A Matter of Taste: 2015 Barolo

As far as professional critics go, the word on the 2015 Barolo vintage couldn’t be more mixed. The first report to hit our inboxes was from James Suckling (a report actually written by his Senior Editor, Nick Stock). From the headline alone, you could tell that he was a big fan of the vintage, stating, “BAROLO 2015 BEST VINTAGE SINCE 2010 – MAYBE BETTER.” Since my first tasting of a 2015 Barolo, the vintage was being called a “Critic’s Vintage” by producers, meaning that in Piedmont, locals have come to feel that warmer years receive the bigger press. This shouldn’t surprise anyone when you consider the hype over 2000 and 2007. Even 2011 had its champions. However, the big surprise came when Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media posted his report and tasting notes, calling the vintage warm, uneven, and suggesting that readers would have better luck looking to the best wines of 2014, or waiting for 2016.

I was set aback by this report, and I respect Antonio a great deal for calling it likes he sees it. However, I will say that, in my opinion, maybe this message was a little too harsh on the vintage. Granted, we have yet to hear from Wine Spectator or the Wine Advocate, but at the moment, the mixed messages have left most consumers confused.

Bear with me here, as Antonio has far more tasting experience than I do, yet I have had the privilege to taste and follow many of these wines from the winery cellars and now into bottle. In my opinion, there are a number of wines that didn’t quite make the cut, making it difficult to call it an overall good vintage. However, there are many more that have achieved beautiful balance, and quite a few that are down-right spellbinding. What’s more, for the producers that did turn out a great set of wines, they are glorious.

Imagine, if you will, a warm, mostly dry vintage that turned out sun-kissed Barolo that have significantly more energy, lift and purity than years such as 2000, 2003, 2007, 2011 or 2012. Anyone that has been following Barolo long enough to remember the hype over 2007, in my opinion, will find a lot more to like about 2015. Simply stated, the fruit has thrust without any sensation of over-extraction or unbalanced tannins. This combination makes for wines that are already a pleasure to taste yet have many, many years of development ahead for them.

The Devil in the Details

Much of this is the result of the finer details of the vintage. For one thing, the preceding winter months had a good amount of snow and rain, which built up water reserves in the soils throughout the region. Even though the weather turned warmer than average going into the Spring, and then turned dry and spiked up throughout the months of June and July, the water underground allowed the vines to maintain balance.

I was in Piedmont June of 2015, and I kid you not when I say that it only took moments of walking in the sun to start to feel the effects of the dry heat.

Then there was another saving grace, as the weather moderated at the end of August and into September. Add a little rain to the mix, but not enough to swell water levels in the fruit, and what you ended up with was a slightly early, yet by no means premature, harvest of perfectly ripe fruit. Producers were extremely happy, and they expected that the press would be as well.

I for one was very impressed in a number of cellars I toured, including Vietti, Paolo Scavino, Azelia, E. Pira and Giacomo Conterno. In each case, the thrust that I mentioned before set these wines apart from the average 2015 Barolo. Not only did they show a sense of place, but they did it with a mix of power and ripe tannin.

On another note, to my tastes, I have found the 2015 vintage in Barolo to be more balanced than the 2015s for Barbaresco. While I am fully aware that this article may rub some people the wrong way, the majority of 2015 Barbaresco that I’ve tasted expresses overripe fruit, verging on jam, but without the balance of tannin and acids that I’ve found through the towns of Barolo.

Should you buy 2015 Barolo?

To this, I answer an absolute yes. Let’s keep in mind that this isn’t the vintage to buy multiple cases for your child’s birth year wine, but by the same token, they are remarkably pretty, exuberant, easy-to-love, and full-of-energy Barolos that will give a lot of pleasure over a broad drinking window. In my opinion, we will all be kicking ourselves for not stocking up on our favorite producers in 2015. I’ve been at this long enough to realize that playing the long game with wine only works if you have something that will make you happy while you wait for the heroically structured vintages to mature. That said, I would take a 2015 over most warm vintage wines any day. I’m extremely excited to see where they are going.

