Hills with fog

Vintage Report: Piedmont 2019

17 March 2023

Mark Dearing

Piedmont 2019 - Power in Proportion

Piedmont 2019 promises a raft of vertical, nuanced Barolos and Barbarescos that will thrill Nebbiolo lovers from the first encounter. Initiating a trio of potentially outstanding vintages, 2019 has a toned, energetic character with a gravitas and vitality to the fruit that in our view most closely resembles the exceptional 2013 vintage at the same stage.

At first glance, many of the 2019s appear coiled and classical – qualities we adore in young Nebbiolo – but closer inspection, over many appointments, revealed a rare blend of richness and clarity. Though at times reticent or a touch austere initially, there is a poise, complexity and depth to the fruit that reveals itself with a little coaxing. We encountered so many examples of wines that re-wrote themselves and grew in stature as we sat with them, and as such, there’s an intellectual allure to the 2019s; these are wines that demand and repay a bit of time and serenity. It is clearly a vintage that will reward cellaring, akin to 2005, 2008 and 2013; all vintages that have developed with great finesse and subtlety since release.

Comparisons to 2016 are tempting but not wholly useful. Though similar as far as both vintages offer a heightened sense of site-transparency, the 2019s are different. They feel bolder and broader shouldered yet have a reverberating, cooling acid framework alongside sculpted, sinewy tannins that are unique to this vintage. It’s power in proportion. Compared to 2016, 2019, like 2013, has a higher concentration of round, superior fruits and spices. It is certainly an epic vintage.

It is always difficult to draw precise conclusions as to how we got here however there are indicators that are important to note. First, it was a long growing cycle. Nebbiolo thrives in the aftermath of a full season. In 2019, this meant a cold winter with good snowfall and a decent amount of rain in February (although reports vary in this regard), leading to a warm March and April which precipitated an early budbreak. Fears of frost damage didn’t materialise. Producers began to anticipate another early vintage along the lines of 2015 and 2017, but a cooler than average spring with lots of rain in early May, right around flowering, pushed the timelines back again, and in turn clipped the expected yield. May and most of June passed under pleasant sunny skies but the end of June brought with it scorching temperatures – a heat spike up to 40C which lasted around two weeks. This proved to be the only real shock event of the summer, and the rest of July and August saw only moderate temperatures, with refreshing rains dousing the region at helpful junctures, ensuring that the vines at no point went into stress and ripening continued evenly. Overall, though not plain sailing per se, conditions were very largely benevolent with no excess of heat or water, resulting in a more balanced and qualitative yield after the more vigorous 2018. The only blot on an otherwise perfect September was a hailstorm on 5th which hit the lower lying parts of La Morra and Castiglione Falletto. Harvest began in October, late by recent standards, and was concluded by the middle of the month.

Temperature (C) in Serralunga d’Alba from Jan to Dec 2019.
Rainfall (mm) in Serralunga d’Alba from Jan to Dec 2019.

Before we wrap up, a word on 2018. Tasting at twenty-two estates gave us ample opportunity to re-taste last year’s wines a year on in their development as well as late-release, new to the market 2018s. Though it is a more heterogenous vintage than 2019, it is important to recognise that, at the top end, it can also be outrageously beautiful. Follow a good producer and look out for radiant, flowing fruits; sweet, tender tannins, and high-toned perfumes. We drank several wines that were truly irresistible already. It would be a great shame to miss a vintage that offers so much early to mid-term drinking pleasure. Drink these while you wait for your 2019s and 2016s to come around.

Not for the first time, Piedmont is entering a purple patch. Lovers of these most regal of Italian wines have arguably never had it so good.

Mark Dearing

Italy Buyer, Justerini & Brooks.

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