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Barolo Vintage Report: The Best of 2010

The village of Castiglione Falletto in the heart of Barolo wine country
© Tom Hyland | The village of Castiglione Falletto in the heart of Barolo wine country
Italian wine expert Tom Hyland reviews the 2010 Barolos and picks his five wines of the vintage.

“Sometimes we have vintages that take time to understand. Sometimes, as in 2010, you know from the beginning that it is a great vintage.” – Gianluca Grasso, winemaker at Elio Grasso.

The producers of Barolo have been on a roll lately with above-average to outstanding vintages, with only a few exceptions, since 1996. But the 2010 vintage may be the finest of them all, with shouts of praise from various critics proclaiming this as a classic vintage.

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The annual Nebbiolo showcase held in Alba in May proved that there are many powerful wines with the structure and stuffing for 40-50 years of life ahead of them. There are also some lighter wines that are very pleasant even at a tender age.

Of course, there are inevitably some disappointments – though not many – with some wines aiming for glory, yet displaying little in the way of finesse, as they offer a heavy dose of forceful tannins. The best wines combine the floral qualities of the 2004 vintage along with the power of 2006 and the firm acid structure of 2008; in short, 2010 is a vintage with the hallmarks of greatness.

The growing season

Any memorable vintage depends on ideal weather and no one argues that this was the case in 2010 in the Barolo zone. “We had the right weather at the right time,” says Franco Massolino of Massolino. Grasso agrees: “We had the best conditions for Nebbiolo.” He notes that the 2010 growing season was one of the longest ever; that, combined with ideal temperatures, created an ideal situation. “During the night at the end of September, it was 5 or 6 degrees Celsius (39-41 degrees Fahrenheit) and during the day, it was 19 degrees (68 F). With this gap, we were able to get the phenolic maturation, to get those grapes ripe.”

It is a vintage that is one of the best of my life” – Franco Massolino

Massolino classifies the 2010 Barolos as “wines that will be able to mature very well as they have great concentration of tannins, but they are wines that show well today, even after only four years.” Danilo Drocco, winemaker at Fontanafredda, confirms the longevity of these wines. “I can imagine a long life for the 2010 Barolos, with 30-40 years being no problem.”

Producers of the vintage

Paolo Scavino crafted five beautifully rendered Barolos from 2010, especially the cru bottlings from Bricco Ambrogio, Monvigliero and Bric del Fiasc; these are wines that offer lovely red fruit flavors with less oak influence than in the past, displaying silky tannins and subtle spice notes.

At Vietti, the wines display their origins extremely well, from the elegance of the Ravera and Brunate single vineyard wines to the deeply concentrated and tightly structured Rocche di Castiglione.

The vintage was fantastic. We made some of our best wines in 2010” – Luca Currado, Vietti.

Renato Ratti made three memorable wines from La Morra; each beautifully balanced, from the classically styled Marcenasco to the more terroir-driven Conca and Rocche dell’Annunziata.

Massolino released two sublime cru offerings from Serralunga d’Alba and one from Castiglione Falletto, while the two estate releases from Elio Grasso in Monforte d’Alba are among their finest to date.

Vineyard Variation

While there are various stylistic approaches in the cellar for Barolo, local terroir remains an important factor, due primarily to the variation in soils. These site differences play out every year, but especially in a classic vintage such as 2010. The wines from La Morra, Barolo, Verduno, Cherasco and Novello, where the soils are younger, have relatively moderate tannins and pronounced floral aromas. These wines were among the most charming of 2010 and many unheralded producers such as Umberto Fracassi, Mario Marengo and Stroppiana made some of their finest wines in recent years.

The communes of Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba contain the oldest soils; the resulting wines are the most tannic Barolos, which demand time even in a lighter vintage. The 2010s from these two areas are, again, very powerful wines and while there were some outstanding releases from here (especially Massolino and Elio Grasso), there were also numerous disappointments.

Because of the aggressive nature of the tannins, Barolos from Monforte and Serralunga can be tough, unwieldy wines in their youth. Yes, time will help; but this year too many of these efforts lacked fruit in their aromas and were burdened by harsh, bitter tannins.

Finally, the commune of Castiglione Falleto – stylistically in the middle as far as Barolo is concerned – was arguably the most consistent. These wines are a bit more powerful than those of La Morra and display more spice and subdued tobacco and white pepper notes; while the best examples will peak in 25-40 years, many of the Castiglione Falletto Barolos from 2010 will be approachable at a relatively early age (3-7 years).

While he adored nearly 20 wines from the 2010 vintage, Hyland selects his top 5
© Wine-Searcher | While he adored nearly 20 wines from the 2010 vintage, Hyland selects his top 5

My 5 Favorite 2010 Barolos

Bartolo Mascarello

A glorious, classic, textbook Barolo with perfumes of dried cherry, orange peel and balsamic; though structured for 35-40 years of cellaring, this is a remarkably graceful wine. Maria Teresa Mascarello lovingly continues the time-honored tradition of her father Bartolo by blending grapes from various communes rather than making a single-vineyard wine. May she never change!

Renato Ratti Rocche dell’Annunziata (La Morra)

Always the most powerful of Ratti’s Barolos, the 2010 seduces you with its intriguing red cherry, violet and red pepper aromas; deeply concentrated with very good acidity, this has marvelous complexity and is built for the long haul (35-40 years).

Massolino Parussi (Castiglione Falletto)

Offering charming aromas of red and orange roses and red cherry, this has a big explosion of fruit on the mid-palate, very fine tannins and a lovely touch of minerality; this is a great example of local terroir. The Massolino family first offered this wine from the 2007 vintage; it has become their most “feminine” Barolo, yet this 2010 effort is not shy; peak enjoyment will be in 35-50 years.

Elio Grasso Gavarini Chiniera (Monforte d’Alba)

This cru bottling from Grasso’s estate in Monforte is as powerful as ever, but the 2010 version is more floral than usual, with notes of red poppies and wild strawberries in the nose, along with subtle hints of cardamom and allspice. The tannins are big, but balanced, and there is very good acidity, excellent complexity and notable persistence; peak in 25 years plus.

Umberto Fracassi

A wonderfully consistent traditional producer from Cherasco – a commune known as much for its snails as its wine, Umberto Fracassi crafted a remarkably complex 2010 Barolo. Displaying classic aromas of cherry, cedar, tar and orange peel, this has lovely ripeness and balance with a layered mid-palate. Rich, fine tannins, very good acidity and outstanding persistence. Gorgeous wine – sublime with great intensity; peak in 35 years plus.

Wines from the 2010 Barolo vintage will be available to purchase from summer 2014 onwards.

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