The Best Barolo Vintages: From 1961 to Today
Every wine region of the world is affected by vintage, but many lovers of Barolo (and Barbaresco) like to say that the wines of Piedmont are particularly subject to the vagaries of the weather. Traditionally, this is because Nebbiolo in Piedmont is grown right at the northernmost latitude of where it is possible to ripen. This means that if conditions are particularly cool, the grapes do not ripen properly, and you have a weak vintage. In the old days, in fact, it was thought that Barolo produced good wine only in one and three vintages. The other two vintages were fine for consuming young at the restaurants, but were not of interest to collectors.
Nowadays, you have the opposite problem. Many years are simply too hot. The Nebbiolo ripens too easily, and the wines become too alcoholic and out of balance. The best years are actually cooler years, like 2016.
That was the simple story up until the year 2019. Something strange – something very positive – has happened since then. The years have continued to be mostly warm – too warm by historical standards – and yet the wines have been good, even very good! The wines have been ripe, for sure, but without losing their balance, and without leaning into excess.
But before we zero in on more recent vintages, let’s head back in time to the 1960s – the earliest decade from which you can still fairly regularly find Barolos to drink. If you need general information on Barolo, don’t forget to check out our Guide to Barolo.Best Barolo Vintages: 1961-1970
Back then, Barolo producers said that you could count on about 3 good vintages a decade, and that’s what you got in the 1960s. 1961, 1964 and 1970 were all good vintages. 1967 also produced some good wines. Note that, with the exception of the very best wines – or wines that have been kept in perfect storage conditions over the decades – the vast majority of wines from this decade are now past their prime.Best Barolo Vintages: 1971-1980
This decade you again have 3 good vintages. Both 1971 and 1978 are superb, and 1974 is a close runner up. 1978 was such a good vintage that many of the wines still drink well today – as long as they were kept well. We’ve also had luck with 1971s and 1974s, but they are certainly starting to get spottier.Best Barolo Vintages: 1981-1990
In a sign that things in Barolo-land are starting to get a little better, it is fair to say that this decade produced 4 good vintages: 1982, 1985, 1989 and 1990. Well-kept wines from these vintages (other than entry-level Barolos) continue to drink well, although they will likely not improve further. Some people complain that 1990 was the first vintage that was “too” warm, but they seem to have turned out well.Best Barolo Vintages: 1991-2000
1991 through 1995 was a tough time in Barolo. None of the vintages were great. The 1995s were OK and the 1993s were passable. But things picked up in the second half of the vintage, and really none of them are bad between 1996 to 2000. Only the 1996s are truly great, however – and many of the best examples have further upside potential.Best Barolo Vintages: 2001-2010
This was an extraordinary decade of great vintages. You can take your pick of 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010! 2007 and 2009 weren’t bad either, though a little warm. 2002 was a washout due to rain, and 2003s tend to be freakishly ripe – stay away from both.Best Barolo Vintages: 2011-2020
As of this writing, all of these vintages other than 2020 have been released, and only three of them have been great: 2013, 2016 and 2019. It’s like we’ve returned to the older rule of 3 great vintages per decade. But really what’s been happening is that vintages (like 2011, 2015, 2017 and, most notably, 2018) have become too warm. 2012 and 2014 were more like traditional under-performing vintages.Unreleased Vintages: 2020 - 2021
By all accounts, these two vintages will produce extraordinary Barolos. This is the goldilocks described at the beginning of this post: riper wines, but wines that maintain their freshness and balance. This will make three vintages in a row like this, if you include the 2019s. Apparently the 2022s are good too! It’s surely that adaptations by grape growers and wine-makers to climate change are playing a big role here. Some also suspect that vines are naturally adapting to the hotter conditions. All I know for sure is that we should enjoy it while it lasts!One Additional Important Note for Selecting Barolo Vintages
So I’ve listed lots of good vintages above. What should you do with this? Well, if you see older vintages on wine lists or at auction houses, definitely focus on the better vintages. The less good vintages may well be past their prime. But “off” vintages are very useful when the wines are still young. 2016s are not that fun to drink now, even though it is one of the best vintages of all time. I’d much rather drink a 2017 tonight! In general, the great vintages need time; the weaker vintages are more delicious to drink at a young age.
Recent Barolo vintage reports
Related articles from our Barolo Wine Guide