The 2018 Barolos, Part 2
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | OCTOBER 18, 2022
Two thousand and eighteen remains a mixed vintage that reflects the challenges of a growing season marked by heavy spring rains, intense summer heat and unbalanced weather during the final phase of ripening. There are some gorgeous 2018s out there, but finding them will take a bit of work. The best 2018s are beautifully perfumed, mid-weight Barolos that will drink well early.
This report focuses mostly on late 2018 Barolo releases. Readers who
want to learn more about the growing season and the events that shaped the
vintage might want to revisit my article The
Enigma of 2018 Barolo, published earlier this year. In short, my general
view of 2018 has not changed. This is a chaotic vintage marked by
tremendous heterogeneity in both styles and overall quality caused by
problematic conditions throughout the growing season.
Bruno and Alice
Pressenda at their Ca’ di Press winery in Perno.
Piedmont’s Golden Age
Leaving the 2018s aside for a moment, this is an exciting time to be exploring the wines of Piedmont. Sure, some labels have
ascended into the stratosphere in terms of pricing, but they remain anomalies. In
my view, average quality across the region has never been higher. As I
looked over the producers featured in this article, I could not help but notice
how many are making better wines than ever before, even with 2018 thrown into
the mix. The emergence of new estates has injected a level of youthful energy and
enthusiasm that has not been seen since the early 1990s, when the modernist movement was starting to take off. Lastly, thus far Piedmont has been a net beneficiary
of climate change as witnessed by the greater frequency of good to great
It wasn’t always that way. In fact, all of this has happened
only within the last 25 years or so. One of the highlights of my youth was the
annual family vacation I took with my parents and sister. My parents worked
brutal hours building their business. But every year they took a few
weeks off. Most years we travelled to Italy. Naturally, the priority was visiting relatives. Once that was arranged, my sister and I took turns choosing a new destination to explore. She is the intellectual, so she took us places like Rome and
Florence. Me, not so much. I mean, I appreciate the art cities, of course, but I
wanted to eat and drink. So, when it was my turn we headed straight to Emilia-Romagna
In 1997, we traveled to Piedmont, a region I had wanted to visit for years. I already loved the wines, the mystique of Nebbiolo and all the history around it. We stayed in a small
farmhouse in the hills outside Canelli, in the heart of Moscato country. Each
day we ventured to a new village. I was hooked. By 2000 I was living in Italy and spending
much of my free time in the Langhe. That was just twenty years ago, nothing,
and yet Piedmont was such a different place than it is today.
This year’s new
releases for Giacomo Conterno and Conterno-Nervi.
The wine press, both domestic and international, was almost
exclusively focused on wines from the 'modern' school. These were the
wines that won all the awards, while wines from more 'traditional' producers
were largely ignored, including pretty much all the names that are so coveted
today. The press took great delight in creating a fictitious drama between
these two schools of winemaking and their leading exponents. The conflict
between the modernists and traditionalists was always exaggerated, but it
certainly made for a good show.
A curious oenophile visiting Piedmont at the time would
have surely been struck by the differences in the wines. There were plenty of
traditionally made wines marred by dirty cellars and old barrels, but also a
raft of overoaked, overextracted Barolos that in the end did not age well. There
was no such thing as allocated wines. Well, that is not exactly true. The
allocated wines were the Nebbiolo-based blends that were all the rage back then.
Barolo was a tough sell. Readers might find it hard to believe, but buying wine was easy back then, either at wineries or in local shops. Everything was available.
Today, the excesses of the past have been largely addressed,
Piedmont has experienced a number of stellar vintages, and across the board,
the wines are better than ever. It’s an exciting time.
Massimo Benevelli in
his vineyards at Le Coste just prior to the 2022 harvest.
A Buyer’s Market
More recently, a handful of wines have become objects of speculation.
When that happens long time supporters are priced out, which leads to some
pretty strong negative emotional sentiment. Fair enough. At the same time though,
it is impossible to ignore how many beautiful and delicious wines are being
made in Piedmont today.
As I write this, in October 2022, signs point to a period of
prolonged economic weakness. Whether that plays out or not is not entirely
clear yet, but the probability of such a scenario is unquestionably increasing.
Moreover, the number of potential geopolitical crises around the world that
have reached a tipping point creates a great deal of uncertainty.
The fine wine market has historically been quite resilient, especially
at the top end, where prices remain robust for the most coveted wines. Even so,
early indications point to shifting buying patterns as consumers, restaurants
and the wine industry act as they do in these moments, which is trade down to more
affordable substitutes. My distinct impression is that we are at the beginning
of this shift. I also expect that the subset of wines considered highly
collectible will narrow to focus on just the very best names, la crème de la
This set of circumstances, while perhaps unsettling on a
larger scale, creates a tremendous opportunity for the savvy consumer who can
look beyond the most coveted labels. There is an ocean of terrific wine out
there, including the finest 2018 Barolos, many of which will be available at
favorable pricing over the next 12-18 months or more. Although this article
focuses on Barolo, readers will also want to give serious consideration to the
finest 2019 and 2020 Barbarescos, wines that I will be discussing in an
upcoming report. Stated simply, it’s a great time to be a buyer.
A view of the Castello
Comunale Falletti di Barolo and the Barolo town center as seen from Bussia.
I tasted all the wines in this article during a visit to Piedmont in September 2022.
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