Barolo: King of Italy
Nestled in the picturesque Langhe hills of northwest Italy lies one of the world’s greatest wine regions, Barolo. We spent a few days in June touring through this part of the wine world and found some of the most beautiful vineyards we have ever seen. Neatly organized vines covered every hillside topped off with hilltop communities surrounding medieval castles. In a word, breathtaking.
A relative newcomer in Italian wine regions, Barolo, became what it is today about 150 years ago when Marchesa Giulietta Colbert Falletti began making wine from the nebbiolo grape. Today the area encompasses a relatively small area that includes 11 separate communities that are labeled as Barolo. These wines must contain 100% nebbiolo and are subject to some of the world’s strictest regulations regarding crop yield, vinification and aging.
This difficult and late ripening variety has found very few areas outside of northwest Italy where conditions are right to match the nuances of violet, rose, cherry, strawberry, licorice, tobacco, chocolate, white truffles and spice found in the wines of the Lange hills. It is no wonder that Barolo has been called the king of wines and the wine of kings.
Traditional styled Barolo is produced with a long maceration (soaking the grape skins with the juice) of 20 days or more during fermentation before aging the wine in large old oak barrels. These wines will be tannic and austere in their youth and require 15 years or more of cellaring to reach their peak. Most producers now make a modern style Barolo using shorter maceration times combined with aging the wine in new barriques (small oak barrels) creating softer, less tannic wines that can be drunk earlier, (6-10 years), without requiring the long patience needed for old styled wine.
The only drawback to Barolo is its price. A bottle from a good producer, based on reputation, will remove between $40-$120 dollars from your pocketbook. Barolo is much less expensive in Italy and we will be taking up a collection at the end of the post for us to go back and pick up a few bottles for everyone!
Ten miles east of Barolo, the village of Barbaresco produces a more elegant form of nebbiolo based wine named after the village. These wines have similar taste and aroma characteristics to Barolo but can be enjoyed earlier than their cousin to the west.
Barbara d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba are two other well known wines from the region. Barbera d’Alba, made from the barbera grape, is the heavier bodied of the two and is known as the “people’s wine”. Barbera ripens early and is peculiar in the sense that it has darkly pigmented skins with high acidity yet has very little tannin combining for a very easy drinking wine.
Dolcetto d’Alba, from the Dolcetto grape, is a spicy dry red wine that you would likely see most often in America. Less expensive and readily available due to its predictable nature and widespread plantings. Dolcetto d’Alba makes a great wine to serve with any casual faire (pizza, bitter greens, pasta).
Look for wines from a good producer and a good vintage. Your wine merchant should be able to point you in the right direction.
Italy is rich in history with the magnificent architecture of the old cities, inspiring works of art and a culture that has been based on the enjoyment of great food and wine for centuries. There can be a bit of a language barrier outside the major tourist areas but we found the language of wine to be universal. Cin! Cin! (Cheers!)