1989 and 1990 Barolos and Barbarescos: Antonio Galloni

What About Now: Piedmont 's Glorious 1989 and 1990 Vintages Revisited

By Antonio Galloni, from The Wine Advocate, Issue #187, February 27, 2010

The 1989 and 1990 Barolos and Barbarescos are among the most monumental wines ever made in any region …

The 1989 vintage is universally recognized as one of the great all-time harvests in Piedmont. The wines are rich, structured, complex and just starting to come around. The year started with a wet, cool spring which led to an irregular flowering and crop set. Green harvesting was not widely practiced in Piedmont in the late 1980s, but in 1989 Mother Nature took care of things by reducing yields. The summer was warm, which allowed for optimal ripening. Evening temperatures dropped towards the end of the growing season, creating the wide temperature fluctuations between day and night in which Nebbiolo thrives, setting the stage for a late harvest. The wines are characterized by intense color, powerful structure, relatively high acidity, expressive aromatics, beautifully pure fruit and fine, chiseled personalities. Piedmont fans define 1989 a ‘classic’ vintage, along with other late-harvest years that produced powerful wines, including 1978, 1982, 1996, 1999 and 2001.

Vintage 1990 could not have been more different. It is also a more controversial vintage, as the hot weather yielded wines with a level of sheer ripeness and opulence never seen before in Piedmont. While 1990 is not usually considered ‘classic’, it is without question one of the finest vintages of the last half century. The winter was unusually warm. Flowering and crop set were much more even than in 1989, and consequently yields were quite a bit higher. Hot temperatures continued throughout the year all the way to the harvest, which was early by the standards of the time. The 1990s are opulent, fat wines blessed with generous fruit. Because evening temperatures in the late summer and early fall remained high, the 1990s don’t have the level of aromatic complexity of the 1989s. On the plus side, however, the 1990s are much more even across the board in terms of quality, even if only a few wines hit the peaks of the most sublime 1989s. In many ways, 1990 is the vintage that brought Piedmont onto the world stage because for the first time the wines appealed to a broader public. The lower acidity of the 1990s made the wines easy to grasp from the outset, while the 1989s were harder to appreciate in their youth. At the time, some observers believed the 1990s would not age well because the acidities were low (in relative terms – Nebbiolo almost always has significant acidity), but the best 1990s have aged spectacularly well and have also provided consumers with much broader drinking windows throughout the years. Piedmont connoisseurs define 1990 a hot vintage, along with years such as 1985, 1997, 1998 and 2000. It is worth noting that while 1990 (and 1985, too) was considered a warm vintage at the time, today these growing conditions are closer to the norm.

The late 1980s and early 1990s also represent an inflection point in Piedmontese winemaking. A number of young growers began estate-bottling wines for the first time. Many of these new producers followed the modern school of winemaking in Piedmont which sought to lower yields, reduce fermentation times and use French oak for the malolactic fermentation and aging, which was shortened to the minimum required by law, all designed to make Barolo darker in color, softer in texture and more appealing to a wider public upon release. The traditional producers, on the other hand, believed in low but not excessively low yields, long fermentation times, natural malolactic fermentations and lengthy aging in large neutral oak, all of which yielded firm wines that needed many years in bottle to come around. Of course there were many more subtleties involved, but the above is a good general description of the two approaches in broad terms. Both schools shared a philosophy of harvesting physiologically ripe fruit, non-interventionalist winemaking (although what constitutes ‘non-interventionalist’ is hard to define) and no or minimal fining and filtration.

Today, fifteen years after the 1989s and 1990s were originally released, it is fascinating to see how the wines have developed. It is clear that producers from both schools did exceptionally well in 1989 and 1990. Nevertheless, as a general rule of thumb for these two vintages, in the majority of cases traditionally minded producers did better in 1989 than 1990 while the opposite is true of the modernists, whose 1990s as a group are more successful than their 1989s, almost as if the styles of the vintages aligned with the styles of the producers themselves. In recent years, modern and traditional styles have largely converged, but twenty years ago the two approaches were distinctly different, something that can be seen most clearly in the wines of producers who were transitioning to a more modern approach while these wines were being made.

