Driving to the town of Barolo from Alba gives one an idea of the terrain, the gently rolling hills, and the vineyards surrounding picture postcard pretty villages. The roads are narrow and winding, a result of turf wars, road construction and other political vicissitudes through centuries.
Barolo, the town, located 15 Km. south of Alba, is small in size but big in reputation. Wine enthusiasts refer to it as “the wine of kings and the king of
wines“, an apt description when the vintage is considered to be good to excellent, yields kept low, the wine maker competent and caring.
Barolo was literally invented through the efforts of the mayor of the town (Barolo) Grinzano Cavour, and the architect of Italian unity Camillo Cavour with the financial help of Giuletta Falletti, Marquise of Barolo.
Camillo Cavour convinced French oncologist Louis Oudart to relocate to the region and improve the quality of Barolo. Up to that time the wines always has some residual sugar, tasting incomplete and somewhat strange to those used to completely dry wines.
Mr. Oudart recommended fermenting the red wines dry and age them at least two years in large casks before bottling.
Eventually Barolo wines improved in quality and Marquise encouraged her friends, the nobility, to build castles and establish private forests to hunt and entertain.
Barolo must be vinted from appellation- grown Nebbiolo grapes exclusively (on
officially registered Barolo vineyards that measure 1200 hectares).
Five villages make up the area (Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba, La Morra). The soil ranges from volcanic to compressed sandstone, and poor, to calcareous marl from Tortonian epoch.
Winters tend to be cold, and summers warm to hot with intermittent rain. Nebbiolo is a naturally shy yielding grape and if over cropped produces a wine with no “ personality “. When the Italian wine laws were first implemented in 1960’s Barolo yield was determined at 56 hectolitres/hectare, which some Barolo makers find too high. They produce 50 hectolitres/hectare and sometimes even less pending the quality of the vintage.
Barolo must be aged for two years in large Slavonian oak upright casks
(9000Litre capacity), although modern winemakers are using small, new barriques to produce fruity wines that can be consumed much earlier than usual.
Up to 1970’s Barolo was very much a negociant wine, blended from different vineyards and in the hand of meticulous merchants, some Barolos’ tasted terrific. They aged gracefully and well, developing all the characteristics one expects from fine examples of Barolo: garnet hue tending toward ruby, expansive aromas of plums, dried roses and/or herbs, tar, liquorice, leather, bing cherries, tobacco, and white truffles, a specialty of the region. Traditionally, Barolo had to be aged for at least 10 years, often much longer to shed its tannins and excessive acidity. Today, young wine makers reduce fermentation and maceration time from two months to one week or less, and age in barriques (225 litres capacity) obtaining wines that can be enjoyed early, but which also tend to disintegrate within a few years!
On the other hand, there are traditionalists who keep yields low, select the best bunches for de-stemming and crushing, ferment the must according to vintage quality anywhere from six to eight weeks and age in huge Slovenian oak casks and sometimes in chestnut casks that age wine slowly and impart less tannin than smaller casks.
A few wineries made and marketed single vineyard Barolos starting 1970 fashioned after the Burgundy model. Cantina Ceretto was one of the first to market single vineyard Barolos and still today is well known for its “ cru “ wines.
Barolo’s famous single vineyards
Village Single Vineyards
La Morra Rocche, Cerequio, La Serra, Rochetta, Tettimoro, Marcenasco, Arborina, Brunate ,Fossati, Giachini
(vineyards underlined are shared with other villages)
Barolo Costa di Rose, La Villa, Cannubi, Cannubi Boschis, Brunate, Sarmassa
Castiglione Falletto Rocche, Villero, Monprivato, Montanello, Fiasc, Bricco
Monforte d’ Alba Bussia, Ginestra, Santo Stefano di Pernot
Serralunga d’Alba Lazzarito, Vigna Rionda, Gabutti, Francia, Falletto, Arione, Brea, Ceratto, Sperss, La Delizia
Single vineyards may be divided among a number of growers or wineries, i.e. Ceretto owns part of Brunate and calls that portion Zonchera Primo, and part of Rocche (a parcel on the top called Bricco). Grapes on the apex of hills are said to have better flavour due to exposure, day and night temperature variances and drainage. Bartolo Mascarello on the other hand markets his wine simply as Barolo although his vineyards are in Cannubi, one of the most desired locations with all Barolo villages.
If you happen to be in Alba take advantage to visit Cantina Ceretto and ask for a tasting. Should you be lucky enough to have a recommendation from their agent in Ontario (Halpern Enterprises) you will be simply impressed with their vineyards, wineries and wine making philosophy. Ask them to recommend a family restaurant in the village of Barolo! Let the feast roll!
When in Barolo try to visit Bartolo Mascarello, whose winery is located in the middle of the village, who, by many is considered to be the most accomplished Barolo maker. If he thinks you are capable of appreciating his wine you might be treated to a tasting. But what a memorable tasting it will be!
In Barolo the 1200 hectares are divided among and equal number of growers, which indicates the average holding size to be one hectare. As a result of this fragmentation fruit quality varies a great deal even within a single vineyard, as is the case in Burgundy. Ultimately, when buying Barolo, the name of the winery becomes an important factor. Inexpensive Barolo has never been great. There are Barolo bottles on the market retailing for $ 30.00 or less, and others for more than $ 100.00, the difference is distinctly noticeable both in the glass and mouth!
Barolo: This small, sleepy village located south of La Morra gave its name to the appellation. Barolo’s vineyards are (375 hectares) ranked fourth in importance among the five villages, and its wines are referred to as classics.
Castiglione Falletto: is the smallest of the five villages with the fewest acreage and growers. Situated between Serralunga d’ Alba and Barolo this picture postcard hilltop village is prized for its muscular bold, [powerful and full-bodied wines (200 hectares).
