Discovering Purity and Refinement in 2019 Barolo Wines

By | 4 April 2024

Andrew Jefford, Bruno Beta, and Michael Palij MW taste the “classical” wines of a challenging vintage.

By Andrew Jefford

A topsy-turvy 2019 Barolo growing season set many challenges for growers who produced wines that are classical in structure, with firm tannins and high acidity but less of the density and richness of recent warmer years, says Andrew Jefford, who was joined by Bruno Besa and Michael Palij MW.

This is an extract from an article first published in WFW83. For full tasting notes and scores for all 47 wines tasted by the panel, subscribe to The World of Fine Wine.

Classical? Little in the modern wine world, save the existence of wine itself, bears a direct relationship to ancient Greek or Latin culture—so, the primary meaning of “classical” can be set aside. The secondary meaning, though, is a different matter. Barolo 2019 has been widely acclaimed as a “classical vintage”—meaning in this case that it’s reminiscent of vintages of the past. Why? Two main reasons. It was picked in mid-October, as the mists began to drape the hills; and the wines are pale, yet firmly and crisply contoured by both acidity and tannin. A close look at the growing season, though, suggests that 2019 has plenty of modern qualities to it, too.

Barolo finished 2018 in a sodden state—which was just as well, since 2019 (though cold, with snow in both January and February) began drily, with a delayed budburst. April was then wet and May still more so, including at flowering; the resulting coulure (shatter or flower abortion) is why 2019’s yields are up to 30 percent lower than contemporary expectations of what is normal. The overall 2019 weather pattern to this point was grouchy.

There was then a gear-grinding lurch into summer weather in June. This quickly became fierce, with a record-battering heat spike at the end of the month that affected the plants more than the fruit itself. July was then wet—the second wettest of the previous 20 years, often stormy, with another fierce heat spike (said to have reached 115°F [46°C] in Serralunga) at the end of that month, too. August, fortunately, was dry once again, and the testing heat eased. By September, though, the diurnal pulses were warm during the day and cool at night. Hail struck on September 5, particularly affecting La Morra (Bricco Manescotto and Serra dei Turchi), but with sites in Serralunga (Fontanafredda) and Grinzane Cavour (Raviole) also affected, and September overall was a wet month, too (the fifth wettest of the past 20 years). For all that, the thick skins forged in the heat of June helped the fruit lock healthily onto its maturation trajectory, and by the time harvest was under way in mid- to late October (and despite further rain on October 15 and 24), the grapes looked handsome, and few growers faced much of a challenge with the sorting.

The season was indeed extended, yet when observing the heat-summation figure of 3,800 growing degree days in 2019, it becomes apparent that this vintage was warmer than any from 2000 to 2010, excluding 2003 and 2009. Although not as warm as 2017 or 2018, it exceeded the temperatures of 2013, 2014, and 2015. The fluctuating nature of the season characterizes modern vintages, along with daunting heat spikes and the routine of hailstorms and challenging weather encounters deregulated by climate change.

2019 was a tough vintage for growers. It was evident from the start that both tannins and acidity would be abundant, resulting in a crisp structure of the fruits. The dilemma was whether to accept the resultant tension in the wines, risking overdone austerity and cragginess, or attempt to soften it by, for example, tweaking aging regimes or decreasing maceration times. Although a typical Barolo dilemma, how growers responded varied. In general, growers were enthusiastic about their creations, and their wines received favorable critical response. The subsequent four vintages will be warmer and riper than 2019, with 2022 being notably so. For those who align with a “Barolo classicist” perspective, 2019 should be satisfactory.

Regarding our impressions of the wines, Michael Palij admired the “moonshot mix” of “authoritative tannins and palate-cleansing acidity”, but remarked on the lack of consistency. He was taken aback by the absence of higher scores. On the bright side, he found no less than six wines in the 97–100 point bracket, one of them being the exquisite Giachini from La Morra by Giovanni Corino. Bruno Besa admired the “true Barolo character” of the 2019 vintage and also made note of the distinct village identity and character. He found two top-scoring wines, while I found one; he had a total of eight wines scoring 95 or more compared to my three.

