Investors should pay attention to Barolo, Piemonte, says Simon Larkin
When the growers in any region proclaim back-to-back great vintages, there is inevitably scepticism. Think back to Bordeaux 2009 – ‘the vintage of a lifetime’ one merchant proclaimed at the time. The 2010 followed, which certainly challenged it, and may have surpassed it. The 2009s were released at eye-watering levels and so, accordingly, the 2010s were a step up in price. A decade later, having paid for the greatest examples in each vintage on release, collectors and investors could be forgiven for being cynical. The wines are now trading at much lower levels.
Hitherto less famous, but no less interesting, is a new point of focus for investors: Barolo in Piemonte in northwestern Italy remains relatively untapped. Just as in any wine region, there are a few notable wines and estates that are followed avidly. And the old adage of following an estate rather than a vintage still rings true. But outside of the handful of lauded estates, one finds several that are quietly building their reputation.
Quality and value for money have led collectors and investors here; the run of Barolo vintages since 2000 is fascinating and since 2010 the consistency is astonishing. Historically, there may have been just a couple of very-good-to-great vintages per decade.
Today, on account of climate change, we are seeing differences in style but, crucially, consistently higher average quality. This has chimed with an increasing number of experienced, skilled growers.
The happy combination of wonderfully ripe fruit and winemaking knowhow has elevated Barolo’s standing; even those who once dismissed the region as a quiet backwater with a handful of exceptional wines are being forced to reconsider. When asked what he thought of the wines of Barolo a couple of years ago, one well-known Bordeaux-oriented merchant answered sardonically: ‘Isn’t that a region in north-west Italy?’ It is, and you will continue to hear more about it, even after the releases of the outstanding 2016, potentially the finest vintage in twenty or thirty years, have cleared. There are some very good 2017s to come next year, but excitement is already building for the 2018 and 2019 vintages.
We are yet to have back-to-back great vintages, but it must surely only be a question of time. As yet, there is no cause for cynicism.