Okay, I’ll admit that I get excited about the wines of Barolo more than I do about most, but there’s a very good reason to turn your attention to Piedmont. The latest arrivals from Barolo are the wines of vintage 2015, and the likes of which have not been seen in some time.
I travelled to Italy’s spectacular Piedmont region earlier this year with a colleague, James Suckling, where we tasted through more than three hundred examples from a vintage that has garnered so much hype since grapes were harvested more than three years ago. The procession of dolcetto, barbera, Langhe nebbiolo and Barbaresco wines from the same harvest – wines with releases all preceding these Barolos – built an environment of significant expectation. And these 2015 Barolos did not disappoint.
The 2015 vintage is one where quality is high across the board and one that is really worthy of your attention, and wine cellar real estate, if nebbiolo is your thing. The season can be described most simply as warm and dry – pretty much what many of Europe’s great red winemaking regions experienced in 2015. Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône Valley, Tuscany, most of Spain – it is a vintage where the opportunity to make great wine fell freely at the feet of many.
If getting the famously late-ripening nebbiolo to the optimal point of ripeness is more often that not a challenge, then the extended hot and dry conditions of July and August 2015, and a more moderate, but still warm, September made many worry about the season causing imbalance in the vines. Hydric (water) stress was of particular concern until some much-needed rain arrived in October and refreshed vineyards to finish the task of ripening, in particular some very significant phenolic ripening.
Tasting the wines, it was pleasantly surprising to discover a genuine freshness across the board in spite of the talk of heat and drought. In general the wines have terrific and vibrant perfume, a quality that indicates things in the vineyard fell on the right side of ripeness. That also came as a surprise. The abundantly sweet and richly concentrated fruit flavours were fully anticipated and these wines certainly delivered plentifully on their promise of fruit, leaving only one thing.
The point of trepidation was really that of tannin quality and, for those who know nebbiolo, this will come as no surprise. Nebbiolo lovers are tannin junkies, they froth and quiver at the thought of boldly encompassing tactile textures and they worship Barolo in particular for this ability to deliver tannins to a level of intensity and refinement that no other wine style can attain.
Well if tannin worship is your thing, then roll out the vinous prayer mat, buy virtually every 2015 Barolo you can find and mount a tasting of biblical proportions. These tannins are exquisite in 2015 and they are as approachable and friendly as they are profound. They are so silky, so fine, so dense and have been delivered in a mode of such refinement in the hands of the planet’s best tannin masons.
This alludes to another noteworthy point being that this vintage could not have been delivered quite this way any time before now. Time itself aside, the Barolo winemakers’ experience and understanding of ripeness, managing tannins and curating extraction during fermentation is at a point that it has never before reached. The 2015 season for most winemakers delivered an opportunity to craft and to expressively build wines in a way that elaborates the full majestic power, depth and nuance of nebbiolo.
This vintage would have yielded a very different set of wines had it arrived 20, even 10 years ago. Ask around for comparable vintages and the most common answer you will hear from the region’s winemakers is 2001, another vintage notably dry yet perhaps not so warm or extended. There are several recent vintages that delivered greater heat and intensity of heat, vintages like 2011, 2009 and 2007. But really it was this dry lead in, with vines carrying moderate yields that were then freshened by the relieving rains in October, that kicked ripening into another gear.
The 2015 Barolo is nebbiolo in full flight and in all its expressive, majestic and complex glory. It is a vintage in which communes, sites, plots and producers are all keenly differentiated and therefore offers just so much interest and allure.
Of particular note are the producers of classically styled wines, as the level of character derived from the vineyard has elevated these wines to a zone of beautiful balance, harmony and expressiveness. For those wines that are blended across various parcels, this vintage has such depth and breadth, and for the wines derived from single plots or parcels this is a vintage that has a hierarchy to be savoured.
The great crus assert themselves at their rightful place at the top of the band of quality and, if there was one further twist to be found, it is that the cooler-sited crus have outgunned their warmer-sited counterparts, tempering the vintage with a positively restrained and composed edge – a minute detail.
