The 2013 vintage in Barolo is a line in the sand. While many thought that the 2010 vintage was the before and after vintage, I believe the 2013 vintage is the inflection point for Barolo; the game is changed going forward.
Why? I think the market wasn’t quite ready, and now, I think it is. I recently spent a week in Barolo tasting with some of the great estates, some under the radar estates, etc. And, from what I experienced in the glass, 2013 is a truly grand vintage — One to buy in on. Buy producers you enjoy and you won’t regret it.
Barolo on the Street
Less and More
With every new vintage release, the rising interest in Barolo is squeezing the allocations* offered to buyers from big name producers. There is not much juice to go around considering the level of demand, and this is causing notable market shifts.
When buyers start getting minuscule allocations, they start to look beyond the normal scope of distribution for the wines they want. Further, the name-dropped producers dominate NYC lists, and buying in on older vintages from these producers outside the three-tier is a full-time search for many wine buyers. Why? Because it looks good, and the wines may attract big game hunters — Even if these older wines and their sources are extremely variable in quality. So, smaller allocations via distribution intensify the search for Barolo outside the three-tier system. Does this support the producers? That is another question altogether.
In contrast, young vintages of Barolo propel the by the glass game and Retail shelves. Barolo is a prime pour, and for Retail, the big vintage, direct import offer is still a relative juggernaut, especially with a vintage like 2013. Buyers looking for by the glass and fresh vintage releases will look for value. The effect: demand for Barolo in lower price strata increases.
If you happen to have both value and a big name on your side in a Barolo, it is like having Usain Bolt on the blocks: you have a winner. I suggest you grab as much as you can.
Old Arguments – Modern vs. Traditional
The modern producer versus traditional producer argument has gone stale because the lines are not as strongly drawn; the stark contrasts have faded along with the sales speak that drove both sides. This stems directly from the source: the Barolo zone. It is currently quite rare to find a producer that will not call themselves traditional. And on the street, this conversation has definitely faded from the fever pitch of a few years ago. I don’t want to misguide you: traditional remains THE buzz word for Italian wine sales. But there is no doubt that the modern vs. traditional argument with regard to Barolo comes up strikingly less in dialogue with buyers compared to before.
The Forgotten Sideman – Langhe Nebbiolo
For years, I have wished that Langhe Nebbiolo would get a little love, and I see a few spots in the market where it is starting to happen. While Barolo overall remains one of the greatest values in the world, Langhe Nebbiolo bottlings have long been the hidden, secret track of the area: the gateway drug to Barolo. And yet, on wine lists and shelves in NYC, Langhe Nebbiolo is largely forgotten.
Langhe Nebbiolo is generally much more easily bought (often in open inventory, and not allocated), and only a very few savvy wine buyers have keyed in on this. I also believe that like buying secondary wines from producers in Burgundy, buying a bottling like Langhe Nebbiolo will get wine buyers more immediate access/connection to producers.
“ A staggering number of Barolo producers remain dramatically undervalued for the quality of wine that they produce and this bodes well for the future.
Hitting home runs – The Monfortino mentality
Wine buyers have to get over the home-run mentality that has driven the over the top sales of the big boy Monfortino, Monprivato, etc., and created a high-end Barolo sales addiction. I have had buyers push back on certain Barolos because the one sale of Monfortino numerically equals several bottles of others AND the only argument with regard to Monfortino table-side is price. I have to call Bullshit on this. With this mentality, you are playing to a very small audience. Monfortino is the rare answer; value in Barolo can work in your favor.
But the big question is: will wine buyers start to look beyond the name producers to overlooked producers? All signs point to yes. This is the hardest habit to break, but if they don’t, they will keep chasing the same wines and end up buying at the end of the wrong tail.
What is to come
A lot more great wine from Barolo. A staggering number of producers remain dramatically undervalued for the quality of wine that they produce and this bodes well for the future. Also, look for some forgotten Barolo names to come up and “re-enter” the market. Overall, producers are making better wines, and the landscape of choice is going to broaden as the run for Barolo starts to speed up. We have entered the golden age.
Sidenote: If I had to bet on the next big producer to be anointed by the critics it would be Brovia. I could see a lot more attention for them with the classic, “difficult” 2014 vintage. Maybe Galloni gives them the big 100 pointer next? Brovia is still strangely misunderstood in the NYC market, and I am hoping that only a few that are really paying attention catch on….
*Allocation – when you are offered an allocation, it is implied that the wine is in high demand and you can only get a certain amount.