Many would argue that Barolo needs no introduction, yet for an equal amount this legendary wine remains shrouded in mystery as jaw dropping prices only create more barriers to discovery. Iconic names such as Aldo Conterno, Bruno Giacosa and Paolo Scavino are well coveted, their presence compulsory in any serious cellar, but what of the other tiny estates of Barolo and where does one start when seeking to indulge in the hedonistic pleasures originating from this infamous stretch of land?
Barolo should be and often is, the rich, dramatic, powerful and masculine expression of the Nebbiolo grape, a grape that has found a perfect home in the subtle microclimates of elven communes of the Langhe area of Piemonte in North West Italy. The name Barolo takes its name from the commune of Barolo, which along with La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba is the most important.
So why is Barolo so good? Well firstly, in 1980 Barolo was promoted from its DOC status to DOCG and subsequently new, sensible and forward thinking conditions were set down to ensure overall quality was maintained and a few poorly made examples didn’t spoil the wine’s historically good reputation. Maximum yields were set at 56 hl per hectare, guarding against the tendency to produce quantity over quality. Prior to this, the wine was required to mature in cask for three years but with a sensible lowering of this regulation to two years, producers were able to concentrate their efforts under the protection of a far more sustainable business model.
These measures though, only harness and channel the quality of the grape itself. Nebbiolo likely takes its name from the thick fog, called Nebbia in Italian, that often descends in the Langhe covering the vines around harvest time. Thick skinned, it is one of the last to ripen in Italy and this additional length to the growing season can make or break a wine. Consequently vintage variation in Barolo is one of the characteristics of the zone with only two or three vintages in every decade being considered great.
When the conditions are right and stunning wines are produced, such as in 1999, 2001 and 2004, the Nebbiolo grape imparts pronounced aromas of red cherry, tar, rose petal, cedar and flavours of sweet cheery and raspberry with hints of tobacco and truffle. Lively acidity and strong tannins are also typical of the grape and it is in the best vintages that these characteristics are restrained and refined to the level of greatness. Full bodied, Nebbiolo, especially Nebbiolo from Barolo, is the perfect partner to meats, steak, stews and seasoned cheeses.
Below we have recommended some our favourite Barolos. From the high end wines of Paolo Conterno’s ‘Ginestra’ and Conterno Fantino’s ‘Sori Ginestra’ to some considerably more accessible examples.
The Massolino estate was founded in 1896 and since then their wine has become entwined with the history of Serralunga d’Alba, the family being one of the founders of the consortium for the defence of Barolo and Barbaresco in 1934. Today Massolino make their wine according to a philosophy based on respect for the traditions of history while looking to innovate and increase quality both in the vineyard and in the cellar. This is a dense, dark and brooding Barolo, that exudes pefumes of violet, liquorice and cigar box. Firm on the palate with a soft velvety texture.
Although Aldo and Milena Vaira have been making notable wines since the early eighties, it was a 95 point review of their 2006 Barolo by Antonio Galloni (Wine Advocate) gained attention and put them on the Piemonte wine map. Traditional in style their wines also express elegance and purity of fruit. Bright ruby-garnet in colour with a wonderfully perfumed nose, with aromas of orange peel, flowers, red fruits, dried plums, pine-needles and brushwood. On the palate it has lovely Nebbiolo structure, with plenty of fine, ripe tannins, elegant acidity and dark plum and savoury characters, with a herbal perfume on the long finish. Softer and more approachable in youth than the Bricco delle Viole, it has the purity and balance characteristic of the Vajra wines.
Conterno Fantino has grown to a 64 hectare estate boasting a state of the art winery with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The estate also produces wines from Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo. A lingering nose of rose petal and dark forest fruits gives way to a dry but rich and dense body of Nebbiolo fruit.
It all started way back in 1886, when Paolo Conterno founded the Casa della Ginestra, dedicated to the production of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto wines. Today Paolo Conterno is one of the iconic names of Italian wine. A concentrated wine which comes from the Ginestra vineyard, one of the best crus of the Barolo area. Twenty year-old vines give extra complexity and a density of black fruits, liquorice and typical tar flavours. A superb wine!