Your Guide to Top-Rated 2010 Barolos
First, the good news: Barolo fans will be thrilled by the drop-dead gorgeous 2010s. The best examples deliver pure Nebbiolo perfumes, bright berry fruit and silky textures combined with the structure that will allow them to improve for decades.
Other recent vintages have earned praise early on, only to disappoint once the wines hit the market like the forward 2007s. However, 2010 is a textbook vintage that yielded classic Barolos that will not only age magnificently, but will be approachable at or before the 10-year mark—a rare combination for Barolo.
I tasted more than 250 of the wines this year, many at the annual Nebbiolo Prima event in May, and they are among the best young Barolos I have ever sampled. They deliver Nebbiolo’s intense aromatics of crushed flower, leather, perfumed berries and truffles, as well as the grape’s pristine cherry-berry and mineral flavors.
Most impressive was the impeccable balance between the fruit richness, assertive but ripe tannins and vibrant acidity that so many wines display.
Now the bad news: Following the lackluster and forward 2009s, worldwide demand for the stunning 2010s is at an all-time high. They could be hard to obtain, unless you act swiftly.
Wine photos by Meg Baggott
Although Barolo has had a few disappointing vintages—2003, 2007 and 2009 come to mind—the region has had a string of very good to outstanding vintages since 1996. Still, 2010 is a benchmark year.
“2010 was one of the best vintages in the last 20 years, and one of the best ever for Nebbiolo,” says Franco Massolino, of the Massolino-Vigna Rionda estate. “It has structure, elegance, richness and longevity. It’s rare to find a single vintage that imparts all these qualities and yields such complete Barolos.”
Although some critics are comparing the wines to the celebrated 2004s because of their early drinkability, Massolino says 2010 is more like 2001.
“We’ve had a lot of great years over the last two decades, including 2004,” he says. “But 2010 has more structure and aging potential than ’04, and reminds me of the 2001 Barolos, thanks to that unique combination of power, grace and serious aging potential.”
Elisa Scavino, of the Paolo Scavino winery, agrees.
“2004 was a wonderful year, but the Barolos are rounder than the 2010s, which are linear, like the 2001s,” she says. “The 2010s show great depth and complexity, and even though they have ageworthy structures, they also have an ethereal quality about them that makes them already accessible. No wine or vintage can ever be perfect, but this is as close it gets.”
Despite her modest declaration, the firm’s glorious Bric dël Fiasc bottling earned one of my rare 100-point scores.
As in all remarkable vintages, ideal growing conditions were crucial in 2010, one of the longest growing seasons in recent memory.
A long winter with abundant snowfall lasted until March, reminding local growers of the winters of decades ago. The summer was unusually cool and wet until late August, which prolonged the ripening season.
Temperatures rose the last 10 days of August and throughout September, with marked variations between day and night, which helped develop complex aromas.
In other words, perfect conditions for late-ripening Nebbiolo, the only grape allowed in Barolo production.
“In 2010, we began harvesting Nebbiolo on October 31 and finished on November 6, like we used to do up until the mid-1990s,” says Giacomo Conterno, of the Aldo Conterno winery.
“To put it in perspective, in 2009, we started harvesting on October 9, and on October 12 in 2011,” he says. “The extra three weeks allowed Nebbiolo to achieve perfect polyphenolic ripening, which is crucial for aromas, rich fruit flavors, complexity and mature tannins.”
Conterno compares 2010 to 1989 for its tremendous aging potential.
Conterno touches on one of the hottest issues facing Barolo: global warming.
“2010 was a return to typical vintages of the past, but it’s an exception compared to the harvests of the last decade,” he says. “We now have hotter, drier summers, but also periods where violent storms drop a month’s worth of rain in just a couple of hours, followed by weeks of drought.”
The extreme conditions have resulted in earlier harvests and smaller differences between day and night temperatures. In some years, sugars rise in the berries during ripening but the seeds don’t brown, leading to the high alcohols and green tannins displayed by a number of 2003, 2007 and 2009 Barolos.