Monforte d’Alba: this hilltop town is the third largest in acreage (193 hectares) and all of its vineyards are on steep hillsides. It’s Barolos, properly vinified, is longest lived of all.
Serralunga d’ Alba: with 200 hectares this village ranks second amongst the five in acreage. The vineyards are on hillsides and contain more limestone than the others resulting in mineral-dominated wines. The wines are powerful, rich, and exude finesse others lack.
La Morra: is known to produce the supplest, velvety, and seductive Barolos, easiest to enjoy when young. With 240 hectares, it boasts the largest acreage of the five villages.
The best wineries and negociants of Barolo are:
Calaudia Alario, Giancarlo Alessandrio, Elio Altare, Giacomo Ascheri, Azelia, A S Biagio, Boasso, Enzo Boglietti, Alessandro Brero, Fratelli Brovia, Tenuta Caretta, Bruno Ceretto (Cantina Ceretto), Pio Cesare, Cigliuti, Domenico Clerico, Crodero di Montezemolo, Aldo Conterno, Conterno-Fantino, Corino, Cortese, Luigi Einaudi, Stefano Farina, Giacomo Fenocchio, Fratelli Ferrero, Gianni Gagliardi, Angelo Gaja, Attilio Ghisolfi, Bruno Giacosa, Silvio Grasso, Marchesi di Gressy, Giacomo Grimaldi, A. A. Icardi, Manzone, M. Marengo, Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Mascarello, A. A. Luigi Minuto, Moccagatta, Maruo Molino, Andrea Oberto, Fratelli Oddero, Parusso, Elia Pasquera, Luigi Pellissero, Luigi Pira, Prunotto, Renato Ratti, Fratelli Revello, Giuseppe Riveti , Albina Roca, Bruno Roca, Sandrone, Paolo Scavino, Mauro Sebaste, Seghesio, Aurelio Settimo, Settimano, La Spinona, Traversea, Mauro Veglio, A A Eraldo Viberti, Vietti, Giovanni Voerzio, Roberto Voerzio
Barbaresco– although Barbaresco does not roll off the tongue as easily as Barolo does, its wines deserve the attention of wine enthusiasts everywhere. It is also made entirely from the Nebbiolo, but is generally better balanced and a little lighter than Barolo with less tannin and more fruit.
Barbaresco’s vineyards measure approximately 490 hectares divided between the villages of Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso. Most connoisseurs consider Barbaresco to the little brother of Barolo, with less aging potential, but in good vintages they age gracefully up to 20- 30 years.
The vineyards are on calcareous soils, mature fruit earlier than in Barolo and yield wines that tend to be fruitier than Barolo, perfumey and less powerful. By law Barbaresco must be aged one year in Slovenian upright large casks and one year after bottling prior to release.
The appellation’s best single vineyards are around the town of Barbaresco and known as: Asili (Asij), Martinenga, Rabaja, Sori Tildin, Secondine (Sori San Lorenzo by Gaja), Montefico and Montestefano.
Bricco Asili is the apex of the single vineyard Asili owned by Ceretto, a winery that vinifies and markets this parcel’s wine separately and with great success. Ceretto went even further than any other local winery by building a special winery to vinify just one wine Barbaresco.
Barbaresco’s best-known winery though is Angelo Gaja, owned and managed by eponymus Angelo Gaja who inherited the establishment from his father. He markets his wines vigorously, applies non-traditional wine making techniques and some local wine makers frown upon them, but his wines command prices his detractors wish they could get! He steams his barriques rather using sulphur sticks, and subjects the fruit to a rigorous selection process before crushing and fermentation.
Angelo Gaja also planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay (considered to be a sacrilege by traditional Barbaresco producers) and sells them as vino da tavola the lowest common denominator of Italian wines) but at prices others can only dream of.
Neive: was made famous by Bruno Giacosa and the local priest who vinifies the grapes of the village church sold as Parroche de Neive and considered to be one of the best examples of what Barbaresco should be.
The best single vineyards of the village are: San Stefano, Serra Boella, Gallina, Starderi and Versu Gallina.
Treiso: is the smallest of the three villages with the best vineyards of Ausario, Vanotu, Pajore and Marcarini.
In Barbarseco, like in Barolo the producer and/or winery counts for more than the single vineyard designation.
The best wineries of Barbaresco are:
Ada Nada, Marchesi di Barolo, Bel Colle, Bersano, A. A. Cagliero, Cascina Ballarin, F. Barale, Cascina Bongiovanni, Ca Bome, Michele Chiarlo, Cantina Christina, Elio Cogno Poggio Petorchino, Podere Colla, Costa di Bussia, Elio Filippino, Fontanabianca, Carlo Giacosa, Giordano, Cantina del Glicine, Fratelli Grasso, La Licenziana, Molino, Giuseppe Negro, Paroccho di Neive, Armando Piazza, E. Pira e Figlio, Poderi Colla-Tenuta Rongoglia, C. Porro Principiano, Princi, Produttori di Barbaresco, Punset, Dante Rivetti, Rizzi, A. A. Ronchi, Gigi Rosso, Fattoria San Giuliano Givanni Sandri, Azienda Agricola Sebaste, Fratelli Seri e Batista Borgogno, Torregiori, Cascina Vano, Varalde, Cantina Vignaioli
The best vintages of Barolo and Barbaresco are 1971 (100), 1974 (90), 1978 (90) 1979 (80), 1982 (90), 1983 (80), 1985 (90), 1986 (80), 1988 (80), 1989 (80), 1990 (90), 1993 (80), 1994 (80), 1995 (90), 1996 (90), 1997 (100), 1999 (90).