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Piedmont: Potential for Greatness
By James Suckling
Even though Piedmont experienced problems with wet weather throughout most of the growing season, many of the region's producers are very excited about the quality of their 1999 wines.
"It's an excellent year," said Lucia Altare, wife of winemaker Elio Altare, a top producer of Barolo. "We think that the level of quality is the same as 1997 and 1998" -- two very good to excellent years.
Angelo Gaja, the most famous producer in Piedmont, called 1999 the fifth consecutive great vintage for the region. He said that the first half of September made up for any bad weather during the summer, particularly the rains at the end of August. More rain in mid-September delayed the harvest, but did not hurt the grapes as it was followed by ideally sunny and dry conditions. "There is a global change in climactic conditions," he said. "It has helped us now. Maybe it will change, but 1999 is very good."
While Gaja reported that the grape quality and sugar levels were similar to those of 1998, the quantity of the 1999 harvest was slightly greater than the previous year's. Gaja's whites exhibited good acidity and elegance, while the red grapes -- particularly the Nebbiolo from Barbaresco and Barolo -- showed intense color and aroma, with good structure for longevity.
Not all of Piedmont was rejoicing in the quality of 1999, however. Michele Chiarlo, a respected producer of many wines from Piedmont, including Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera d'Asti, was much more reserved, emphasizing that only winemakers who were rigorous in the vineyards will produce outstanding wines.
"There was an abundance of grapes, and those growers with high yields had more problems with mold," Chiarlo said. "Those who cut back their crop had the opportunity to make serious wines. ... In the last 20 days, the weather [was] excellent, which is very good news for the Barolo and Barbaresco, and results have been better than expected."