1999 Barolo: Brilliance, Intensity and Class
A light snow fell as I drove up
the winding hillsides of La Morra on a dark, shrouded evening in March 2003. I
had never seen snow at that time of the year in Piedmont, but fortunately it
wasn't too bad. A business trip in Genoa that week provided a good excuse to
escape to La Morra for the night. I was more than happy to make the two and half
hour commute each way just to spend some time in these magical hillsides.
Elio Altare's Insieme group was putting on a tasting of the
1999 Barolos at the Cantina Comunale in the center of town. I had already
tasted many of the wines on previous trips, but this was my first large tasting
of the 1999s. As I walked from table to table I was blown away by what I
tasted. The 1999 Barolos were simply stunning. I just loved the energy and
tension of what I sampled. The wines were so alive. I knew right then that 1999 was going to be a great vintage
Barolo as seen from
the Ravera vineyard in Novello
As the months passed, very little was said or written about
the 1999 vintage in Barolo or Piedmont. All the attention was on the 2000s. I
had tasted plenty of those wines too, and they were gorgeous, especially from
barrel. No doubt about it. But the 1999s had something more. More power,
intensity, structure, and, most important of all, a quality I have always been
taught to seek in Nebbiolo; namely the ability of a wine to convey something
about where it is from.
Roberto Voerzio’s 1999
The next year, I started Piedmont
Report, largely inspired by the 1999 Barolos, and my steadfast belief that
there was space for another voice on Italian wines in light of how much this
vintage was either overlooked or lumped in with Barbaresco and the rest of
Piedmont. It was clear the 1999 Barolos were fabulous and quite different in
both personality and quality than the 1999 Barbarescos. Issue
7 of Piedmont Report, published
in May 2006, featured a comprehensive look at the wines.
as seen from Torriglione
Fast forward to today. The 1999s are just as magnificent as
they were at the outset. A warm spring led to a growing season of mostly
balanced weather and a normal to slightly late harvest. Barolo was not hit with
the hail that was so troublesome in Barbaresco, which is one of the main
reasons 1999 is a much more consistently outstanding vintage in Barolo.
Two brilliant 1999
As a group, the 1999 Barolos are not as austere as the
1996s, the closest vintage in style in the 1990s. Although powerful and
structured, the 1999s have begun to soften and are now drinking beautifully. A
few wines need a little more bottle age, but they are in the distinct minority.
Of course, the best examples will continue to develop in bottle for years to
come. Readers who bought the 1999s upon release or shortly thereafter are going
to be thrilled. There can be little doubt today that 1999 is a magnificent Barolo vintage.
-- Antonio Galloni
Editors Note: 1999 Barolo: Brilliance, Intensity and Class is an article from the Vinous Archive that is being published for the first time.