Here’s the best part though. Since there’s so much confusion being caused by the media, outside of the top and most highly allocated producers, you should be able to find most 2015 Barolos at relatively good prices and in quantity. Just don’t make the mistake of letting them pass you by.

On to the Tasting Notes (sorted by producer)

The Azelia winery turned out some of the most vibrant and hauntingly layered Barolo that I had a chance to taste from the 2015 vintage. This father and son team still manage to fly under the radar to a large degree, despite the amazing press they’ve received in recent vintages.

Azelia Barolo 2015 – The nose was intense with gorgeous red berry fruits, sweet dark florals, and dusty spices. On the palate, I found soft textures with a mix of brisk acids and early mounting tannin, as ripe strawberry and cranberry came together with minerals and spice. The finish was long and zesty with lingering savory spice, a tug of young tannin and dried red fruits. Again, another great effort in its category. (91 points)

Azelia Barolo Bricco Fiasco 2015 – The nose was restrained at first, with mineral-infused red berry fruits, dried roses, crushed stone and hints of animal musk, gaining depth, savoriness and volume in the glass. On the palate, I found soft textures offsetting spicy tart red fruits with zesty acids, minerals and cheek-puckering young tannin. The finish was incredibly long, displaying notes of licorice, tart cherry, cranberry, saturating fine tannin and lingering inner florals. (93 points)

Azelia Barolo Margheria 2015 – The nose was dark with ripe black cherry, haunting dark floral tones, and smoky minerals. On the palate, I found dark, silky textures with sweet-and-sour cherry, saturating spices, saline minerals and brisk acids adding a mouthwatering quality. The finish was long, resonating on black fruit, licorice, savory, salty spices and hints of fine tannin. Structure built with each sip as the Margheria slowly closed down, yet this is gorgeous with a bright future ahead of it. (95 points)

Azelia Barolo San Rocco 2015 – The nose was exuberant and fresh, showing ripe black cherry, crushed stone, minerals, dusty dried flowers, and hints of confectionary spice. On the palate, I found silky textures with a mix of black and red fruits, mounting youthful tannin and brisk acids, with saturating minerals and dark inner florals. The finish was long with powerful structure, matched by saturating dark fruits and licorice. (94 points)

Remarkable value and a style that is somehow easy to like both young and mature, Cavalotto continues to show that traditional Barolo doesn’t need take 20 years of maturity before being able to fully enjoy it. This family has used organic farming since the 70’s, and save for the sparing use of rotary fermenters, remains fully traditional in style.

Cavallotto Barolo Bricco Boschis 2015 – The nose was gorgeous, showing dark earthy funk upfront, which blew off to reveal dried black cherries, wild herbs, dusty earth and rosy florals. On the palate, I found silky textures with a cool-toned feel, as a pretty display of fresh cherries and dried florals coasted along on a core of vibrant acidity. The finish was long, gaining structure in a grippy expression of dried red fruits and inner florals. (93 points)

Chionetti is world renowned for their Dolcetto Dogliani, and in the 2015 vintage have released their first official Barolos. The source of fruit is undeniable, with the Pianpolvere vineyard leading the portfolio. This is a producer to watch.

Chionetti Barolo Pianpolvere Soprano Bussia 2015 – Here I found a restrained yet wonderfully pretty bouquet, showing dried roses and dusty earth, wild floral tones, bright cherry, balsamic tones, savory spices, and hints of animal musk. On the palate, I found soft textures, yet lifted and feminine, with a balancing mix of brisk acid, fine tannin and ripe cherry fruit, as hints of black tea, inner floral tones and tobacco resonated. The finish was long, showing saline-minerality, dried cherry, saturating fine tannin and dried inner floral tones. (94 points)

Chionetti Barolo Primo 2015 – The nose was exotic and perfumed, with zesty wild flowers and herbs giving way to lifting minerality, as notes of bright cherry and dusty earth filled the senses. On the palate, I found soft textures complemented by brisk acidity, giving way to bright cherry, sweet spice and inner floral tones. The finish was long and youthfully structured with fine tannin, yet balanced ripe red fruits continued to last on the senses. (92 points)

The big news at Giacomo Conterno is that the newly aquired Arione vineyard is now fully on line as of the 2015 vintage. The wines are amazing to say the least, and the addition of Arione fruit to Monfortino is a truly exciting concept. Look out for Arione Nebbiolo and don’t hesitate.