However, not everyone agrees the rising temperatures are something worth worry.
“If this is global warming, it’s great for Nebbiolo,” says Pio Boffa, of Pio Cesare. “We finally have the kind of regular ripening that we dreamed about back in the 1970s and 1980s, when Nebbiolo struggled to reach ideal maturation.”
Boffa agrees that the latest vintage is in a league of its own.
“2010 is a vintage for Nebbiolo lovers,” says Boffa. “The 2010 Barolos have beautiful aromas of crushed raspberry that we used to find in the great classic vintages of the past, but it also has ripe tannins.”
It’s this suppleness that differentiates 2010 from the great years of the past—like 1978, 1988 and 1989—which needed decades to soften and become approachable.
According to producers, better farming practices have helped control the raspy tannins of yore. These measures include avoiding harsh chemicals in the vineyard, limiting fertilizers, growing grass between the rows, periodically cultivating the soil beneath the plants, bunch thinning and careful management of the leaf canopy. All of these techniques are tailored to the climatic conditions of any given year.
That’s not to say there weren’t some disappointing 2010 Barolos. Not all growers achieved ideal ripeness, and when a producer picked proved crucial.
“October was critical in 2010,” says Conterno. “Even though we risked autumn rain, those who waited to pick until the last part of October were rewarded with perfect ripening.”
Wood aging was also important in 2010. Even a modest percentage of new wood compromised the pristine quality of the Nebbiolo.
With few exceptions, producers who made the best wines vinified in cement, steel or large wooden vats and aged the wines in the traditional botti (large Slavonian casks) or in used barriques, which preserved Nebbiolo’s intense character. Barolos made with even a modest percentage of new barriques lost the vibrance and purity of the vintage’s fruit.
Barolo’s delimited vineyard areas were officially recognized in 2010. Known as “additional geographic mentions,” some of these names, like Cannubi and Bussia, have adorned single-vineyard wines for years, but without any strict controls.
Starting with the 2010 vintage, only wines made using grapes from within the sanctioned borders of any given vineyard area can declare that subzone on the label. The timing of the new laws couldn’t have been more perfectly aligned.
“In the 2010s, you can really detect the different terroirs from the different growing areas, such as the elegance of our Margheria and the more masculine personality of Parussi,” says Massolino.
Although most of my top-scorers are single-vineyard wines, many fantastic 2010s were made following the area’s tradition of blending Nebbiolo from different vineyard sites. Among the best of the blended Barolos are wines from Bartolo Mascarello, Luciano Sandrone, Pio Cesare and Giuseppe Rinaldi.
The only real dilemma for Barolo lovers is, “Which 2010s to buy?”
100 Giuseppe Rinaldi 2010 Brunate (Barolo). The 2010 Brunate is one of the best wines I have ever tasted from Giuseppe Rinaldi, and one of the greatest expressions of this fabulous vintage. Polished and structured, it seamlessly combines layers of rose, violet, perfumed red berries, juicy black cherry, leather, spice and eucalyptus sensations that convey a Nebbiolo purity of compelling depth and finesse. It’s already gorgeous, but will become one of the legendary bottlings of the vintage. Drink 2020–2045. Vinifera Imports. Cellar Selection.
