A Comparative 2013 Barolo Tasting

Here we are, a full year after the release of 2013 Barolo, a vintage that had a slow start with collectors as the media talked about a glut of wine in the pipeline, making it sound like there would be a never-ending stream of top-scoring Barolo that we could sink our teeth into. Then there was pricing, which it was believed would remain in the collector’s favor. Lastly, the promise of great things to come, with hints that 2014 would bear some surprising results. Unfortunately, we lost out on all three counts. The top wines disappeared so fast that many never made it to the public, pricing was up throughout the distribution chain, and when the reviews of 2014 Barolo came in, only a handful received the press necessary to inspire buyers to pull the trigger. What’s worse is that the Euro is now up, and pricing is starting to rise at the source.

As a devoted collector of Barolo and Barbaresco, I say that we are standing on the precipice. Barolo is a region where production is already limited, where giant companies are on the prowl to secure as much real estate as possible while prices escalate, and new-generation winemakers are realizing that they are sitting on a proverbial gold mine. It’s only so long before the list of allocated wines expands and pricing begins to push many of us out of the market.

Then there’s the 2015 vintage to consider. I’ll be in Piedmont in a few weeks, with the intention of tasting as many of the 2015s from barrel as possible, but from my early tastings last year, I can tell you that they will be bigger, sunnier, and warmer vintage wines (yet balanced). If history has taught us Barolo collectors anything, it’s that critics tend to give a lot of love (often unnecessarily so) to vintages such as 2015. My fear is that these reviews may push Barolo into the same paradigm that exists with Burgundy. Speculators and investors will tip the market, as ten-case allocations will become one case, and one-case allocations will become single bottles.

What’s a Barolo Lover to Do?

I like to think that I’ve learned from my mistakes. I look back on the 2004 vintage, as reports of 2005 being a vintage for lovers of classic Barolo were coming in. I didn’t buy enough 2004 Barolo. I look back at the 2006 vintage, with 2007 looming over it and being talked about as the “Second Coming.” I didn’t buy enough 2006 Barolo. I don’t even want to get into 2010…

I think about this every time I pay a premium to add these great vintages to my cellar, and then I think about 2013.

One of the greatest things about the 2013 vintage is how well the region did across all communes. What’s more, the region did incredibly well from the entry-level bottles all the way up to the premium single-vineyard expressions. So, while everyone was out chasing the Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Giacomo Conterno and Vietti Barolos of the world, the market was patiently sitting on a treasure trove of excellent wines that are far superior to much of what is remaining in the market from 2011, 2012 and the new-release 2014s. I’m not talking about $100 bottles of Barolo here (although you can find those too). I’m talking about wines that sit comfortably between $40 – $85 and deliver everything that a Barolo collector seeks.

Of course, not all wines are created equal, and so I decided to organize a comparative tasting based on 2013 Barolo that was still in the market. This was the perfect opportunity to check in on wines that we can all still buy, without paying an arm and a leg. These may not be 96+ scoring wines (although you may be surprised), but I assure you they are all solid performers with a long life ahead of them—and some of them are simply STUNNING!

My General Impressions

First and foremost, let’s talk a little about the 2013 vintage. From the first time that I tasted these wines two years ago, it was love at first sight. In fact, it’s difficult to think of a vintage that I’ve enjoyed more when tasting them in their youth. That’s not to say that they are early accessible wines. They are, in fact, austere, and will mature beautifully for decades to come, but they combine brilliance of fruit with tremendous depth and wonderfully classic structures. It’s a vintage that I have bought deeply into because of just how many wines I’ve tasted that I simply love—and this last tasting is sure to expand my cellar once again.

As for where the wines are today…in each case, these were only opened an hour before the first taste, and weren’t decanted. However, I had the chance to revisit them the following day (only having had them refrigerated overnight) and in some instances another day after that. In each case, the wines only got better. In fact, of the wines that I was able to taste three days after opening, only one of them showed any sign of decline. That alone is a testament to the potential of the 2013 vintage.

On the first night, each of them was quite primary, tannins forward, yet fruit staying persistent, and all showing a serious sense of place. As I split the tasting into the traditional school versus the modern, I will say that each showed equally well. If anything, the more modern producers may have benefited from being tasted at the end of the event, as some showed a bit of new wood upon first opening, which faded with time. The only wine that didn’t show well the first night, but became significantly better overnight, was the Parusso Bussia. Marco Parusso once said to me that his wines could be opened for days, and he wasn’t kidding. The Parusso Bussia was one of the wines that I was able to check in on three days later, and it continued to get better.