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Arione 2015 – Tasting with Roberto Conterno (Giocomo Conterno Winery, Monforte): (Barrel Sample 1) The 2015 Arione Barolo was so pretty and lifted with exotic florals giving way to spicy minerals and hints of tobacco. On the palate, I found a tense, high-toned expression of fruit, with supporting earth and mineral tones. The finish was long with grippy tannins, lasting minerality and inner florals which seemed to go on for days. This was such a beautiful expression and completely unique from the barrel that may end up blended into Monfortino. (95-97 points)

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Arione 2015 – Tasting with Roberto Conterno (Giocomo Conterno Winery, Monforte): Giacomo Conterno Barolo Arione 2015 – (Barrel Sample 2, which may be blended into Monfortino) The bouquet was amazing with exotic florals, marine-inspired minerality, masses of black cherry, orange peel, and sweet-and-savory herbs. On the palate, I found a sweet, rich, yet structured expression of spiced red fruits, with dark minerality and spice, all the while remaining energetic and pure. The finish was long with incredibly pure lasting red berries, florals and spice. I can see why Roberto loves this barrel of Arione so much. I can’t decide if I’d rather this be blended as Monfortino or Arione because it is so compelling. (97-98 points)

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cerretta 2015 – Tasting with Roberto Conterno (Giocomo Conterno Winery, Monforte): (Barrel Sample) The nose showed sweet spices up front, like Christmas with medicinal cherry, as balsamic and sweet herbal tones developed. On the palate, I found a tense, young adolescent of a wine, with mineral-infused dark red fruits offset by zesty acidity. It finished long and tannic, gripping the senses and leaving hints of dried berries and leathery spice. (94-95 points)

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Francia 2015 – Tasting with Roberto Conterno (Gaocomo Conterno Winery, Monforte): (Barrel Sample) Here I found a dark, inward expression with floral-infused fruit, orange peel, sweet spice, minerals and dusty earth. On the palate, tension ruled the day, with sour red fruits, dark inner florals and minerals, as a coating of fine tannin settled on the senses. It finished structured yet refined as dark red fruits and inner floral tones lasted long. (94-96 points)

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 2015 – Tasting with Roberto Conterno (Giocomo Conterno Winery, Monforte): (Barrel Sample) The nose was incredibly floral and layered, showing red berries, minerals, dusty earth, cedar, and sweet spice. On the palate, I found a complex and full-bodied expression with wonderfully balanced acids, as tart red berry fruits gave way to notes of cedar with inner floral tones and sweet-and-savory spice. It finished incredibly long and structured with mounting tannin clenching the senses, as dried berry and autumnal wood and spice tones lingered. Incredible. Roberto has really mastered the raw ingredients in 2015 to create a selection of stunning wines. (97-99 points)

Who is Alan Manley, and where did this new producer come from? Alan Manley has worked for the Bartolo Mascarello winery since 2011, and as of the 2015 vintage, began renting a small space within the winery to start his own project. At this time, Margherita Otto is a blend of vineyards, with the 2015 and 2016 made in Maria Teresa Mascarello’s cellar. The potential here is huge, yet the quantities are tiny. This is a must watch producer.

Margherita Otto Barolo 2015 – The nose was remarkably pretty, showing dried roses, hinting at savory herbs with tart cherry and strawberries, giving way to cedar, floral undergrowth and hints of animal musk. On the palate, soft textures flooded the senses, as zesty spice and mineral-infused black cherry saturated, before a wave of fine tannin settled in. The finish was long, structured and spicy, with lingering brisk acids providing balance and hints of balsamic spice slowly fading. This does not show the warmth of the year and comes across as wonderfully classic from start to finish. (93 points)

Chiara Boschis of E. Pira continues to play from strength to strength, with one of my top scoring wines of the vintage. The vineyard blended Via Nouva continues to set the benchmark for the regions modern-leaning Barolos. The whole portfolio is gorgeous and offers something for every palate.