abv: NA Price: $126
100 Paolo Scavino 2010 Bric dël Fiasc (Barolo). If a wine can truly be perfect, this is it. Displaying power, grace, depth and complexity, this Barolo delivers sublime Nebbiolo sensations including rose, underbrush, red cherry, leather, licorice, baking spices, clove, white pepper and balsamic notes. The intense flavors are balanced by velvety tannins and fantastic energy. Drink 2018–2038. Martin Scott Wines. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $100
99 Massolino 2010 Parafada (Barolo). This powerfully structured yet surprisingly graceful Barolo is one of the stars of the vintage. It seamlessly weaves together tobacco, underbrush, leather and intense balsamic sensations with succulent black cherry, raspberry and licorice flavors. It’s all supported by a backbone of lively acidity and noble tannins. This will age and evolve for decades. Drink 2020–2050. Vineyard Brands. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14% Price: $95
99 Sandrone 2010 Cannubi Boschis (Barolo). Structured but extremely elegant, this magnificent Barolo opens with an intense fragrance of violet, rose, wild berry, leather, underbrush and balsamic notes. The delicious, focused palate delivers crushed black cherry layered with notes of exotic spices, licorice, sage and black pepper, perfectly balanced by assertive tannins and vibrant energy. It already boasts gripping depth, but this has serious aging potential. Drink 2020–2040. Vintus. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14% Price: $165
99 Cantina Bartolo Mascarello 2010 Barolo. From one of the denomination’s leading traditional producers, this gorgeous, elegant Barolo opens with floral aromas of dried rose petals, woodland berries, leather, spice and whiffs of balsamic herbs. The delicious palate seamlessly combines crunchy red cherry, berry fruit, white pepper and mint, balanced by firm but polished tannins and bright acidity. This is a hallmark Barolo full of finesse that will age majestically. Drink after 2020. Polaner Selections, Rare Wine Co. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $NA
98 Cavallotto 2010 Bricco Boschis (Barolo). Leather, balsam, black fruit and spice aromas lead the nose on this gorgeous wine. The delicious palate delivers ripe black cherry, crushed raspberry, licorice, cinnamon, black pepper and carob notes, balanced by bold but noble tannins and vibrant acidity. This is a textbook Barolo that needs years to fully develop and will age for decades. Drink 2020–2040. Michael Skurnik Wines. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $80
98 Giacomo Fenocchio 2010 Bussia (Barolo). From the historic heart of the famed Bussia vineyard area, this fantastic wine beautifully expresses the fabulous vintage. Boasting great depth and energy, it seamlessly delivers violet, incense, underbrush, crushed black cherry, licorice, graphite and balsamic sensations alongside vibrant acidity and big, velvety tannins. It’s a classic in the making. Drink 2020–2040. Multiple U.S. importers. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14% Price: $60
97 Brezza 2010 Sarmassa (Barolo). From one of the best sites in Barolo, this intense, delicious wine opens with a multidimensional fragrance of crushed flower, new leather, earth, incense, spice and black cherry. The vibrant, spicy palate delivers red berry accented with notes of black pepper, cinnamon spice, licorice and clove. Bold but noble tannins and brisk acidity promise fantastic aging potential. Drink 2020–2050. A.I. Selections, Stefano Miretti Imports. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $67
97 Poderi Aldo Conterno 2010 Bussia Colonnello (Barolo). This classic Barolo shows its fantastic pedigree. It opens with varietal aromas of leather, tilled earth, underbrush, truffle and berry. The intense palate delivers black cherry, crushed raspberry, cinnamon, clove and licorice alongside velvety, teeth-coating tannins and brisk acidity. Usually the most accessible of Conterno’s single-vineyard Barolos, the vibrant 2010 is loaded with energy and destined for lengthy aging. Drink 2020–2040. Massanois Imports. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $130
97 Comm. G. B. Burlotto 2010 Monvigliero (Barolo). From the most celebrated vineyard in the village of Verduno, this dazzling Barolo opens with an enticing bouquet of exotic incense, violet, cedar, leather, moist earth, pine forest and a whiff of smoke. The focused palate delivers layers of delicious dark cherry, clove, cinnamon, thyme, balsamic notes and mineral alongside supple tannins. Incredibly elegant. Drink 2018–2040. Bacchanal Wine Imports. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $65
96 Guido Porro 2010 V. S. Caterina (Barolo). Leather, blue flower, black berry, tilled soil and allspice scents leap from the glass when pouring this quintessential Barolo. The juicy palate delivers crushed black cherry, mint, thyme and sage alongside bracing but polished tannins and fresh acidity. The ripe fruit makes this almost accessible already, but hold for more complexity. Drink after 2020. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 14.5% Price: $42
95 Aurelio Settimo 2010 Rocche dell’Annunziata (Barolo). This structured wine opens with earthy aromas of tilled soil, underbrush, leather, cedar, bright berries and baking spices. The vibrant palate displays classic Nebbiolo flavors of crushed dark cherry, clove, cinnamon, truffle, sage, thyme and licorice alongside brisk acidity and bracing but noble tannins. It’s a classic young Barolo that will bloom into a beauty. Drink 2020–2040. Verity Wine Partners.