Overall, it was a high-scoring tasting, with only ten out of 47 wines not achieving a total score of at least 90 points. Nevertheless, due to the discrepancy in scores for some of the wines, there were averages held in check. Eight wines had a difference of 9 to 13 points between the highest and the lowest score, hinting at the strong influence of personal taste in this particular tasting. It’s worth mentioning that only three wines didn’t get a score of at least 90 from one of the panelists.

As the most critical scorer, my objections primarily lie in the lack of focus, juiciness, intensity, and excitement in a vintage where the rain frequently swept across the hills. On the other hand, there’s a lot of purity and sophistication to appreciate.

What about the styles of the commune? Many (like Bruno) believe they’re exceptionally apparent this year, but our notes don’t wholly back this belief. The annual commune sweepstake victor remains, as usual, Serralunga (with a total score of 275.91), then Barolo (275.88), followed by Castiglione Falletto (275), La Morra (274.84), Monforte (274.4), Novello (273), Verduno (268.66; possibly the 2019 style doesn’t quite suit Verduno as the more generous vintages do), and lastly, the pan-regional blends (267.25).

Luigi Baudana (GD Vajra) Barolo Cerretta Serralunga d’Alba (14% ABV) | 95

Bruno Besa | Deep garnet to pink. The nose is intense, deep, complex, impenetrable, but extremely clean, with notes of menthol, red cherries, and licorice. The palate is balanced, layered, rich, and young, filled with sweet red and black fruits and ending with a long, mineral finish. This Barolo is for long-term ageing. To be enjoyed from 2035–50. | 98 

Andrew Jefford | Clear, translucent, garnet red. As with many Serralunga wines, the volume of fruit aroma is significant and commanding, filling the glass, and the fruits this year in this comune have a profundity that always detains. Deep plum and pomegranate, forest floor, sap. Very concentrated wine, with drivingly pure fruit—and it is this fruit purity that commands the palate at present. Ample grippy tannins and ripe, perfumed acidity help shape that fruit. Pure and commanding wine for the long term. Note the perfect balance already, though—just add time. 2025–40. | 93

Michael Palij MW | The fruit here is very ripe, with stewed black-fruit notes of prune and fig. These are joined by cedar, licorice, and cigar box, while on the palate, the firm acidity and fine tannins provide a backdrop against which this wine will be able to pack on more complexity with time in bottle. 2028–35. | 94

Giovanni Corino Barolo Giachini La Morra (15% ABV) | 95

BB | Garnet to pink. Broad, open, complex, and earthy on the nose: classic tar, black fruits, bitter cherries, and smoke. Medium- to full-bodied, with sweet black fruits, refined tannins, and a long, herbal, youthful finish. 2025–35. | 93

AJ | Deep black-red, with ample depth of fruit; just beginning to brick a little at the meniscus. Warm, refined cranberry and pomegranate, with dry copse and underbrush complexities: an admirable aromatic welcome. Graceful and welcoming on the palate, too, with the open arms and smiling eyes of most of the wines in this tasting. There is, though, better wealth and drive here than for many of its La Morra peers, and a sense of fleshiness to the tannins, which is very welcome. Outstanding in its comune. And totally delicious. 2024–34. | 92

MP | The nose on this is just about perfect, with a huge range of aromatics including red fruit (strawberry, cherry, currant, and cranberry), black fruit (currant, cherry, and plum) alongside licorice, hay, rose petal, and forest floor. Wow—the palate is flawless—with mountains of fruit, a huge vein of acidity, and the most delicate of tannins. A real achievement. Complimenti! 2030–45. | 100

Manzone Barolo Gramolere Monforte d’Alba (14% ABV) |95

BB | Garnet to tawny. A touch closed yet clean and complex on the nose: earthy, black fruits, tea, and hazelnuts. Full-bodied, layered black fruits, lively, and clean. Very long, herbal, spicy finish. 2025–35. | 94

