The hottest July in 135 years does not sound like a recipe for a successful vintage in the Langhe hills of Italy’s Piedmont region. But local winemakers are relieved to report that 2015 was not a repeat of 2003. A wet winter and hard work in the vineyards kept Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto grapes ripening evenly.
The Good News: Piedmont vintners report that quality is high across all areas and grape varieties in the Langhe.
The Bad News: In some cases, yields were 15 percent lower than average. Hail in the Ravera MGA (menzioni geografiche aggiuntive, the Langhe version of a cru site) in May reduced yields by as much as 80 percent.
Promising Grapes: Exceptional Dolcetto and Barbera. Promising Moscato from high elevation vineyards in Mango and Santo Stefano Belbo.
Challenging Grapes: Lower acidity whites, such as Arneis, Favorita and Nascetta, proved more challenging in the heat.
Picking Start Date: Picking began Aug. 26 for whites; Sept. 1 for Dolcetto; Sept. 15 for Barbera; and Sept. 25 for Nebbiolo.
Analysis: The 2015 growing season in Piedmont included the region’s hottest July since 1880. That might have endangered grape quality. But plentiful reserves of water after a wet winter kept vines from shutting down, and growers have learned to better manage leaf canopies since the torrid 2003 vintage, keeping vines healthy and promoting even grape ripening.
According to Giuseppe Vaira of G.D. Vajra, July and August were also windy, keeping air circulating through the leaves and avoiding excessive heat under the canopies. Vineyards higher on the slopes may have enjoyed a slight advantage over warmer, less breezy downhill spots, enjoying longer ripening periods.
In addition, higher diurnal temperature swings in September provided the right conditions for ripening both sugars and tannins in Nebbiolo. Dolcetto and Barbera benefited from the heat, though winemakers had to work to retain good acidity and keep alcohol levels under control in the former.
Giovanni Pasquero Elia at Paitin compares 2015 with 2011, a promising vintage with ripe fruit, but it reminds his father Secondo of 1982, a powerful, long-lived vintage. Pietro Ratti, proprietor of Renato Ratti, reported that 2015 bears resemblance to 2007—another opulent, fruity year—with the picking 7 to 10 days later in 2015.