Piedmont 2018 Vintage Report

15 March 2022

Giles Burke-Gaffney

A week of tasting the new releases in Piedmont at some of region’s best addresses revealed a 2018 vintage that is seductively charming and instantly likeable. Very different in style to the richer, more concentrated 2017s but, in our view, a step up. These are aromatic, poised wines of sweet red fruit, freshness, delicacy and melt-in-the-mouth structures. 2018 may not be the typical powerhouse Barolo blockbuster to stick away for fifty years, however this is an early-drinking vintage of sufficient intensity and balance to last a good 10-15 years plus. When wines show this well young, why look beyond two decades? These Barolos and Barbarescos will give great pleasure early in their life, to Nebbiolo geeks and newcomers alike. Contrary to uniform vintages, such as 2016, If you look outside of the established, quality-minded producers, you are sure to find a lot of variation; however a week of visits to the growers we know and love resoundingly confirmed that it was clearly possible to make beautiful wine in 2018.

There were various hurdles to overcome, not least wet weather throughout Spring and early Summer that required hard manual resistance against disease pressure; the crop also needed a lot of thinning to ensure the fruit ripened fully – one of the most drastic instances of this was at the traditionally-minded but quality-obsessed Luigi Oddero estate, who bottled only 1200 bottles of each of their Crus, a quarter of what they normally produce. Weather perked up from August onwards, with warm days seeing the vine through the end of the ripening process to a classic early-mid October harvest. Grapes were juicy, ripe, displaying good acidities and sugar levels, but were relatively thin-skinned and required careful handling.  As a result, estates tended to lighten extractions and shorten skin contact, and in some cases barrel ageing.

The resulting wines are a joy: delicate but not weak, full of verve and bright, supple alluring, flavours with fresh red fruit characteristics counteracting the 14.5–15% alcohols – which feel more invisible than they did in 2017. In the words of Cesare Bussolo, winemaker at Robert Voerzio, “they were born drinkable, as well as being complex and faithful to the different terroirs.” Indeed, this was another point we so enjoyed during our tastings, the clear differences between the Crus absolutely shine through: whether it be the supple elegance of sandy soils; the mineral chalkiness of Serralunga limestone; the blood-orange note in wines produced from iron-rich clay or the energising freshness of east-facing vineyards, terroir speaks clearly and loudly in 2018.

Many growers liken the wines to the 2012s, which are in fine, youthful shape today, or indeed the equally youthful 2008s or 1998s. I will leave the last words to Silva Altare, who sums up the vintage perfectly:

“Our wines are especially fragrant and aromatic, definitely more on the lighter side, and a good contrast with the richness of 2017. Through all the tastings of the 18’s, we were always impressed with the transparency and freshness.  Thanks to the wines I have tasted from Elio’s library and to the notes he wrote down on his cellar book, 2018 can be compared to the lightness and freshness of 1998. These wines are still sharp and on point now after almost 25 years. Do not assume a lighter aromatic lifted vintage like ‘18 will not go the distance. These will be textbook Altare wines that will be singing in 15-20 years.”