The only thing to contemplate, now that the wines are nearly in Australia, is what to buy and how long to hold it before drinking. The answer to the first question is absolutely everything you dare to lay your hands on. The answer to the second is entirely subjective, as these wines are delicious now and will certainly repay later drinking. They’ll dip only gently in a few years and re-emerge triumphantly and ready to go considerable distance. Their tannins are the stuff of legends!
Note: Nick Stock is Senior Editor of jamessuckling.com and travelled to Piedmont courtesy of that company.
Nick’s Picks of Barolo 2015
2015 Azelia Barolo San Rocco, A$240
The attractively alluring rich red cherry, blueberry, herbs, tar and flower notes are so fresh. The run of fine, sheet-like tannins is impressive and the freshness, length and balance all faultless. Best from 2022.
2015 Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche, A$550
Appealing and immediate fruit freshness, a wealth of cherry and red plum, and the perfume is equally striking. Very concentrated in the mouth, layered and tightly knit with a supple texture, you really swoon over the finish here. So refined and long. Best from 2023.
2015 Comm. G.B. Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero, A$155
A unique wine that has a super fragrant and attractively juicy edge with strawberry, white pepper and heady floral aromas. The palate has a very focused core of plump red berry and cherry fruit and the whole clusters add detail to the richness. Drink over the next 20 years.
2015 Conterno-Fantino Barolo Ginestra Vigna Sorì Ginestra, A$225
A wildly striking set of aromas here with plum, cherry and blackberry with plenty of spicy perfumed allure. The upbeat, energetic and superbly fresh palate holds immense depth of plum and cherry flavours and delivers admirably in terms of length and cut. Best from 2023.
2015 E. Pira Chiara Boschis Barolo Cannubi, A$225
The sense of purity, precision and intensity is staggering with a wealth of ripe red cherry, raspberry and mountain herbs all intermingled with lacy perfumed notes, too. The palate has a web of tightly knit tannins and a very powerfully focused and fleshy cherry core that extends with immense length. One of the greatest editions of this wine. Try from 2025.
2015 Giacomo Conterno Francia Barolo, A$500
A very evenly inched style with ample red cherry and wild raspberry in abundance with swirling perfumed notes, too. The palate has powerfully expressive tannins that build width and weight as they roll through to the long, juicy finish. Try from 2023.
2015 Giovanni Sordo Barolo Monprivato, A$245
This producer has made consistent wines in 2015: raspberry and strawberry laced with mountain herbs, flowers and autumnal nuances. The palate’s so balanced and seamless, elegant to a point and powerfully resolute. Drink over the next 15 years.
2015 La Spinetta Barolo Vürsù Campè, A$314
The rich blue fruits are striking; violet and blueberry with blackcurrant and autumnal leafy and sappy notes. Still very unevolved. The palate follows with more blue fruits and delivers a very pristine, ripe and glossy core of fresh berries framed with fine, silky and sweetly ripe tannins. Drink over the next two decades.
2015 Marcarini Barolo Brunate, A$120
The warm vintage has pushed a little more flesh onto the bones of this perennially elegant Barolo. It oozes fresh red cherry and flower aromas and delivers a smooth, fine-grained and elegantly fresh palate that is very approachable now.
2015 Massolino Barolo Parafada, A$206
Blue-tinged flowers and fruits are delivered in a very perfumed and flamboyant mode thanks to the warmer vintage. Always a majestic wine, this has taken the richer vintage in its stride in structural terms; succulent and full with long, supple and enveloping tannins. Best from 2023.
2015 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo Colonnello, A$330
A signature edge of lifted flowers and balsamic and freshly sawed wood develops pace with a spray of ripe red plum, cherry and spiced orange. The palate has magnificently accurate tannins that are weighty yet precise. Long and majestic. Best from 2023.
2015 Vietti Barolo Rocche di Castiglione, A$455
One of the great wines of the vintage, this has such impressive complexity in every facet; aroma, flavour and texture. The wild rose perfume is heady and intoxicating, there are spiced red fruits and a full mountain garden of complex aromas here. The marriage of elegance and power is compelling. Best from 2025.