Not the easiest of vintages, 2008 produced wines that were generally ungiving early on. But time and patience were the key, as Stephen Brook reports
63 wines tasted With five Outstanding bottles in the line-up, this vintage is now showing its great potential
If the puBlIc perception of the 2008 vintage in Barolo is somewhat blurred, that is probably because the producers’ own experience of the vintage is inconsistent. local microclimates and the range of exposures and elevations mean that growers can encounter considerable variations. In a climatically uniform and acclaimed vintage, or conversely in a rainy, rot-infused vintage, all growers will have lived through much the same conditions, but that is the exception rather than the rule.
In 2008 the spring was cool and wet, and outbreaks of mildew and oidium, although treatable, did result in crop reductions. August was characterised by both wind and hail (again localised), but conditions improved in September. Nonetheless some individual vineyards had been damaged by adverse weather and needed to be harvested with care. One characteristic shared by most wines was that the tannins were firm and the wines would need time to mature. there were undoubtedly problems with other varieties such as Barbera in 2008, but Nebbiolo coped better.
Overall, 2008 was a cooler year, so overripeness and high alcohol were not major issues. however, the pronounced tannins made the wines difficult to appreciate and assess when young: an occasional herbaceousness and rigidity, while characteristic of Barolo in such a year, could give the impression of austerity. the wines are now revealing their full potential, and many of them will offer good value compared to more acclaimed vintages such as 2009 and 2010.
enrico Rivetto in Serralunga was not that happy with the vintage, but other growers such as luciano Sandrone and pio Boffa were more enthusiastic, describing it as classic and pure. Some find a resemblance to 1998, others to 1978. Some consider it relatively accessible, others, such as pietro Ratti, as more acidic but also more profound. As for communes, la Morra seemed to have fared best, followed by Barolo itself.
Such assessments were made when the wines were young, and one would expect a decade to have smoothed out any rough edges. Diverging assessments may also reflect the success of each estate. A handful decided not to produce any single-vineyard (cru) wines, though these were in the minority. One consistent thread in appreciations of the vintage is that tannin levels were high, and the management of those tannins proved crucial in the ability of each wine to evolve. this is the right moment to see how they are developing, although the best will surely have a long life ahead of them. Stephen Brook is the DWWA Regional Chair for Piedmont, and a Decanter contributing editor