Home > Editorial > Barbaresco 2020 vintage report
Davy Żyw, Italy Buyer
While Barolo takes its lion’s share of the spotlight, only a mere 12 kilometres away, we find the slightly smaller appellation of Barbaresco. Counting four communes against Barolo’s eleven, Barbaresco offers accessibility, value and some of the finest Nebbiolo in the world. The promise of grandeur is no less in their future, as is clear from this vintage.
Big boots to fill
The previous 2019 was the first in a glorious trio of vintages, with 2020 continuing this run and offering Barbaresco, specifically, an opportunity to truly shine. Yes, 2020 has big boots to fill as the successor to the outstanding 2019 vintage in Piedmont, but both vintages offer us something very different. For Barolo and Barbaresco, 2019 yielded wines with vivid fruit purity, classical if nervous structures, resulting in fine, long-lived expressions which need patience to reveal themselves. The 2020 vintage, on the other hand, gives us a genuine vintage of pleasure: the wines open, relaxed and generously fruity with succulent tannin profiles.
This was a vintage marked by lockdown. Serendipitously, this translated into producers having no travel burdens, appointments or external commitments. Tourism was non-existent and pollution was greatly reduced (eg: dolphins in Venice). Principally, vineyards received more attention than ever: it was worthy excuse to escape the confines of one’s home. Quite simply, the wines are better for it.
The growing season
Early snow in November ran into the warmest January in 50 years. These dramatic swings of temperature are a sign of an increasingly turbulent climate. Yet, the warm start of the year was followed by a cold March. A very wet April and May springboarded early vegetative growth in the vineyards and gave vineyards ample water resources and energy for the growing season ahead. Summer temperatures were regular and peaceful, punctured by several thunderstorms in June and July; this released the heat, bringing water and slowing maturation. Hailstorms, which have become a common problem in the area, thankfully did not appear, and the summer concluded with warmth and great sunlight, resulting in ideal conditions come harvest time. Picking in 2020 came slightly earlier than in 2019, as producers were able to achieve full phenolic ripeness evenly across their vineyards; this is the characteristic that defines the vintage style.
With this release, we find a transparent fruit purity, revealing the quality of vineyards in the Barbaresco area, complemented by glossy, rich-fruit tannins. In many of the wines, there is even a degree of textural opulence which we rarely associate with Nebbiolo. The best of Barbaresco 2020 reflects the solar vintage character, yet are grounded by terroir tension and rooted in their vineyard character.
Many of our Barbaresco producers liken the vintage to 2016, but with more rain. High quality is consistent across the vintage, with clear highlights in the best crus. And like ’16, the wines have purity of fruit, harmonic balance and bright colours. But they differ because of the shape of the tannins: the ’20s simply do not carry the classical austerity of the ’16s. Instead, the wines are more friendly, with glossy tannins, a juicy character and a charming bouncing acidity, extending enjoyment on the palate, and giving a long life to the bottle.
The collectors among you should feel safe in the knowledge that 2020 is a confident, generous, and graceful second instalment in a trio of brilliant years in the Langhe. Drinkers should rejoice that they can drink the ’20s ahead of their ’19s in their cellar. Despite the chaotic world events of 2020, nature was much restored. Dolphins were swimming in Venice’s Grand Canal, and the vineyards of Barbaresco were never healthier. Within this even growing year, Mother Nature gave back to the vineyards, allowing a growing season without climatic trauma, and giving ripe but tempered fruit. The wines have a succulence and transparent juiciness, which Dave Fletcher describes as a “Pinot-like purity”. The absence of stress allowed the tannins to develop beautifully and harmoniously. The wines are happy and luminous but no less serious. 2020 is a vintage for Barbaresco – and across the board, results were exceptional. Like all great years in Barbaresco, the cellaring potential is undeniable; but unlike many of the classical vintages, the ’20s have plenty of joy to give now.