E. Pira & Figli (Chiara Boschis) Barolo Cannubi 2015 – The nose was very pretty with bright cherry, strawberry, zesty spices, hints of leather, cedar and lifting red florals. On the palate, I found silky textures with a mix of ripe cherry and strawberry, zesty sweet spices, and inner florals, with great acidity and slow mounting tannins. The finish was long, showing its structure and lasting tart red berry fruits. (93 points)

E. Pira & Figli (Chiara Boschis) Barolo Mosconi 2015 – The nose was earthy, spicy and intense, showing crushed raspberry, blueberry, savory brown spices, smoke and dried florals. On the palate, I found soft, pliant textures with juicy acidity giving way to vibrant red and black berry fruits, saturating spices, and blue inner floral tones. The finish was long, with a contrast of ripe red berries against mounting young tannins and zesty brisk acidity. (91 points)

E. Pira & Figli (Chiara Boschis) Barolo Via Nuova 2015 – The nose was dark, rich, yet explosive, showing a mix of black cherry, raspberry, sweet tea leaves, sage, mint and hints of undergrowth. On the palate, I found silky textures with fleshy red berry fruits, savory spice, sweet botanics and inner rosy florals, in a sweet, lifted yet powerful expression. The finish was long, as tannins saturated the senses, showing the Via Nuova’s muscle and berth, with lingering dried red fruits, notes of licorice and hard red candies. This is a wine that will find its way into my own cellar. (96 points)

Enzo Boglietti, remember this name. This once modern-leaning estate has done a total 180 over the last few vintages and is now making some of the most exciting traditionally-style Barolos in the region. Maceration lasts up to 90 days here and aging is in all neutral wood. Enzo is also the only producer, other than Giacomo Conterno, with access to Arione fruit.

Enzo Boglietti Barolo Boiolo 2015 – The nose was lifted and pretty, showing mineral-laced strawberry, savory herbs and spice. On the palate, I found a soft and juicy expression, as ripe red berries and minerals were guided across the senses by brisk acidity. The finish was long, hinting at fine tannins, which turned its resonating cherry tones tart and saturating to the palate. It’s a beautiful keyhole wines for the house. (89 points)

Enzo Boglietti Barolo Fossati 2015 – The nose was exotic, with spicy florals and crushed stone giving way to black cherry. On the palate, I found an unexpectedly soft and pretty display, with ripe red fruits complicated by spice and inner florals. It finished dark, brooding and structured, showing mineral and spice-infused black cherry and hints of tannin. (92 points)

Enzo Boglietti Barolo Brunate 2015 – The nose was withdrawn at first, taking time to open in the glass, showing a mix of cherries and stone dust with hints of dried roses. On the palate, I found a sweet and spicy display, given further liveliness through zesty acids, as ripe red fruits and late-coming tannin saturated the senses. The finish was long with tart berries fighting for a chance to show, as grippy tannin clenched the palate. As backward as this is today, I have a feeling there’s something special in store for us down the road. For now: (92 points)

Enzo Boglietti Barolo Case Nere 2015 – The Casa Nere was especially interesting in 2015, showing earth-laden red berry fruits, wild herbs, smoke and masses of dried floral tones. On the palate, soft, lifted textures provided a feminine feel, as a wave of dark red fruits flooded the senses, leaving a mix of brisk acids and fine tannin in their wake. The finish was long with fine tannin that soaked the palate, as hints of spice and hard red candies lingered. The Casa Nere is classic in 2015 and sure to put on weight as those tannins begin to pull back. (93+ points)

Enzo Boglietti Barolo Arione 2015 – Saving the best for last in this horizontal flight of Enzo Boglietti, the 2015 Arione is spellbinding. Here I found an intense and exotic display of dark red fruits, crushed stone, sweet rosy florals, hints of olive and dried cherries. On the palate, silky textures enveloped the senses, as zesty acids added life, with spicy black cherry, earthy minerality and fine tannins mounting. The finish was dark and long, displaying a mix of spice, earth-toned minerals and poised tanning. What an intense expression of Arione. (94 points)

The modern-leaning Mauro Molino wines certainly deliver a lot of pleasure, and can make good bridge wines into the region for New World palates.

