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Guide to Barolo Wine and its Region: What is Barolo Wine?

Guide to Barolo Wine and its Region: What is Barolo Wine?

franco salzillo arriaga |

Barolo is amongst the most coveted and esteemed red wines, not only in Italy but in the world. Known as the ‘King of Wines and the Wine of Kings,’ the Piedmontese wine is up there with the finest wines, both for its complexity and its age-worthiness.
And although enjoying a glass of Barolo is easy, getting a sense of the wine style isn’t. After all, Italian wine laws are everything but easy to understand. That changes today. Here’s all you need to know about Barolo, how to enjoy it, pair it with food and the people behind the wine.
Sit back and relax because, despite Barolo being a handful, especially if you are just getting into Italian wines, the more you know about it, the more you enjoy every drop.

What is Barolo Wine, Anyway?

Barolo is the name of a town nestled in Alba’s rolling hills in the northern Italian region of Piedmont. Barolo is also the name of a larger commune around the town, and they both give their name to a wine style. 

Barolo is a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or DOCG, the highest quality level in the Italian wine repertoire. And the wine region has strict rules that determine what producers can and can’t do to label their wine as authentic Barolo.

Talking about authentic Barolo, a handful of communes in the region can label their wine as such, and not just Barolo. Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, Monforte d’Alba, Novello and La Morra, amongst other few, all hold the rights to make Barolo. 

To make things a bit more complicated, every commune has vineyards, and the vineyards produce grapes of different qualities. This means that although all Barolo is great wine, not all of it is extraordinary.

What Makes Barolo Special?

What makes Barolo unique is a combination of factors. First, you have a prestigious terroir with the perfect conditions to grow concentrated wine grapes. The region’s clay and limestone soils in different proportions give Barolo depth — the wine from each commune and every vineyard is different. It’s easy to see why connoisseurs go crazy for Barolo; it’s so intricate!

What makes Barolo unique is a combination of factors. First, you have a prestigious terroir with the perfect conditions to grow concentrated wine grapes. The region’s clay and limestone soils in different proportions give Barolo depth — the wine from each commune and every vineyard is different. It’s easy to see why connoisseurs go crazy for Barolo; it’s so intricate! 

Then you have the people — generations-old wineries have been making illustrious wine since the early 1800s in the area. Names like Giacomo Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello and Gaja are known and respected worldwide.

Finally, you have the grape behind Barolo, the all-mighty Nebbiolo. This unique variety is native to Northern Italy, and although it grows in several wine regions in the area, most experts agree the grape reaches its fullest potential when grown in the Barolo region.

What makes Barolo special? It’s everything — the grapes, the people, the history and the land, and these all are also responsible for the wine style’s complexity.

All You Need to Know About Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo, also known as Spanna, Picoutener, Chiavennasca, takes its name from the Italian term ‘nebbia’ or fog. And although Nebbiolo is hands down the noblest Piedmontese grape, it’s neither the only one nor the most planted in the region.

Nebbiolo shares the land with two other red grapes, Barbera and Dolcetto. In fact, most of the vineyards in the area are planted with the lesser known (still delicious) varieties. Nebbiolo only thrives where the conditions are right, including the vineyards’ orientation and altitude, always ‘above the fog line’. 

Nebbiolo is a late-ripening variety, so it has plenty of time to accumulate sugar, pigments and tannins. Wines made with it are big and bold but still refined. It’s no surprise wines made with Nebbiolo age very well; you need concentration for that. You can easily enjoy a bottle of fine Barolo half a century down the line.

The Famous Barolo Wars, Barolo’s History

Barolo has a convoluted history. It is said the region made sweet red wine with the Nebbiolo for most of history until 19th-century winemaker Paolo Francesco Staglieno shifted the region’s wine industry toward the more modern dry wines.

For a time, Barolo was a synonym for age-worthiness. In fact, a young bottle of Barolo had such concentration that it couldn’t be enjoyed right away. If you bought one, you had to let it sit for at least a decade before it mellowed down. 

By the 1970s, the world of wine was not as patient as it was decades earlier, and people wanted wine that could be enjoyed in its early years. Some Barolo winemakers agreed and threw tradition out the window, creating an entirely new type of Barolo — a modern red wine aged in new oak instead of the large traditional ‘botti,’ and with a much milder profile suitable for early enjoyment.

The new winemaking philosophy clashed with traditionalist winemakers in what is known as the Barolo Wars. Although not a bloody war, it surely ended generation-old friendships. 

