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Vintage report – Barolo 2020


The northern Italian region of Piemonte is currently enjoying a golden age and has been blessed with a trio of excellent vintage 2019-2021.  Ahead of our offers of Barolo 2020, which will commence this week, here is my report on the vintage following our extensive tastings and visits in the region.


Tasting at Luigi Einaudi & discussing the terroir of Bricco Boschis with Alfio Cavallotto.


2020 is the best Barolo vintage, that can be drunk the soonest, to be released in at least a decade.  On that basis, it is well worth clearing space for a few cases in the cellar.

Just over a month ago, in late February, a small team from Vinum spent a week in Piemonte, mostly tasting 2020s.  Whilst we were driving between wineries my phone buzzed with a WhatsApp from a friend:
Enjoy Barolo, say goodbye to your tastebuds if you’re tasting them young!

With the Nebbiolo grape’s reputation for fearsome structure and tannin, I knew exactly what he meant but, the funny thing is, today’s style of Barolo has evolved away from this stereotype.  In particular, the harmonious and expressive personality of the 2020s is about as far removed as can be from the iron-clad, austere young wines of the past.


Vintage comparisons: the as-yet unreleased (hence unlabelled) 2020 & the 2019.


The second of the 2019-2021 trilogy of high-class vintages, 2020 is a marked contrast with its 2019 predecessor.

  • 2019 delivered a high-tensile, structured style of Barolo, with excellent potential for the cellar and a decidedly ‘cool’ fruit profile.
  • From a warm, but not extreme, year the 2020s emphasise the parallels between Barolo and red Burgundy with supple, silky textures, lifted aromatics and delicate red fruit.

At Cavallotto, Alfio Cavallotto served us both his Barolo Bricco Boschis 2019 and the 2020 vintage.  My tasting notes help to illustrate the relative styles of the two years:
Barolo Bricco Boschis 2019 – Cavallotto
Reticent and old school.  Stronger on palate than nose, which really takes time to develop in the glass.  Earth, dried herbs and a touch of leather.  It is brooding and powerful, with dark cherry fruit on the mid-palate and very muscular tannins.  Long and savoury.  With time this really opens and starts to show considerable depth, complexity and promise.

Barolo Bricco Boschis 2020 – Cavallotto
Much more red fruited and lifted, with silk and brightness.  The texture is silky and it’s much more flattering although the structure isn’t as complex or strong.  Lots of charm and elegance.  Lingering, perfumed finish.

Cavallotto is amongst the more traditional of the estates we visited, and the wines show a greater degree of austerity than the likes of Einaudi or Burlotto.  However, it is worth noting that, even here, contemporary viticulture and winemaking deliver much finer tannins than in the past.  Plus, the wines age brilliantly!



Overall, 2020 is a Barolo vintage with a surfeit of charm, backed by fruit of great quality and clarity.  Elements of both combine on the palate, with tannins that are fine-grained and silky, mouth-watering acidity, and vivid fruit.

This is a vintage that should be approachable relatively early, but which has the structure and balance to sustain most wines for 20 years.  I anticipate most 2020s hitting peak drinking after about 12 years, but they will not be impenetrable before that time and the stand outs will doubtless cruise on for 25-30+ years – this is Barolo after all and the DNA has not changed even if the climate is shifting.


Tasting at Burlotto, with Fabio Alessandria, & Elio Grasso, with Gianluca Grasso.


Visiting Piemonte in February – a region from which the Alps can be glimpsed on the horizon above the vines – we were expecting European winter.  Think snow and temperatures barely bobbing above zero Celsius.  On the contrary, we arrived from Milan to bright sunshine, clear skies and 18 degrees.  One evening I had a moonlit drink on the terrace after dinner.  In what should be winter!

Rewind four years and the 2020 growing season began in the same fashion.  A warm winter, with little rainfall, saw an unusually mild February (snap!), transitioning into an early spring with similar conditions.

Vine growth, stimulated by the clement weather, stuttered in May and June, which saw less stable conditions and falling temperatures.  Rainfall replenished water reserves in the soil and dissipated any threat of hydric stress (drought), but there was some hail damage in the north.  Verduno, for example, was hit by the hail; consequently, Fabio Alessandria will not bottle any Barolo Acclivi in 2020 due to fruit losses.

From late June summer continued warm, dry and largely uneventful.  July probably counted as hot, rather than warm, but crucially there were no significant heat spikes.   Ripening was therefore allowed to continue along a steady trajectory, without the volatility of heatwaves.  This, I believe, is key to the finished wines’ balance and equilibrium, and the finesse of the tannin – qualities not usually found in otherwise ‘solar’ vintages.

Temperatures cooled in September and storms refreshed both the vines and the soils.  Most grapes were picked around the turn of the month, although a heavy rain storm in early October delayed the harvest slightly for those in some later-ripening sites and necessitated multiple passes through the vineyard and careful sorting of the fruit.

A season of generosity, without extremes and largely free of violent weather events, is echoed in its wines.  The sensuous textures, generous fruit, supple tannins and fine balance of Barolo 2020 faithfully communicate the growing season.



Barolo Castelletto 2020 – G.B. Burlotto
50 year old vines from 1973.  Very floral with aromas of roses, peonies and blossom.  Has an almost musky mid-palate perfume, silky tannins and the rose characters intensify through the line.  Filligree, pure and bursting with finesse.  Exquisitely elegant and fine.  Long, raspberry-scented finish.

Barolo Gavarini Chiniera 2020 – Elio Grasso
Quite bold, in a Monforte style, but also very pure and precise.  Deep red cherry fruit with spice and menthol.  Tannins are beautifully fine, around the sides of the mouth.  The finesse and delicacy are very impressive, sat in relief against the richness of the fruit.  Finishes with red berries and something floral.  The mid-palate has energy that would be easily missed.

Barolo Aleste 2020 – Luciano Sandrone
As usual, a more authoritative and muscular expression – classical Cannubi style with tannic heft and drive.  Chalky and savoury, with a darker-toned fruit profile than Le Vigne.  Mint, pepper, sage and spice.  There’s huge volume and power, with a richness that’s really well controlled within the wider fabric of the wine.


Tasting with our close friend Barbara Sandrone.


Fans of Barolo should make space in their cellars for some 2020s.  In particular, if you are sat on 2016s and 2019s, you are going to need something to drink whilst those vintages enjoy the slumber they are crying out for.

I am all too aware that adjectives I have used – charming, generous, approachable – can be wine merchant shorthand for simple and easy going.  Barolo 2020 has a degree of sophistication that goes beyond those descriptors, justifies the quiet smiles of the producers we tasted with and, in turn, puts a smile on my own lips.  It reminds me of 2018 but with more freshness and up-graded several notches in terms of quality.

In short, 2020 is the best Barolo vintage, that can be drunk the soonest, in at least a decade.  Beyond Italy, I am reminded of the 2017 red Burgundies and even wonder if there might be parallels with 1985 Bordeaux.  If pushed, I believe 2019 is the greater year on an intellectual level but 2020 is seductive in a way I find utterly compelling.

I am an enthusiastic buyer of this vintage and am confident lovers of Barolo are only going to be delighted as they uncork 2020s in the years to come.

This is a Test 2