A few additional points are also worth considering. Most of the best wines in both vintages were made by experienced producers. In looking at the growers of the modern school and their largely successful 1990s, it is virtually impossible to know how much of that success was the result of an additional year of experience – which was critical for the vast majority of growers who were just starting out – or if the ripe, rich year yielded a type of fruit that was intrinsically better suited to handle the French oak many young producers were experimenting with at the time. Lastly, one subject that is hardly ever discussed in conversations of modern and traditional producers is the quality of the vineyards themselves. Most of Piedmont’s greatest sites were, and still are, owned by traditionally-minded producers, which – if one believes that site is critical – means that those growers had an enormous advantage from the start.

I tasted the majority of the wines in this article during a visit to Piedmont in November 2009, followed by subsequent tastings in the US in December and January 2010. In order to allow for the natural bottle variation that is to be expected with 20-year old wines, I tasted many of the wines more than once (some of them much more than once), and my notes reflect a sum of those experiences. I have also noted instances where I found significant variation between different bottles of the same wine. Prices in the print edition are the release prices as originally quoted in Issue #92 of The Wine Advocate. Readers who subscribe to www.erobertparker.com will be able to see the original release price, plus a range of current prices. In the few cases where I tasted from large formats I have listed prices for standard 750-ml bottles.

I have done my best to provide readers with first-hand, reference-quality information taken from numerous producer interviews to go along with tastings notes and scores, but I would remiss if I didn’t mention a few caveats you should keep in mind. Because most of these wines were tasted at the estates, provenance was as perfect as one can reasonably hope for in an imperfect world. I imagine readers will be tempted to look for many of these magical wines in the marketplace. The unfortunate reality is that when the 1989 and 1990 Barolos and Barbarescos were released Italian wines were not widely considered true ‘collectibles’ on the level with the most renowned wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and California. As a result, very few importers, distributors, retailers and consumers stored the wines with the level of care they deserved. Take it from someone with the battle scars to prove it, trying to find well-stored bottles of these wines today can be a very frustrating and costly experience. My advice is to buy Barolo and Barbaresco on release and store bottles in a cold cellar. While that won’t satisfy the urge for a great 1989 or 1990 today, it will insure optimal drinking in the future. Given today’s economic climate, there has never been a better time to build a collection of fine Barolo and Barbaresco. A few wines were tasted from magnum, a format that clearly benefits long-lived wines. It is a reasonable expectation that standard bottles of the same wines will be more forward in their development, which can be favorable or less favorable depending on your point of view and time horizon.

Galloni's top 1989 and 1990 (scores of 95 or higher):

Top wine according to Galloni

 

 

Year

 

Wine Name

Rating▼

Maturity

 

Price

1989

Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Collina Rionda

100

Early

60

1990

Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Falletto

98

Early

595-800

1989

Elio Grasso Barolo Gavarini Vigna Chiniera

98

Early

 

1989

Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Vigna Casa Mate

98

Early

 

1989

Angelo Gaja Sori Tildin

98

Early

125

1989

Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva

98

Early

55

1990

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino

98

Young

725

1989

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato

98

Early

395

1990

Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato

98

Early

45

1990

Luciano Sandrone Barolo le Vigne

97

Early

361-478

1989

Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis

97

Early

480-773

1990

Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric del Fiasc

97

Early

234-360

1990

Roberto Voerzio Barolo la Serra

97

Early

35

1990

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia

97

Early

265-295

1990

Domenico Clerico Barolo Pajana

97

Early

245-297

1989

Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia

97

Early

404-548

1989

Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra

97

Early

Auction

1990

Angelo Gaja Sori Tildin

97

Early

572

1989

Angelo Gaja Barolo Sperss

97

Early

366-617

1990

Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Vigna Casa Mate

97

Early

 

1989

Angelo Gaja Costa Russi

97

Early

403-500

1989

Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Falletto

97

Early

618-818

1990

Angelo Gaja Costa Russi

96

Early

428-568

1990

Elio Grasso Barolo Gavarini Vigna Chiniera

96

Early

 

1989

Angelo Gaja Barbaresco

96

Early

251-400

1990

Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Riserva

96

Early

 