Mauro Molino Barolo Gallinotto 2015 – The nose was rich with spiced cherry, sweet herbs, balsamic tones, zesty florals and hints of cinnamon. On the palate, I found soft textures with ripe red fruits and inner rosy florals in a lifted and gentle expression for the vintage. The finish was long, displaying a balanced mix of acid and tannins, as dried florals, tart cherry and hints of white chocolate lingered. The use of wood here was evident, but I can see the appeal for a more modern palate. (90 points)

Mauro Molino Barolo Bricco Luciani 2015 – The nose showed crushed cherries with cinnamon, sweet spices and dusty cedar. On the palate, soft textures gave way to a feminine expression of pure red fruits amidst inner rosy florals. The finish was long, showing the wine’s tannin, which seemed overemphasized by the use of barrel aging, as the fruit took a backseat, leaving inner florals resonating on a structured finale. (88 points)

I can not say enough good things about the strides that the Paolo Scavino winery has taken. With Elisa Scavino out front, this historic Barolo family continues to add new vineyards and refine their style throughout the entire portfolio. There really is something for everyone here, and the wines are impressive from the bottom on up. However, the exciting news is the addition of Ravera and Prapo to their lineup, as well as a continued reduction on new oak within the range. The only sad thing to report here is that both the Cannubi and Carobric will be no more within a few years time. I can’t recommend these highly enough.

Paolo Scavino Barolo 2015 – The nose showed a gorgeous and almost savory mix of crushed cherries, savory spices, shaved cedar, leather, dusty roses, and hints of floral undergrowth. On the palate, silky, pliant textures were contrasted by tart cherry, with vibrant acids adding a juicy yet also mouthwatering sensation, as spicy inner florals, minerals and hints of fine tannin mounted. The finish was long, lightly structured, yet energetic, as a mix of dried cherries, spice and rosy florals resonated among fine tannin. Talk about a wine that punches well above its price point. Well done! (91 points)

Paolo Scavino Barolo Carobric 2015 – The nose was intense, in the best possible way, showing dark, rich, savory red fruits up front, followed by savory herbs, crushed stone, smoky minerality, and hints of brown sugar. On the palate, I found silky-pliant textures, as dried red fruits and spice were lifted by mentholated herbs, leading to mineral-infused tart black cherries toward the finale. The finish was long, soaking the senses in minerals and tannin, as grippy raspberry and cherry fruits held on until the very last moment. This is a gorgeous vintage for Carobric. (95 points)

Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric dël Fiasc 2015 – The nose was intense and viral, as the bouquet wafted up from the glass with masses of dark red fruit, crushed stone, dried rosy florals, wild herbs and smoke. On the palate, I found silky textures, displaying fleshy ripe cherry offset by zesty spices, minerals and acids. The finish was long, resonating on mineral-infused dark red fruits with energizing acids and balsamic spice, as fine tannins slowly mounted. This is so easy to like already, yet structured and balanced for the long haul. (96 points)

Paolo Scavino Barolo Bricco Ambrogio 2015 – The nose was hauntingly dark and floral, showing crushed strawberry and black cherries with hints of stone dust and licorice. On the palate, I found silky textures with depths of dark red fruit, exotic spice, minerals, and balanced acidity. Sweet on entry, then savory, resulting in a long black fruit finish with hints of fine tannin. (94 points)

Paolo Scavino Barolo Monvigliero 2015 – The nose was spicy with dried dusty florals up front, followed by zesty bright strawberry, and peppery herbs. On the palate I found silky, verging on velvety, textures with a mix of sweet and sour red and black fruits, savory spice, saline-minerals and fine tannin which slowly mounted. The finish was long, resonating on dark fruits, savory spice and florals. (92 points)