abv: 14.5% Price: $65
The Barolo region covers 11 communes, each with its own character. Here’s a quick guide to the villages and their top producers. If you know what wine style you prefer, this should help narrow your shopping list. Or check this month’s Buying Guide for reviews of the more than 200 wines tasted for this report.
The village where it all began back in the 1830s, when the Marchesa di Barolo began producing quality Barolo on a large scale and introduced her wine to the royal court. One of only three villages to lie entirely with the denomination, it’s known for its elegant wines. It’s also home to several lauded subzones, like Cannubi, San Lorenzo and Sarmassa.
Top producers: Bartolo Mascarello, Brezza, Giuseppe Rinaldi and Sandrone.
2. Castiglione Falletto
Located in the heart of the denomination, the entire village is located within its borders. It’s long celebrated for Barolos that combine finesse and structure from such coveted vineyard sites as Bricco Boschis, Fiascho, Monprivato and Villero.
Top producers: Brovia, Cavallotto, Paolo Scavino and Giuseppe Mascarello, whose cellars are located elsewhere, but whose Monprivato is a benchmark bottling.
3. Serralunga d’Alba
Limestone-based soils and high altitude make Serralunga home to the most structured and long-lived Barolos. Located entirely within the denomination, it boasts some of the most lauded vineyards in Barolodom, including Cerretta, Francia (behind Monfortino), Parafada and Vigna Rionda. The village is also home to Fontanafredda, one of the largest and most storied Barolo houses.
Top producers: Cappellano, Ettore Germano, Giacomo Conterno (whose cellars are in Monforte d’Alba) and Massolino.
4. Monforte d’Alba
This is another core Barolo village, producing complex, structured Barolos from prime vineyard sites including Bussia, Ginestra and Gramolere. The town has come under fire for its generously delimited borders that greatly expanded historic vineyard areas, primarily Bussia, which now encompasses a number of other vineyards.
Top producers: Aldo Conterno, Elio Grasso, Franco Conterno and Giacomo Fenocchio.
5. La Morra
La Morra boasts the largest area dedicated to Barolo production in the denomination. The town is known for producing elegant and perfumed Barolos from the key vineyard sites of Brunate, Cerequio and Rocche dell’Annunziata.
Top producers: Aurelio Settimo, Cordero di Montezemolo, Elio Altare and Marcarini.
Novello (6) and Verduno (7) stand above Cherasco (8), Diano d’Alba (9), Grinzane Cavour (10) and Roddi (11), which are minor players in terms of production and great vineyards. Novello produces outstanding wines from the Ravera subzone, like those made by Elvio Cogno. Verduno boasts one the greatest vineyard areas in the denomination, Monvigliero, which yields wines with elegance, supple tannins and spice.
Top producers: Burlotto, Castello di Verduno and Fratelli Alessandria.
Thirsty for more? Italian Editor Kerin O’Keefe is the author of Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine, which will be published this fall by the University of California Press. In its 360 pages, she goes into much greater depth than in this brief vintage report—and covers Barbaresco as well. It’s a must-read for Italian wine lovers.
- 2Vintage Comparisons
- 3Changing Climate
- 4Back to the Future
- 5Subzones’ Official Debut
- 6Top Rated 2010 Barolos
- 9Buying Barolo