From the standpoint of commune, I must say that the Baudana Serralugna Barolo was simply classic, and the Guido Porro Santa Caterina—WOW! Having said that, I suppose that Serralunga took the prize. There was one Barbaresco thrown in for good measure, and it seemed right at home with the rest of the lineup.

As I said before, I will be adding a number of these to my own collection. They aren’t the highest-scoring, biggest names of the region, but they will deliver more value and pleasure over the coming years than most, and I’m happy to recommend any single one of them. And so, without further ado:

On to the Tasting Notes

The Traditional School

Cigliuti Barbaresco Vie Erte 2013 – The nose was enticing with an immediate burst of ripe cherries, followed by sweet rose, dusty cedar, spice box and backing minerality. On the palate, I found an unbelievably juicy expression, as ripe red fruits and sweet spices picked up a slight balsamic tone before hints of fine tannin began to settle on the senses. The finish was long with a sweet herbal tea note, dried cherries and hints of lingering tannin. This is already so enjoyable today, lifted, zesty and a little feminine, yet there are many years of cellar potential ahead for it. (93 points)

Francesco Rinaldi & Figli Barolo 2013 – The 2013 Barolo from Francesco Rinaldi is a classic in every sense of the word. It’s one of those wines that really makes me question if one can really have too much 2013 Barolo in their cellar. The bouquet opened up with a display of gorgeous pure red berry fruits, dusty old spices, earth and minerals tones, yet it gained a balsamic spiciness and savoriness the more time it spent in the glass. On the palate, I found silky textures with balsamic-infused strawberry, inner florals, earthy minerals, and animal muskiness. The finish was long, as dried red berries gave way to hints of cedar and spice with a coating of fine tannin which reminded me of how young this wine really is. Bravo, and what a value as well. (92 points)

Fratelli Alessandria Barolo San Lorenzo 2013 – The difference in a glass from this northerly Verduno locale is obvious from the first sniff. Here I found a beautifully lifted display of fresh strawberry, with violet florals, hints of mint, white pepper and minerals. On the palate, the San Lorenzo spoke of purity above all else, with a lifted and truly feminine profile as notes of fresh red berries, inner florals, a dusting of spice and mineral-laden brisk acidity glided across the senses. The finish was medium in length, leaving a light coating of fine tannin, as well as lingering florals and hints of cedary spice. (92 points)

Elio Grasso Barolo Gavarini Vigna Chiniera 2013 – The nose of the Gavarini Chiniera was just as massive, dark and intimidating as I expected, even showing those odd hints of baker’s chocolate in the initial whiff that trick many tasters into thinking this is aged in new oak. However, with time in the glass, that all cleared away to reveal crushed black cherries with hints of rosemary and mint upon mint, soaring rosy florals and crushed stone. On the palate, I found surprisingly silky textures, backed by dark red fruits and hints of balsamic spice, as grippy tannin began to settle upon the senses and firm up the experience. The finish was long and austere, destined for greatness one day, but many years from now, as balsamic-inflected black cherry and hints of spice slowly faded. There’s simply so much going on beneath the hood of the ’13 Gavarini Vigna Chiniera.  (96 points)

Luigi Baudana di GD Vajra Barolo Serralunga d’Alba 2013 – This was an immediate standout in my tasting. Not only is the Baudana Barolo an amazing value, but it also shows the uniqueness of the house style while communicating its Serralunga roots so well. The nose showed black cherries dipped in liquor with dark exotic spices, balsamic, savory herbs and dusty mineral tones. On the palate, I found soft textures with strawberry, raspberry, and sour cherry offset by hints of mint, backed by zesty acids and minerals. The finish was long and structured, showing its tannic heft, while remnants of savory bitter herbs, black tea, saline-minerals and dried cherry lingered. (94 points)