1990

Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili (Red Label Riserva)

96

Early

325-760

1990

Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva

96

Early

519-847

1990

Elio Altare Barolo Arborina

96

Early

200-418

1989

Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate

96

Mature

35

1989

Vietti Barolo Rocche

96

Early

55

1990

Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis

96

Early

639+

1989

Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva

96

Early

35

1990

Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Riserva

96

Early

35

1989

Bartolo Mascarello Barolo

96

Early

429-568

1989

Armando Parusso Barolo Bussia

95

Early

40-45

1989

Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco Ovello Riserva

95

Early

25-30

1990

Paolo Scavino Barolo Rocche dell'Annunziata Riserva

95

Early

240-318

1989

Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric del Fiasc

95

Young

190-252

1990

Vietti Barolo Rocche

95

Early

258

1990

Roagna Barbaresco Crichet Paje

95

Early

 

1990

Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate

95

Early

35

1989

Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio

95

Mature

35

1990

Elio Altare Vigna Arborina

95

Early

45

1990

Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra

95

Mature

Auction

1990

Aldo Conterno Barolo Riserva Granbussia

95

Early

350-687

1989

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia

95

Early

50

1989

Bruno Giacosa Barolo Villero

95

Early

55

1990

Bruno Giacosa Barolo Villero

95

Early

55

1990

Angelo Gaja Barbaresco

95

Early

246-330

1990

Giovanni Corino Barolo Vigna Giachini

95

Early

45

1990

Angelo Gaja Barolo Sperss

95

Early

310-431

1989

Angelo Gaja Sori San Lorenzo

95

Early

441-584

1989

Massolino Barolo Vigna Rionda Riserva

95

Early

30

 

3 thoughts on “1989 and 1990 Barolos and Barbarescos: Antonio Galloni

  1. I was shocked to find most of the must buy 2004 disappeared from the offer lists rather speedily and leaves me no choice but to start looking at 2005 and beyond. I'd be grateful if you can share your opinion on 05, 06 or even 07?
    [版主回覆03/08/2010 16:45:00]With the exception of 2002, there have been no poor vintages since 1995, and Antonio Galloni just wrote that " Since 2004 every harvest has been at least above average and in some cases utterly profound".
     
    As 2006 Barolos (and 2004 Riservas) are beginning to be released in Italy, what you can get from the market is up to 2005 only.  
     
    Suggest you pick warm vintages for immediate consumption, e.g. 2003, 2000 and 1998.  
     

  2. by the way, how is the arrangement for the Giacosa Reserve wines? When it is the year to produce a reserve wine. are the red labels produced along with the white labels or without them? As for the red labels, is it for both the Barolo and Barbaresco?
    [版主回覆03/08/2010 17:22:00]Take a look at this: http://networks.ecse.rpi.edu/~vastola/wine/giacosa/
     
    Simply put, Giacosa does not produce any Barolo or Barbaresco if he is not happy with the fruit in any year.  If he does produce one, then he determines if it is of excellent quality to warrant a Riserva status (which as a legal requirement needs 2 more years of aging before release).  His Riserva bottlings use a red label.  Otherwise, it is a "normale" bottling which uses a white label (minimum 2 years of aging for Barbaresco and 3 years for Barolo).  
     
    There were exceptions in the past for the Falletto Barolo and Santo Stefano Barbaresco.  He could choose the best fruit from a vineyard to make a Riserva, and the rest for a "normale".  I don't think he does this now.  The best parcels of Falletto have been isolated for a Rocche del Falletto (you had the 2003), and since then Falletto itself (the balance fruit) has never had a Riserva bottling.  Forget this part if it confuses.  

  3. Sorry to bother. Correct me if I am wrong : So in 2003, no Riserva produced for both Barolo and Barbaresco. The same for subsequent years for Barolo, all normale and no riserva But for Barbaresco, 2004 Asili was produced as riserva but no normale.
    [版主回覆03/08/2010 22:51:00]The 2004 Barolo Riserva is Le Rocche del Falletto, just released.  No Riserva in 2005.  No Barolo or Barbaresco released in 2006, but most likely due to personal reasons (Giacosa was sick, and his long-time winemaker was leaving). 

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