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2019: the first great vintage of Piemonte’s new era

2019 feels like a must for serious lovers of Barolo and Barbaresco – a worthy follow up to 2016 and a vintage to sit alongside 2013 and 2010 perhaps.  Do make some room in the cellar!

This report introduces the vintage and will be followed by a succession of offers featuring the 2019s throughout next week.

The wine-growers of Piemonte are riding a wave at the moment and it is cresting with the 2019 vintage – a year of classic and sometimes outstanding quality.  In truth, the only reason for fans of Nebbiolo not to well and truly fill their boots with 2019s is that 2020 and 2021 are waiting in the side lines and also look pretty smart.

To set the scene we should rewind to 2016, the dawn of a new era in the region:

  • A younger generation, that had been emerging at estates throughout Piemonte, seemed to come of age.
  • Mother Nature delivered a great vintage.
  • Evolutions in viticulture and winemaking that had been gaining pace in prior years were brought to bear on the 2016 crop.
  • Wine lovers outside of established ‘Nebbiolo Heads’ seemed collectively to wake up and discover the amazing wealth of this region.

At the same time as Piemonte’s young guns made their mark with 2016, the region’s maestros – such as the much-missed Luciano Sandrone – produced wines to count amongst the masterpieces of their careers.

2019 is the first great vintage of Barolo and Barbaresco’s new era.  Up-and-coming estates who transitioned onto the main stage with 2016 have an opportunity to prove their mettle.  Collectors first drawn to Piemonte for the 2016 releases now have a top young vintage to add to their cellars.

Suffice to say the vintage was stellar in both Barolo and Barbaresco
 – Kerin O’Keefe /

The 2019s are decidedly classical in their proportions and style.  In my tastings, I frequently found fruit that is fragrant, pure and precise, often backed by distinctly floral characters.  This fruit is bound and framed by typically marked Nebbiolo tannins, but these tend to be silky and chiselledand rarely show the punishing austerity for which these wines used to be known.

Right now, many of the wines are introverted and tightly coiled, not wanting to give much up and requiring plenty of air and patience if you are going to taste them today – but this is natural for young Barolo.  The structural elements of the 2019s promise significant cellaring potential, particularly in the wines’ intensity, tension and balance.  However, there are very few that are either forbidding or impenetrable in their tannins.  It is early days for such predictions, but I doubt many 2019s will demand extended ageing before they are approachable.

For those more familiar with Burgundy vintages, think 2010 rather than 2005 or 1999.

2019 was a relatively late harvest following a summer with some significant heat.  On paper, this does not add up to the classically balanced and pure-fruited wines I have tasted.  Although they certainly helped, the cool nights leading up to the harvest are probably a red herring in explaining this apparent mismatch between growing season and wine style.

Piemonte’s new era, as described above, has been ushered in both by climate change and attendant evolutions in vineyard practices and winery techniques.  The established masters, old timers, and the new generation coming to the fore; each have had to work their vines differently and change how they work in the winery and this is the answer to the paradox of 2019.

In my view, recent vintages of Barolo and Barbaresco represent a golden age for these wines
– Susan Hulme MW /

The 2019 vintage has shown how classic wines with cool fruit profiles and pin-point balance can be born of a hot vintage in the age of global warming.  A great measure for this are the alcohol levels which, of course, always tend toward the higher end of the scale with Nebbiolo.  In 2018, many wines tipped the scales at 15% or higher.  Despite the heat, in 2019, most are back in the 14-14.5% range – moderate alcohol for Barolo and Barbaresco.

My first ever visit to Piemonte was in late summer 2021, my first wine trip after lockdown.  Even then, excitement about the 2019s was bubbling at each estate I visited and this has continued ever since.  The wines I have tasted so far have delivered on this hype and the vintage seems to offer more with each tasting.

I am one of those who got into buying Barolo with the 2016 vintage.  I have some ‘cellar defenders’ from 2017 and 2018 to distract me from opening all my ‘16s too young but my trigger finger is now itching for the 2019s.  The vintage is the real deal so my weekend will now be spent clearing room in the cellar.

Matthew Hemming MW

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