Monday, 19 September 2016

A century of Barolo vintages — Fontanafredda

In the northern Italian vineyard region of Piemonte, two well-known Barolo producers have provided publicly available comments on 100 years of the wine vintages. Finding these online is not easy, and so I will be covering them in this blog.

Here, I have listed the chart from Fontanafredda (formally: Casa di E.Mirafiore & Fontanafredda S.r.l). You can read all about the estate and winery at the Fontanafredda web site (in both English and Italian).

I obtained this listing from a colorful printed poster on the wine-cellar wall at Wenngarns slott, in Sweden. There seems to be no other online version available. I have provided an analysis of the data at the end of the post.


A Century of Barolo 1906-2005


The 100 vintages are scored on an increasing scale:
    Poor, Normal, Good, Great, Excellent, Outstanding.
Comments on the vintage are provided only for the latter two categories.

Year Harvest
quality
Comments
1906  Good 
1907  Excellent  Top quality Barolos with magnificently balanced component parts. 
1908  Great 
1909  Normal 
1910  Great 
1911  Good 
1912  Excellent  Rich Barolos with great structure and an amply scented range of invitingly complex fragrance. 
1913  Good 
1914  Good 
1915  Poor 
1916  Normal 
1917  Great 
1918  Normal 
1919  Excellent  Barolo of wonderful finesse and elegance, with excellent structure and long lasting flavour. 
1920  Good 
1921  Normal 
1922  Outstanding  A superb Barolo throughout, full-bodied and well-balanced with great development potential. 
1923  Normal 
1924  Good 
1925  Normal 
1926  Normal 
1927  Excellent  A Barolo brimming with character, structure and elegance in its bouquet. 
1928  Normal 
1929  Excellent  Harmony, intensity and great concentration were the qualities featured in a vintage decimated by spring frosts and hailstorms during the summer. 
1930  Normal 
1931  Outstanding  Generally exquisite sensations, from its intense, rounded nose, to its full, harmonious flavour and great balance on the palate. 
1932  Normal 
1933  Poor 
1934  Great 
1935  Normal 
1936  Normal 
1937  Good 
1938  Normal 
1939  Poor 
1940  Normal 
1941  Poor 
1942  Normal 
1943  Normal 
1944  Poor 
1945  Good 
1946  Poor 
1947  Outstanding  This is rightly considered to be one of the greatest vintages of the century, and this Barolo expressed all the power of its colour, bouquet and taste to the full. 
1948  Poor 
1949  Normal 
1950  Normal 
1951  Good 
1952  Normal 
1953  Poor 
1954  Normal 
1955  Good 
1956  Normal 
1957  Great 
1958  Excellent  Well structured, crisp Barolo with a bouquet that developed a lovely ethereal complexity over time. 
1959  Normal 
1960  Poor 
1961  Excellent  A classy Barolo, with body, warmth, structure, and a very ample, intense nose. 
1962  Normal 
1963  Poor 
1964  Outstanding  Absolutely superb Barolo of incredible grandeur. The depth of the bouquet and fullness of its flavour came together with the well-ripened tannins that softened over a period of just a few years to give the wine a genuinely special balance and harmony. 
1965  Normal 
1966  Poor 
1967  Excellent  A Barolo packed with intense, ample fragrances and good structure. 
1968  Normal 
1969  Normal 
1970  Great 
1971  Outstanding  Featuring magnificent balance, structure and depth of bouquet, this Barolo stands out for its elegance, very fine nose and ageing capacity. 
1972     [Such a poor year for the nebiolo grapes that it was voluntarily declassified by all Barolo and Barbaresco producers.] 
1973  Normal 
1974  Excellent  A Barolo with a delicate, inviting nose and smooth, lingering taste. 
1975  Good 
1976  Normal 
1977  Poor 
1978  Outstanding  A dry, hot summer and autumn allowed a small crop to produce a Barolo of great structure and power, and complex aroma and taste. 
1979  Great 
1980  Good 
1981  Normal 
1982  Excellent  One of the biggest Barolos of all time in terms of body and character, with rich tannins and firm acidity guaranteeing a slow evolution of the wine over the years. 
1983  Normal 
1984  Poor 
1985  Excellent  A Barolo distinguished by balance and harmony in its components, resulting from a hot, dry summer and autumn. Intense expansive bouquet. 
1986  Good 
1987  Poor 
1988  Good 
1989  Outstanding  Wine with a very intense bouquet and big, full taste. Imposing and demanding, it owes its long life to its concentration. 
1990  Outstanding  A majestic, thoroughbred Barolo. Exhilarating and complex, with great structure, balance and substance, an expansive nose, luscious, warm, full-bodied flavour, and soft, thick tannins. 
1991  Normal 
1992  Poor 
1993  Good 
1994  Poor 
1995  Great 
1996  Outstanding  A Barolo of days gone by, with good structure and a lingering taste. A harvest delayed by an intensely cold spring and summer produced a wine with explosive tannic structure and a crisp  
1997  Outstanding  Hot weather and early ripening resulted in a Barolo with a surprising harmony that highlighted the fullness and softness of its flavour. A wine of great balance, with astonishingly expressive power accompanying an extremely gentle nature. 
1998  Excellent  Aromas of great freshness and finesse combine with a perfect sensation of equilibrium on the palate, produced by soft, ripe tannins matched by the warmth of the alcohol and nicely balanced acidity. 
1999  Outstanding  A Barolo of great personality and structure, resulting from perfect ripening conditions for nebbiolo grapes. Complex on the nose and full-bodied in the mouth, with rich, ripe tannins providing breadth and depth. 
2000  Outstanding  To close (or open?) the century, a Barolo with plenty of structure, a soft, full taste, and very intense fruit on the nose. A warm vintage and an early harvest for an elegant, round Barolo of exceptional balance and great personality. 
2001  Outstanding  The vintage was distinguished by a wet, yet warm spring, followed by a very normal summer and autumn, with temperatures never getting too high. These conditions led to a harvest that started at the beginning of October, when the grapes were perfectly ripe (in terms of polyphenols too). A very concentrated wine, with powerful, soft tannins that fill the mouth. Red fruit and balsamic aromas prevail on the nose. 
2002  Normal 
2003  Good 
2004  Outstanding  An extraordinary Barolo, open and radiant, with ripe tannins that are soft and smooth. A wine that stands out for its great balance. Fascinating, expansive, multi-coloured bouquet, and warm and savoury on the mouth. An "easy" Barolo to approach and appreciate: this is its greatness. 
2005  Excellent  Mid-harvest rains left their mark, defining styles and selections. Focus on elegance, with plenty of acidity and dry tannins, but good concentration of fruit giving depth and volume. 


