Barolo and Barbaresco wines
Piedmont, Italy – Barolo & Barbaresco Wines, Nestled in the foothills of the Alps.
How do I begin talking about Barolo and Barbaresco wines? Said to be the “King and Queen” of Italian wines, these are indeed very special.
I confess, for years I was a Napa Cabernet addict and bigot. The bold strong fruit, oak barrel aged, really can get you hooked. My husband, an Italian, began drinking some Italian wines from Tuscany. I would take a sip and then spit it out because it was oh so different from my strong, fruit-driven, vanilla-y impacted wines (Vanillin is a compound originating from the oak barrels used for ageing).
Fast forward to today: We’ve just returned from 1 week in ‘Piemonte’ which means ‘foot of the mountain’. This is where the notoriously finnicky Nebbiolo grape grows very successfully – and, per Kerin O’Keefe, noted Italian Wine journalist and author, it rarely grows anywhere else in the world as successfully.
Back to what this wine is: It’s a light, bright ruby color, almost like a Pinot Noir, except you’ll see a salmon-y colored edge around the rim of the bright ruby color in the glass. And it’s special because of its incredible, ever-evolving aromas and the unexpected taste on your palate.
1. The color is light, pale (You can see to the bottom of the glass) and you take a sip and bam! It’s a total surprise impact to your tongue. The surprise is the strength of the tannins. This is the unique hallmark to a Barolo or Barbaresco. Barolo and Barbarescos are made with 100% Nebbiolo grapes – no blending here. The tannins are anywhere from coarse to sandpaper to fine-grained in terms of their ‘feel’ on your tongue, but for a younger Barolo or Barbaresco they are indeed strong. They’re strong enough so that you can feel you need some fingernail polish remover to unstick your gums from each other. And, there is a sense of higher acidity as well. When the wine is done well, the tannins, acids, and fruits are in balance and produce an unbelievably delicious wine.
2. The very, very special pronounced aromas of Barolo and Barbaresco persist and evolve and change as you leave the wine in your glass. (never, ever decant a Barolo or Barbaresco because you will ‘waste’ the aromas as they evaporate into the air instead of being detectable via your olfactory glands.) The aromas are sheer poetry and are a significant part of a wine-lover’s enjoyment, because 80% of your sense of taste comes from your sense of smell. Aromas that are ‘telltale’ for these wines include:
3. Another reason the wines are so special: the incredible cultural reverence to the grape in Italy, and its corresponding history. Let me give you 2 examples of what I’m talking about:
Barolo and Barbaresco are DOCG wines produced in Italy, and DOCG is the government’s highest certification and ‘guarantee’ of quality. The government regulatory body dictates what grape can be grown where, when it must be harvested, the length of oak ageing before release, and more. This is quite unlike the U.S. Further, in Europe, wines are labelled and named for their growing zones or denominations and not by the varietal name. It can make it hard for people new to European wines to understand what they’re buying.
For Barolo, the ageing requirement is: at least 38 months from November 1 of the harvest year, but only 18 months need be in oak. Barolo Riserva requires a total 62 months prior to release.
For Barbaresco, Barolo’s “little sister”, the growing zone area is uniquely distinct, with moderating impact from the Tanaro River. These wines are a bit lighter in body and more elegant. Barbaresco’s ageing requirement is 2 years minimum, including at least 9 months in cask prior to release. For a Barbaresco Riserva, there is a four-year minimum ageing requirement.
Producers of Barolo: There are hundreds and hundreds! Michele Chiarlo, Luciano Sandrone, G. B. Burlotto, Elvio Cogno, Rizzi, Fontanafredda (a huge winery producing 9 million bottles annually – you can readily find all sorts of quality labels in the marketplace). There are too many to list here.
Producers of Barbaresco: Angelo Gaja is the reputed ‘godfather’. These wines can be pricey, however. For people starting out “new” to Barbaresco, I highly recommend the “Produttori del Barbaresco”, a co – op producing high quality wines since 1894.
Please look for the upcoming ‘Part 2' of my article on Piedmont Wines: Barolo & Barbaresco.
(Photos: Courtesy of Chris Cumo)