The Vintage Report: Piedmont 2014

13 March 2018

Giles Burke-Gaffney

The snow-capped Langhe region provided a perfect live map of Barolo & Barbaresco’s finest vineyards during my visit to Piedmont last week.

Bare, melted patches amidst the vast blanket of white revealed exactly where lay the vineyards with the best exposures and warmest micro climates.  In the old days this is how entrepreneurial growers decided on which plots to expand into next, where to do their deals.  These very patches yielded some superb wines in the newly-released 2014 vintage, a year that had its challenges but one that, in the end, proved well-suited to the late-ripening Nebbiolo vines when grown on hillside sites.  For the vintage’s greats, think Brunate, Cerequio, Cannubi, Monvigliero and right across Barbaresco… to call out just a few

We came back thrilled by the quality of these 2014 Barolos and Barbarescos.  This is a vintage that tastes of where it’s from: aromatic, alpine-pure and fresh yet nourishing and fortifying.  The style is not the blockbuster hit of a 2010, 2004, or 1999 but it is an incredibly likeable one.  With fine fresh red fruit perfume, silky but binding structures, these are moreish and elegant enough to drink young but deep and intense enough to age.

What shaped the vintage?  To begin with the weather was a big challenge, constant summer rain until mid-August punctured by two July hailstorms brought doom and gloom.  Salvation came in the form of sunny, windy weather that arrived at the end of August and lasted through September and October. Rather like for the 2002 Red Burgundy vintage, one particularly Francophile grower told me.  It was too late for the poor, early Dolcetto and Barbera varieties, but just right for the late-ripening Nebbiolo. Harvest began for most estates around the 20-25th October, the same time as in 2013.  This meant a long season and extended hang-time, just what Nebbiolo needs to ripen its naturally aggressive tannins.  This is why many of the wines taste so fine-boned and smooth and, with alcohol in the lower 14%s and acidity half a gram higher than usual, beautifully balanced and refreshing.  A fine autumn gave producers the conditions they needed to wait for the ripening cycle to complete. That said, even with the late season weather saving the day and the best vineyards at your disposal good wine did not make itself.  High quality was evidently possible but not achievable without care, passion or know-how.  More than ever the grower had to play their part:  Green harvests, de-leafing and selection at harvest time were constant and rigorous affairs, many estates only producing 40 to 50% of a normal crop. As Lorenzo Scavino of Azelia put it, growers had “ more time to make less wine.” Such is Azelia’s confidence in the vintage that they will be making a quite brilliant Riserva for release several years from now, so too will Giacomo Conterno.  The evidence of hard working paying dividends is as crystal clear as the finest of these 2014s taste.  The proof in the pudding is very much in the eating.  Taste the wines and be prepared to be amazed….