Analysis of the data

Summary of the harvest-quality data for the 100 vintages:
Outstanding   14
Excellent 13
Great 8
Good 16
Normal 32
Poor 16
Declassified   1

The declassified vintage in 1972 is very unusual. Angelo Gaja’s notes on Langhe vintages include this comment:
The vintage was a disaster. It rained for 15 days during harvest. I believe that a bad decision was made. At that time, more than 80 percent of the harvest was sold to n├ęgociants (mediatori in Italian). Less than 20% was vinified by the growers themselves. The n├ęgociants didn’t want to pay for the grapes because the quality wasn’t there, and so they pushed the chamber of commerce to declassify the vintage. And it was declassified after the harvest. And so it was not possible to take advantage of what good fruit there was. It was a bad choice and it has never been repeated. The price collapsed and the grape growers were not able to cover their costs. They were the ones who suffered the most. Wineries can recoup their costs from other vintages. This decision was only made once and in my opinion it was a mistake.

Fontanafredda vintage quality scores 1906-2005

I have shown the harvest-quality data as a time series in the graph, with quality converted to the scores 0-6. Each data point represents a vintage, and the pink line is a running average (it shows the average value across groups of 9 consecutive years, thus smoothing out the long-term trends).

The graph is generally centered on a score of 3 (= Good), with a distinct dip of poor vintages during the period 1935-1946. Indeed, 1947 was the only noteworthy vintage between 1931 and 1958 (a string of 26 vintages). By contrast, there has been a string of above-average vintages since 1994.

This recent improvement in quality compares very well to that discussed in Two centuries of Bordeaux vintages. This trend has occurred throughout the vineyard areas of Europe, and is usually attributed to the much warmer summers experienced since 1990, which has allowed the grapes to ripen more reliably (see the data in the post on Bordeaux).

In contrast with Barolo, the Bordeaux vintages also showed a general upward trend in harvest quality throughout the 1900s, rather than having the beginning and end of the century being similar (as shown above). In this sense, the two regions have been quite different. Bordeaux did also have poor vintages from 1930-1935, as in Barolo, but it had good vintages in 1945-1950, unlike Barolo.