growing season, with the region receiving roughly double the normal amount of rainfall. Temperatures were on the cool side all the way through the summer. Then, in early September a violent hailstorm struck large parts of the Barolo-producing zone, inflicting its most severe damage in the towns of Barolo and La Morra, but also hitting parts of Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga. The damage was unprecedented. I can still recall driving through the region, which I often did in those days as I lived in Italy at the time, and surveying the damage. The vineyards looked like someone had literally ripped the vines out of the ground. Suddenly the weather improved dramatically and conditions were picture perfect for the rest of the fall.  In vineyards that were not wiped out by hail producers were able to harvest.

The press did not mince words in its harsh early assessment of the vintage, which clearly upset producers, as some observers issued their opinions before the harvest was even concluded. Up until the last minute producers were conflicted as to whether they should bottle the wines at all. If anything positive came out of the pessimistic views of the vintage, it may be that in the end producers were especially selective with what they bottled.
Certainly any vintage in which the vast majority of the benchmark wines are not produced must be viewed as an anomalous event, or so one hopes. Many leading estates did not bottle their Barolos, including Altare, Roberto Voerzio, Bruno Giacosa, Aldo Conterno, Giuseppe Mascarello, Bartolo Mascarello, and Luigi Pira to name but a few. Those estates that did bottle a Barolo are for the most part releasing a single wine made from the best fruit they were able to harvest throughout their holdings. Producers who have chosen this route include Sandrone, Clerico, Conterno-Fantino, Azelia, and Giuseppe Rinaldi. There are just a handful of single-vineyard wines, including Scavino’s Bricco Ambrogio and Massolino’s Margheria, Parafada and Vigna Rionda, making that estate the only one I know of that is releasing all of its selections. The most anticipated Barolo is without question Giacomo Conterno’s Monfortino, but that wine won’t make an appearance for several years.

So what about the wines? As a critic I can only judge the wines that have been made, and the reality is that they are not as bad as one might be led to think. Without question quality is well below average, yet top producers made more than respectable wines.  I have had my share of 1991,1992 and 1994 Barolos - all vintages considered to be inferior to 2002 - to know that at least some of the wines will be surprisingly good in a few years. To be clear, even the best 2002s will never hold a candle to the same wines produced from 1996-2001 but the finest wines demonstrate the skills of the region’s top winemakers. There is an abyss in quality between the top wines and the rest of the production that is quite telling.  

The wines themselves are compact and lean with modest amounts of fruit. They also show a green, herbal quality and hard tannins, a sign of fruit that has not fully ripened.However, the best wines have a sense of balance and proportion that is remarkable given the vintage. Most willbe early maturing Barolos to be consumed by age 12 to 15. It is a stronger vintage than in Barbaresco where there are fewer serious producers. The improved weather in post hailstorm September was also more beneficial to producers in Barolo since the harvest takes place roughly ten days later than in Barbaresco. The biggest challenge the 2002 Barolos face is the huge amount of wines from 1996-2001 that remain widely available to consumers. In that context it is hard for me to recommend the 2002 Barolos, except to say that readers who are curious to explore the vintage should stick with producers who have been reliable in the past. 

Editors Note: this article also includes wines from other vintages, in particular 2001 and 2003, that were originally published in Piedmont Report Issue 7

--Antonio Galloni