Piedmont 2013:

Piedmont 2013: "Nothing short of outstanding."

Monday 3rd April 2017
by Justerini & Brooks

For the Justerini & Brooks buying team, the annual Piedmont trip is one of the most eagerly anticipated. Protected by the Alps to the north and the Mediterranean to the south, Piedmont is a very special place.

Arriving from busy Milan, spirits lift as the Langhe hills loom into view. It is a striking landscape. Atop winding country roads, medieval villages cut a sharp silhouette, hopping across steep, jagged valleys and awe-inspiring vineyards from one hilltop to the next. It was good to be back.

Of course, we were here to taste the wines. This time our focus was the latest 2013 vintage releases from Barolo, Barbaresco and Alto Piemonte. A week in mid-March under dry, sunny skies was just the climate for strolling vineyards and tasting in cellars. Growers were happy too – a spell of fine weather signalling the arrival of spring and budburst in a few of the earlier ripening vineyards. Our schedule was busy; twenty estates in four days - with the great and the good - and some new faces too.

Though constantly on the move, we could not escape the feeling of eager anticipation and excitement in the region – there is certainly something in the air. We’d go as far to say that producers are positively buzzing. Not only has the last decade yielded a run of fantastic vintages, there are more on the way, maturing steadily in their cellars. Truthfully, producers nowadays, be it traditional or modern, are better and more enthusiastic in their work than ever before and this can be seen in the wines from top to bottom. When one considers that production levels are smaller than in Burgundy and the general trend amongst wine collectors has moved toward site specificity, transparency and restraint, it is unbelievable that Barolo and Barbaresco flew under the radar for so long.

The rolling hills of Piedmont, looking glorious in the early spring sun. 

Luckily for us, Justerini & Brooks began building relationships and importing top-end Barolo in the early 1990s, at a time when Piedmont was very much in the shadow of other more “illustrious” regions. We are proud to have some of the longest standing partnerships in Piedmont of any importer, and direct allocations from the region’s smartest addresses. Our trip coincided with a few significant Justerinis' anniversaries this year, and to our great elation, we discovered that 2013 was just the vintage with which to celebrate.

Justerinis' Chairman, Hew Blair, with long-standing friend and wine-maker, Elio Altare. 

Like so many outstanding vintages, 2013 was no walk in the park. Elio Altare recalled a difficult start to the season. He said that cool weather interspersed with rain brought yields down considerably. Flowering was a month later than usual and vineyard work needed to be pro-active in order to stave off disease pressures. However, the summer and harvest conditions were ideal, meaning that the reduction in yield had in no way compromised the quality. Mario Cordero, from Vietti in Castiglione Falletto, affirmed that “August, September and October were beautiful. We prefer it this way round, it’s much less stressful and these kind of long slow ripening conditions are great for Nebbiolo!”

On average, picking began in mid-October lasting to the end of the month – a later harvest than usual. In this respect, 2013 is considered a classic vintage, in the very best sense of the word, or “normal for the vintages of the 1970s and 1980s”, according to Alex Sanchez of Fratelli Brovia. We found that the wines were indeed beautifully styled and restrained, with fresh acidities and sweet tannins without being anywhere near as daunting as other “old-school” greats like 2010 and 2006. Much of this is down to the nature of the tannins. Although present, the concentrated, crystalline fruit flavours ensure that they are not overly marked, and the long slow ripening period with wide diurnal swings allowed them to ripen until sweet and finely etched, without holding too much power and austerity. Alex Sanchez said “I love the texture, for me the texture is better than 2010. The beauty of this vintage is that it’s so elegant you can enjoy the wines in four or five years but they are so well balanced they will age well too.”

Alex Sanchez of Fratelli Brovia chats to the team. 

Asked for his thoughts on the vintage, Giles Burke-Gaffney, Justerini & Brooks’ Buying Director surmised that “stylistically the 2013s favour energy over weight but don’t lack for depth, and they transmit a very transparent vineyard character. Such is their finesse that they should start to drink well in the medium term, but they have the structure and intensity to excite well into the next two decades. The overall quality level is very high and the wines of the greatest crus are nothing short of outstanding.”

All smiles for the vintage. Giles Burke-Gaffney, Justerinis' Buying Director with Martha Rinaldi. 

A word on a few select crus. Brunate, as it often is, was exceptional in 2013; combining power with finesse, balancing La Morra fragrancy and perfume, with the underlying minerality and might characteristic of the vineyard. Some of the best examples arrived courtesy of Roberto Voerzio, Giuseppe Rinaldi and Vietti – each with their own signature. Meanwhile, Marco Marengo continues to produce one of, if not the best value cru Brunate in the entire denomination.