Some wines from Ferdinando Principiano including a surprisingly good 2014 Barolo

The non-French wines sold by French-Swedish online wine dealer Caviste are all from Piemonte/Piedmont. Foremost among these are Ferdinando Principiano, a producer in Serralunga d’Alba in the Barolo zone. Previous Caviste releases of Principiano wines were 2017 (then particularly good, with a 2013 Barolo), 2016, and 2015, and I’ve managed to taste them four years in a row.

My impression of the producer profile remains essentially the same as the previous times: Principiano is a producer who is close to the traditionalists in Piemonte. He started to work both at traditionalists and modernists, and for a time in the 1990s he produced his own modernist wines. This means wines with powerful concentration built on vinification using a lot of extraction, small oak barrels, and quite a bit of new oak. In the early 2000s, he changed his views and aimed for a more non-interventionist style and lighter wines. This means that he comes close to the traditionalists, with a style that is elegant and balanced, at possibly somewhat “light”, in the best sense of the word. Several of the wines are produced in a style that is approachable already on release, while simultaneous having the acidity and structure that allows them to be kept. This impression remains after tasting four years’ releases of the wines, but I’ve more come to view the wines of Principiano as more elegant, rather than just approachable and balanced.

2017 Dolcetto d’Alba Sant’ Anna
Grape variety: Dolcetto. 10 months in steel tanks, 12% alcohol.

Nose with cherries, slightly flowery notes, mineral; a young and cool impression. Palate with medium body, fresh with cherries and cranberries, prominent acidity, mineral, and an aftertaste with berries and acidity. A fresh and somewhat firm style, and shows pure berry notes. Young and reasonably approachable now, although it surely wouldn’t harm to save it until next year, 85 p.

Mostly the same cool and firm style as the 2016 Dolcetto last year, so could be used in the same way. It does however seem as if the 2017 is somewhat lighter than the 2016. We also got to re-taste the 2016, which wasn’t part of this year’s batch of wines:

2016 Dolcetto d’Alba Sant’ Anna
Grape variety: Dolcetto. 10 months in steel tanks, 12% alcohol.

Nose with ripe cherries, mineral, slight flowery notes, and hints of tar. Palate with medium body, fresh with good concentration, rather dark cherries, prominent acidity, mineral, and an aftertaste of mixed berries. Fresh and rather firm, pleasant to drink now, 86 p.

Compared to the 2017, the 2016 shows slightly darker berry aromas and is slightly more concentrated. That difference is mostly due to the respective vintage characters. A year of cellaring has made the wine slighly less firm and more approachable. Last year I scored it 85+ and recommended at least one year of cellaring. The tannins came across as less prominent this year than what they did last year.

2016 Barbera d’Alba Laura
Grape variety: Barbera. 10 months in steel tanks, 13.5% alcohol.

Nose with cherries and cranberries, mineral, slightly flowery. Somehow the nose indicates that a high-acid or tart wine is to be expected. Palate with medium body, fresh with cherries, high acidity, mineral, and a berry-dominated finish. Young and fresh, can be consumed in this state but can also be cellared, 86(+) p.

Compared to last year’s release of the 2015, this is a firmer and more acid-dominated wine, since 2016 displays a more classical style than the ripe 2015 vintage. This means that the Dolcetto and Barbera of this year’s release are more stylistically similar than what was the case last year. The Barbera has probably a bit more red berry notes and a little more substance, as well as higher acidity, which means that the Barbera is likely to be more age-worthy. This is the difference between Dolcetto and Barbera that is usually expected.

2014 Barolo
Grape variety: Nebbiolo, from young vines. Raised 24 months in big oak vats (botti) of 2000-4000 liters, 13% alcohol.

Nose with cranberries, rose hip, some strawberries and cherries, some dried berries, mineral, and white flowers. A classical nose with rather light-coloured berry notes. The palate is medium bodied (+) and fresg with cranberries, light-coloured cherries, high acidity, prominent mineral notes, rather prominent tannins, and a firm aftertaste with cranberries and mineral. Young and firm at present, would benefit from some years of aging, 91+ p.

This wine shows a cool style, pure notes, and is really good! For a wine from the 2014 vintage, it is surprisingly good, because this Piemonte vintage initially got distinctly negative reviews. A vintage from this region is released over several years, depending on which varietal and which DOC/DOCG it is, with Barolo and riservas last. A contributing factor for this wine being so good is that Principiano decided not to produce their two vineyard-designated wines (Ravera di Monforte and Boscareto) in 2014. Instead, only this “straight Barolo” was produced. This means that older vines has contributed to the wine in this vintage. I wasn’t just surprised by the quality, but also slightly suprised by the style of the wine. This wine is definitely in a cool and firm style. Compared to last year’s relase of 2013, a top vintage, the 2014 is probably a little less Burgundian in its notes. In Barbaresco (which in general is considered to have had less problems than Barolo in this vintage), 2014 is usually seen as rather similar to 2012, which was an approachable vintage that goes somewhat in the ripe and hot direction. This was confirmed by the few 2014 Barbaresco I’ve tasted. The impression that I’ve so far gotten of 2014 Barolo, mostly from other tasters’ experience, is that the wines are of uneven quality, i.e., they may vary a lot between producers. Based on this wine, it seems that also the style may vary from cooler/firmer to more approachable, although the typical 2014 wines seem to be lighter than usual in this vintage. This has been compensated by Principiano by sacrificing the single vineyard wines.

The obvious conclusion is that 2014 Piemonte wines, and in particular 2014 Barolo, shouldn’t be purchased “blind”, but it definitely isn’t a vintage to be avoided completely.

Swedish version of this post

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