"Andrea, I just received a newsletter offering Barolo
for only a few pounds, what do you think? " this is a question I was asked a couple of days ago from one of our clients. A few days after, the same newsletter was sent to me, and the Barolo offer, but there were also other wines, did not mention the vintage nor the producer, it was simply saying Barolo and a very cheap price, it wasn’t a good price, it was just cheap, because I know the costs to make Barolo, from the grapes to the barrels necessary for the ageing and no serious producer can afford to sell a wine at a below cost price.
When buying wines like Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino or Amarone, just to mention a few Italian wines ,but the rule applies to all wines made to be drunk several years after they have been produced, the vintage makes a great difference, it determines the future and quality of the wine. A bad vintage and the wine is better drunk now because it won’t get any better with ageing, a great vintage and the wine, properly kept, will be a joy to drink.
Vintage not only determine the quality of the wine, but also the price. In countries like Italy but I would include the whole old world, not all vintages are the same. In many countries of the old world a lot of practices in the vineyards, such as irrigation, are not allowed. This, in simple words, means that not two vintages are the same due to the different weather conditions between years. In the new world, where these practices are allowed, there is no much difference between vintages.
Going back to the initial question, buying a Barolo 2002 vintage or buying a 2000 vintage is not the same. The 2000 vintage was rated 5 star, the 2002 was only rated 2 stars. What does this mean? 5 star vintage means that the grapes have all characteristics to produce a fantastic wine and last for years or decades, the alcohol, the acidity and the tannins. This also means that you can buy a bottle now, store in your cellar for 10 years and then open it and if properly kept, you can be certain that it will be a joy to drink. When buying the 2002, good producers including ours have decided not to produce it and simply use the grapes for their Nebbiolo
wines, the wine in 10 years will be vinegar.
If you have bought any bottle, just use it for cooking, Brasato al Barolo
is one of the recipes you could use the wine for. If, on the other side, you still want to buy it, because you think it is a good deal, make sure you drink it soon but when drinking it expect to drink an unpleasant wine, with harsh tannins and definitely not smooth.
I also want to share a couple of tips to spot good restaurants or shop. If you go to a restaurant and see that for expensive wines, not only Italian but also French or any other country, the wine list doesn’t show the vintage, if you really want to know whether the wine is worth the money you are paying for, ask for the vintage. If you are not sure about the vintage or if the wine is too young even if of a good year, then it is almost surely not worth the money you are paying for, so choose something else. Wines, especially aged ones, or the “Riserva”, need a few years of bottle ageing before being ready to be drunk and many restaurants sell wines that have just been releases and always doubt of sommeliers that recommend wines without asking what you will eat.