Paolo Scavino Barolo Prapò 2015 – The nose was incredibly spicy, showing mineral-infused cherry, sweet floral perfumes, and a hint of clove. On the palate, I found, velvety textures with depths of tart black cherry fruits, savory spice, and minerals. The balance was impeccable, as this glided across the senses, finishing with a juicy acid thrust, saturating dark red fruits, spice and powdery tannin. (94 points)

Paolo Scavino Barolo Ravera 2015 – The nose was dark, showing the textbook Ravera expression of dark, almost-black fruits against a backdrop of crushed stone minerality, with sweet exotic spices, and haunting floral tones. On the palate, I found silky textures with depths of black fruits, minerals, exotic spices, licorice, brisk acidity and dark inner floral tones. The finish was long and spicy, with fine grain tannins saturating the senses, as dark red fruits, spice and inner florals slowly faded. (95 points)

Serio e Batiste Borgogno is a new name to me, but I’ll be sure to pay more attention going forward. Tradition rules the day here and the wine shows something of an old-school character that i find very attractive.

Serio e Batiste Borgogno Barolo Cannubi 2015 – Here I found pretty, floral-laced red fruits and cedar dust in a perfumed expression of Nebbiolo. On the palate, silky textures gave way to sweet red berries offset by brisk acidity and a mix of youthful tannin, as cool-toned inner florals amassed. The finish was long, lifted and classically structured with cheek-puckering acids enlivening its tart red fruits. I couldn’t help but like this traditionally-built Cannubi. (92 points)

Luca Currado of Vietti managed to turn out some of the most exciting wines I tasted from the 2015 vintage. Having followed them from their first year in cask, I can firmly say that Vietti’s 2015’s pure, vibrant, balanced and poised to improve in the cellar. The Rocche stole my heart, Ravera shines bright in this vintage, and Lazzarito found a balance power, structure and fruit that’s impossible not to like.

Vietti Barolo Brunate 2015 – (Barrel and Bottle Tasting with Luca Currado (Vietti Winery, Castiglione Falletto): The nose was dark with balsamic spiced fruit, cherry, ripe raspberry, and sweet dusty florals. On the palate, I found velvety textures giving way to zesty, tart dark red fruits with savory spice, minerals and hints of herbs. It was intense and inward, yet with incredible persistence. The finish was long and saturating with dark fruits, minerals and fine tannin. The 2015 Brunate delivered a powerfully structured yet also perfectly balanced expression. (94 points)

Vietti Barolo Lazzarito 2015 – (Barrel and Bottle Tasting with Luca Currado (Vietti Winery, Castiglione Falletto): The nose was restrained, showing mineral-infused dark red fruits with sweet-and-sour spiciness, lifting florals and cedar. On the palate, I found soft, deep, plush textures with intensely dark red fruits, yet so pure and spicy, with zesty minerality and brisk acidity in support. The finish was long and drying, displaying youthful fine tannin and hints of dried cherries. (95 points)

Vietti Barolo Ravera 2015 – (Barrel and Bottle Tasting with Luca Currado (Vietti Winery, Castiglione Falletto): The bouquet was amazing with its dark, rich red fruits, opening to reveal pretty florals, spiced orange, dusty minerals, crushed stone, wild herbs, and spices. On the palate, I found soft, broad textures with dark ripe red fruits, cedar, pretty inner florals, zesty acid and savory spices. It finished dry and structured, yet with energy in reserve, resonating on mineral-infused dark red fruits. (95 points)

Vietti Barolo Rocche di Castiglione 2015 – (Barrel and Bottle Tasting with Luca Currado (Vietti Winery, Castiglione Falletto): Luca has found perfect balance with Rocche in the 2015 vintage. The nose was remarkably pretty, showing sweet-and-spicy florals, dusty spices, dried orange peel, cranberry, and fresh strawberry. On the palate. I found silky textures with wonderfully pure red fruits, as a mix of fine tannin and minerals slowly mounted on the senses, joined by hints of cedar and savory spice. The finish was long with palate-staining red fruits, fine tannins and lingering inner floral tones. (96 points)