Barolo, Italy's greatest red wine. One sip and you will agree.
Barolo is a red Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) wine produced in the northern Italian region of Piedmont. It is made from the Nebbiolo grape and is often described as one of Italy's greatest wines. The zone of production extends into the communes of Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d'Alba and parts of the communes of Cherasco, Diano d'Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d'Alba, Novello, Roddi, Verduno, all in the province of Cuneo, south-west of Alba. Only vineyards planted in primarily calcareous-clay soils in the hills with suitable slopes and orientations are considered suitable for Barolo production. Barolo is often described as having the aromas of tar and roses, and the wines are noted for their ability to age and usually take on a rust red tinge as they mature. When subjected to aging of at least five years before release, the wine can be labeled a Riserva.
In the past Barolos often used to be very rich on tannin. It could take more than 10 years for the wine to soften up and becoming ready for drinking. Fermenting wine sat on the grape skins for at least three weeks extracting huge amounts of tannins and was then aged in large, wooden casks for years. In order to appeal to more modern international tastes, which preferred fruitier, more accessible wine styles, several producers began to cut fermentation times to a maximum of ten days and age the wine in new French barriques (small oak barrels). "Traditionalists" have argued that the wines produced in this way are not recognizable as Barolo and taste more of new oak than of wine. The controversies between traditionalists and modernists have been called the "Barolo wars"
Since the late 19th century, efforts have been made to identify which vineyards in the Barolo zones produces the highest quality of wine. Inspired by the prestige and high prices charged for Grand cru bottlings of Burgundy wine, Barolo producers began separating their holdings into individual vineyard lots and labeling the wines with these single vineyard designations. The practice became so extensive that some producers were doing single vineyard bottlings and charging high prices on all their holdings, regardless of whether the particular vineyard quality merited such a practice. Led by prominent wine critic Luigi Veronelli, there was a push to have the vineyards of Barolo classified according to the quality of their produce. Winemaker Renato Ratti conducted an extensive study of the soils, geography and produce of vineyards throughout the area and mapped out individual plots based on their quality potential. The "Ratti Map" is still widely used by producers and negociants today. While there is no official designation of cru vineyard in the Barolo zone, both oral tradition and the history of high prices paid by negociants has elevated some vineyards to "cru" status in Barolo. In the commune of Barolo the Cannubi and Sarmazza are considered "cru" class as well as the Brunate vineyard shared with the commune of La Morra. Also in La Morra is the highly esteemed Cerequi and Rocche vineyards. In Castiglione Falletto is the Monprivato and Villero vineyards. The commune of Serralunga d'Alba is home to the esteemed vineyards of Lazzarito and Vigna Rionda while the commune of Monforte d'Alba is home to the Bussia, Ginestra and Santo Stefano di Perno vineyards.
Barolo wine is produced from the Nebbiolo grape variety with the Lampia, Michet and Rosé clones authorized. The clusters are dark blue and greyish with the abundant wax that dresses the grapes. Their form is lengthened, pyramidal, with small, spherical grapes with substantial peel. The leaves are of average size with three or five lobes. Compared to the annual growth cycle of other Piedmontese grape varieties, Nebbiolo is one of the first varieties to bud and last varieties to ripen with harvest taking place in mid to late October. In some vintages, other Piedmontese producers are able to pick and complete fermentation of their Barbera and Dolcetto plantings before Barolo producers have even begun their harvest. According to DOCG regulations, Barolos are to be composed of 100% Nebbiolo. Historically producers would blend other grapes such as a Barbera and today there is speculation that modern Barolo producers may be blending in Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah but there has been no conclusive proof of this practice. In the 1990s producers in the Barolo zone petitioned that the required Nebbiolo content be lowered from 100% to 90% but this petition was eventually defeated.
Barolos tend to be rich, deeply concentrated full bodied wines with pronounced tannins and acidity. The wines are almost always lightly colored varying from ruby to garnet in their youth to more brick and orange hues as they age. Like Pinot noir, Barolos are never opaque. Barolos have the potential for a wide range of complex and exotic aromas with tar and roses being common notes. Other aromas associated with Barolos include camphor, chocolate, dried fruit, damsons, eucalyptus, leather, licorice, mint, mulberries, plum, spice, strawberries, tobacco, white truffles as well as dried and fresh herbs. The tannins of the wine add texture and serve to balance Barolo's moderate to high alcohol levels (Minimum 13% but most often above 15% ABV). Excessive extraction from prolonged maceration periods and oak aging can give the wines an over-extracted bitterness.
Within the different communes of the Barolo zone, stylistic differences emerge due to differences in soil type. The calcareous marl soils of Barolo and La Morra are relatively fertile and tend to produce softer, more aromatic and fruity wines that age relatively sooner than Barolos from other parts of the zone. The less fertile, sandstone soils of the Monforte d'Alba and Serralunga d'Alba commune produce more intense, structured wines that need more time to mature. Castiglione Falletto is located on a spur between the two valleys with overlapping soil types. This region tends to produce wines with elegance and aromatics of the Barolo commune and the structure of wines from Serralunga d'Alba.
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