AJ | The wine is clear, limpid, scarlet, and black-red in color. It has a sweet, warm brambly autumn fruit taste, which is very alluring and successful this year. The super-aromatic profile of this wine draws you in as if by magnet. Exuberant and welcoming on the palate, it offers a banquet of fruit that invites the drinker to join the waltz. Though not the most refined or tight-grained wine tasted, it’s hard to beat for sheer drinking pleasure. A Barolo suitable to fill your glass to the brim with, and yes, the tannins and extracts are up to the challenge. 2024–36. | 93

MP | It’s hard to resist the allure of this subtle, aromatic, and complex red that showcases cool-climate notes of currant, cherry, plum, pomegranate, and dried herbs. Even better in the mouth, this wine layers red and black fruit, balanced by fresh acidity and the softest of tannins. The finish is expansive, powered by the fruit’s weight but equally by the structural elements. It’s hard to envision the year 2019 better encapsulated than this. 2030–40. | 99

Ca’ Rome’ (Romano Marengo) Barolo Cerretta Serralunga d’Alba (14.5% ABV) | 94

BB | The color ranges from garnet to pink. The nose is slightly closed, hinting at overripe elements, and showcases notes of black fruit, earth, prunes, and smoke. The body is full with substantial tannins, sweet fruit, but the finish can pose a challenge. This wine would benefit from a few years in the cellar. 2030–40. | 93

AJ | Dark, dense, garnet-red at the core, out to oxblood red and tile at the rim. A lovely, creamy, leathery nose here, with notes of herb and lavender; very refined and secondary already, with no overt fruit notes. But nothing thin, skinny, or dry… so I’m sure that the backing fruits will be there on the palate. And they are: This is terrific. A huge wealth of warm, teased, nuanced ripeness, the cranberries and pomegranate arils just bulging with sweet-fruited force; then all the finesse of the élevage amply on show, fissuring the palate with aromatic nuance (dried citrus peel, honey, sweet tobacco) as the whole slowly settles in the mouth. Soft, suede tannins and skin extracts bring profundity, and the relatively modest acidity just glows fruitily, illuminating the whole palate. Grand, beguiling Serralunga. 2024–40. | 96

MP | Highly aromatic and developed, with notes of clove, coconut, cedar, blackberry, plum, cherry, cranberry, cooked fruit, leather, earth, and tobacco. Most of the aromatics indicate a tertiary character, and it is unlikely that this will make old bones, because the tannins are formidable and the fruit is developed. 2024–28. | 92

Rocche Costamagna Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata La Morra (14.5% ABV) |94

BB | Light garnet to tawny. Elegant, lively, cedarwood, orange-peel, wild-strawberry, and rosewater nose. Balanced, clean, lively, and inviting, with refined tannins, superb acidity, and a long, herbal finish. A class act. 2025–40. | 96

AJ | A hue slightly lighter than most wine variants, seen as a bright, light garnet. Smells of dry straw and hayloft are prevalent, accompanied by subtle hints of strawberry. The taste also follows a slightly high pitched pattern with the fruit flavours engaging the higher sensory range. However, it is elegantly mild, making it quite alluring to the palate. You cannot deem it as unbalanced at all. The way this vintage has turned out, all the wines maintain a solid equilibrium and come with varying degrees of classic and refined natures. The optimal drinking window is from 2024 to 2033. | 88

MP | This is an exceptionally floral wine, brimming with smells of rose petal, acacia, and hawthorn. There are also notes of tobacco, forest floor, and wild strawberry that add complexity. The palate does justice to the nose, showcasing fine, dusty tannins that are balanced beautifully by the fruit intensity and a vibrant acid line that maintains liveliness. A fantastic representation of its vintage, this wine has both elegance and weight. It will be best enjoyed from 2026 to 2035. | 97

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