Today, Barolo is not black or white anymore, as most winemakers embrace their traditions while still making the most out of modern winemaking techniques. Needless to say, Barolo today is better than ever.

Types of Barolo, Explained

Here’s where things get a bit complicated. Barolo is always made 100% with Nebbiolo, but there are different styles.

Regular Barolo or Barolo Rosso must age for a minimum of 38 months, including 18 months in a barrel. That’s over three years and comparing the style with wines from the new world, the amount of time is unheard of. Barolo Riserva must age for at least 62 months, 18 of them in a barrel. That’s over five years! 

Both Barolo and Barolo Riserva must have at least 13% alcohol by volume, and the grapes must come from vineyards at least over 560 feet above sea level.

Then you have the rare Barolo Chinato, a sweet, aromatised wine not dissimilar to Vermouth made with authentic Barolo. Its primarily aromatized with quinine or chinino (like tonic water). Only the Italians would make such a concoction with their most prized grapes, right? Well, Barolo Chinato is quite lovely. 

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that winemakers can label their wine after 181 authorised subregions, often not larger than a few rows of vines. The most prestigious Barolo comes from these sites, including the famous Cannubi, Cerequio and Brunate vineyards.

When To Drink Barolo and How to Serve It?

The real question here is, what how does Barolo taste like? The famous combination of ‘tar and roses’ is often used to describe Barolo’s bouquet, and it’s pretty accurate. Scents reminiscent of freshly turned soil, dried flowers, and blackberries are common in Barolo.

Flavour-wise, Barolo is one of few wines that stand out in every aspect — the wine is high in tannins, acidity and alcohol. These are muscular wines with refined aromas. Barolo is undoubtedly not for the inexperienced, but once you get a hold of it, you fall in love with the style; that’s guaranteed.

Now, not all Barolo tastes the same way. As mentioned above, modernist winemakers produce approachable wines, while traditionalists still produce wines you need to lie down before approaching them. Knowing your Barolo producers pays off. 

As for wine service, most Barolo benefits from decanting. The practice will allow you to separate the wine from its sediment, if any, while allowing oxygen to ‘open’ the wine a bit — Barolo can be pretty shy at first glance.

How to Pair Barolo with Food?

Barolo might be a complicated wine style but finding food to match it is fairly easy. Well-aged Barolo with earthy undertones is a wonderful partner for a plate of steamy risotto flavoured with wild porcini mushrooms, for example. 

Barolo also shows its best when paired with meaty stews, slow-roasted meat, feathered game, and braised beef. Hearty stews are a speciality in the region. Barolo’s almost ethereal bouquet is also a good match for Alba’s black truffles, some of the most coveted on earth, and anything flavoured with them.

When pairing food with Barolo, thing think big and bold, beefy and gamey. You just can’t get it wrong.

Where To Buy Barolo Wine

World Wine is your go-to source for the finest Barolo from a wide range of producers. Where to buy Barolo in Australia? We’re a trusted source of fine Italian wine and other fine wines in the country. Here are some of our bottles in our Barolo catalogue.

Elvio Cogno Cascina Nuova Barolo 2015

Ruby red with an orange rim, Elvio Cogno’s version of the Cascina Nuova vineyard offers endless layers of dried violets and undergrowth with hints of black truffle in the background. The palate offers angular tannins held together by a piercing acidic backbone extending long into the aftertaste.

Type: Red Wine
Varietal(s): Nebbiolo
Country: Italy
Region: Piedmont
Appellation: Barolo
Brand:
Vintage: 2015
Price: $102.52

 

 Prunotto Barolo Classico 2016

Red ripe berries and rose petals brim from the glass supported by oak spices in the aftertaste. The palate is bold and juicy but still tart and tight. Powdery tannins make Prunotto Barolo from this vintage blessed by a hot and sunny summer a delight. 

Type: Red Wine
Varietal(s): Nebbiolo
Country: Italy
Region: Piedmont
Appellation: Barolo
Brand: Prunotto
Vintage: 2016
Price: $78.95

 

Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo DOCG Granbussia Riserva 2010

This 99-pointer is the very definition of tar and roses, along with plums and blackberries over a towering palate of round tannins and a mild acidity. If you’re not in a hurry, you can lie down this beauty for another couple of decades.

Type: Red Wine
Country: Italy
Region: Piedmont
Appellation: Barolo
Brand:
Vintage: 2010
Price: $1,621.71