Guido Porro Barolo Santa Caterina 2013 – This being my first experience with Guido Porro and his Lazzarito parcel, I didn’t really know what to expect. However, I can say that this producer is now firmly on my radar. The Santa Caterina opened up with a surprisingly lifted and sharp profile on the nose, displaying fresh strawberry with perfumed florals, mint, and a burst of minerality, then slowly taking a turn toward a darker, richer and earthy expression–crushed roses in dark soil comes to mind. On the palate, silky textures gave way to floral-laced black cherry, exotic spices, hints of cedar, leather and minerals, with fine tannin slowly mounting on the senses. It finished long, as its deceptively light tannins saturated the palate, leaving only inner floral tones and dried cherries to linger. This is a wine for the cellar that will likely flesh out over time and provide a massive amount of pleasure–but how long will that take? (95 points)

Leaning Modern

Paolo Scavino Barolo Carobric 2013 – The 2013 Carobric came across as one of the most balanced and easy-to-like wines at this tasting. The nose showed a dark mix of red berry fruits with sweet and savory spices, crushed stone minerality, and dried roses. On the palate, I found soft textures, lifted by brisk acidity, with fresh ripe cherry and strawberry backed by hints of cedar, savory spice and minerals. Its mix of acid and tannin played out nicely upon the senses, creating a wonderfully balanced expression. The finish was long, lingering of dried red fruits, spice, a bitter twang of herbs and lingering fine tannin. I don’t see this being a 30-year Carobric, but it should be turning a lot of heads in about five years and another decade or more after that. (94 points)

Elio Altare Barolo Arborina 2013 – At first, the Altare Arborina showed its oak aging over anything else with dark chocolate and olive tones, yet after about an hour opened in bottle, it began to really blossom. Here I found a dark and alluring display of black cherry and pomegranate, with balsamic spices, which was lifted by beautiful floral tones and a burst of minerality. On the palate, velvety textures with an almost oily consistency were offset by balanced acid and tart red and blackberry fruits, as hints of sweet spice and lavender swept across the senses. The finish was long and remarkably pretty, as lingering tannin was eased by black cherry, inner florals and hints of spicy mint. As one of the last remaining modernists, they really have a style all their own. I can’t help but love Altare. (95 points)

Parusso Barolo Bussia 2013 – I’ve come to the conclusion that Parusso’s Bussia should be opened many hours before serving, because at each tasting, many people find it to be too different and too exotic, yet with time it reveals so much more. On the nose, I found crushed raspberry, cranberry and sour cherry with exotic florals, spiced orange, dried savory herbs, undergrowth and a hint of coconut. On the palate, remarkably soft textures ushered in black cherry and raspberry fruits, as zesty acids paved the way to a coating of fine tannin with inner florals and citrus tones sweeping across the senses. The finish was long, lingering of dried cherries, spice, lasting minerals and saturating tannin which held on tight. (93 points)

Parusso Barolo Mosconi 2013 – The nose was exotic and alluring with spiced dried orange, crushed strawberry, wild floral tones, hints of vanilla and sweet minerality. On the palate, I found silky textures offset by energizing tart cherry with sweet and savory spice, licorice, inner herbal and florals tones. The finish was long, resonating on tart cherry and orange citrus, with hints of fine tannin lingering long. (92 points)

Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate 2013 – The nose was dark with wild berry, savory spice and animal muskiness, as notes of crushed stone and dark soil tones evolved in the glass. On the palate, I found polished, silky textures with mineral and tannic underpinnings giving way to a mix of red berries and inner florals, yet ultimately falling back, leaving crunchy tannin in their wake. The finish was medium-long, with brisk acidity easing its tannic heft and ending on lingering cherry and dried floral tones. (93 points)

Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio 2013 – Here I found a restrained bouquet, slowly revealing a mix of dried cherry, dusty spices, roses, hints of undergrowth and smoke. On the palate, silky textures on a medium-bodied frame were ushered across the senses by a wave of vibrant acids, as tart cherry, licorice and balsamic spices cascaded toward the finale. Crunchy tannins came on late through the finish, clenching the senses with youthful structure as hints of dried roses, wild berry and sous bois lingered. There’s tremendous balance and potential here for many years in the cellar. (94 points)

Credit and Resources

Article, tasting notes and photos by: Eric Guido

View the selection of 2013 Barolo at Morrell Wine

Map images taken from “Barolo MGA, the Barolo Great Vineyards Encyclopedia”, Alessandro Masnaghetti Editore – Enogea – www.enogea.it. All rights reserved