Monday, January 10, 2011



Barolo is one of the great wines of the world.  It was one of the first DOCGs granted, in 1980, which attests to the quality of wine produced in the region. This is a small DOCG, all of seven miles long and at its widest five miles, in the Piedmont region in northern Italy.  Barolo wines have an ability to age for decades. The only grape permitted is the tannin monster, Nebbiolo.

Fontanafredda in the 1900's
It has been called the “King of wines and the wine of Kings”. Barolo was one of the favorite wines with the nobility and the ruling Kings of Savoy. The King of Savoy, Carlo Alberto owned various wine making estates in the region.  His son Victtorio Emanuele founded the estate Fontanafredda and the colors of the House of Savoy are still visible on the Frontafredda buildings to this day. Wine made by Kings and for Kings.

 Barolo and Nebbiolo both have a long history in the region but we will only highlight some of the important dates. Nebbiolo was mentioned as early as the 1200s. Some early legislation was enacted in 1909 to try and define the area and protect the name of Barolo. The boundaries changed a few times in the 1920's and in 1930 and again in 1934. However, there was little change in the region during the war years. In 1966, Barolo was awarded its DOC and its DOCG in 1980, again with some small boundary changes.

 The Barolo zone has many different mesoclimates, soil types and altitudes that have broad effects on the wine produced. To simplify the complicated geology, there are two basic soil types producing two broad styles of wine. The wines of the Serralunga Valley tend to be a little bigger, with more tannins and higher alcohol. This area has a sand and limestone soil structure. The Central Valley to the west, La Morra, and the Barolo commune itself, to me, have more perfumed and truffle aromas, with less tannins.  This valley has more clay and manganese in the soil. The wine producer can at times override the terrior though; it is best to compare one producer's different versions.

 There are eleven communes in the DOCG.  Five which produce the majority of wine: Barolo, La Morra, Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto and Monforte d’Alba . The other six are Verdune, Novello, Diano d’Alba Grinzane, Cavour, Roddi and Cherasco. These communes have been further divided into Cru style vineyards, somewhat similar to Burgundy. These vineyards though, have not been assigned a status as have Burgundy’s premier crus or grand crus.  The Slow Food Group spent quite a few years researching and mapping these vineyards. This mapping was built upon Renato Ratti’s “Carta del Barolo”. Many producers since the eighties have been doing single vineyard bottling; you will see the name of the vineyard on the label. Some producers still only bottle a regional wine made from blends from vineyards all over the region, which is more traditional. Their thinking is that a blend of various vineyards makes for a better fuller wine. With all the possibilities of commune vineyards, producers and soil types you could have a nice lifetime hobby tasting all the variations and styles.

Barrique at Marquis de Barolo
There has been some controversy in the past about how Barolo should be made. There are the tradionalists and the so-called modernists. The tradionalists use long maceration periods of 20 days or more and use older, large barrels called botti, usually made from Slovenian oak. This style produces the more tannic, lighter colored versions of Barolo. The modernists use much shorter maceration times, seven to ten days and use smaller barrique size barrels, made from French Oak. This is the more international style with more approachable tannins, more color and fruit. A huge controversy developed in the 1980s, when families warred and even went their separate ways over how to make Barolo.  It now seems that more producers are falling into a middle ground. The end result is that these wines are more approachable and can be enjoyed without years of aging, as in the past.

 I thought this was interesting. It is taken from article eight of the DOCG regulations on what Barolo should be.
Color: garnet red, shot through with orange.
Odor: characteristic perfume, ethereal pleasurable and intense.
Flavor: dry, full, robust, austere yet velvety and harmonious

Annual production: 8 million bottles depending on vintage.
Aging: must be aged for three years, one must be in wood. Some producers will age longer. Yields: 56 hl/ha or 3.2 tons per acre.
Acreage planted: 4285

Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of ItalyA Wine Atlas of the Langhe: The Great Barolo and Barbaresco VineyardsBarolo to Valpolicella: Wines of Northern Italy (Faber Books on Wine)The New Italy: A Complete Guide to Contemporary Italian Wine

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