The King of Italian wine – Barolo
Along with Brunello and Amarone, Barolo is widely considered to be one of Italy's greatest wines. This incredibly nuanced red comes from Piedmont in the northwest of Italy in the hills of Langhe and Alba.
Barolo must be 100 per cent Nebbiolo, a thin-skinned red grape which is native to the region. It's renowned for its high acid and very high tannin levels which together help make it incredibly long-lived.
The Nuances of Nebbiolo
Nebbiolo produces fantastically complex wines. In addition to the high acid and tannins we've touched upon, Nebbiolo boasts many flavours. Common aromas and flavours include roses, violets, red berries, tar, truffle, and spice.
The Basics of Barolo
All of the best vineyards in the Barolo region are dedicated to the Nebbiolo grape. These are typically south or southeast facing so the vines can soak up the sun's rays throughout the growing season. The region has a continental climate with a patchwork of microclimates and terroirs which yield different expressions of the wine. Barolo is also famous for the nebbia (or the fog) which blankets the vineyards come autumn and which some believe may be the origin for the Nebbiolo grape's name.
There are two major styles to Barolo, the traditional and the modern. These two styles come down to decisions in winemaking. Traditional Barolo producers let their wine macerate for an extended period of time on skins and age their wines in large old oak barrels. These wines are ultra age-worthy. In fact, they can need several years in the bottle before they're ready to be opened.
The modernist Barolo producers macerate their wines on skins for a much shorter time. They follow this with ageing the wines in smaller new oak barrels. The result is a wine which can be enjoyed sooner but also exhibits some of the classic aromas and flavours of wine aged in new oak.
Which is better? It's entirely a matter of preference. Both are exquisite and each has its merits. Regardless, all Barolo must age for three years, or five years to qualify for Riserva grade.
It's true that some Barolo can be quite expensive, but you don't always need to spend big to get high quality.
The most expensive Barolos tend to be those which come from the one of the 'crus'. These are specific sites singled out for producing superior wines, rather like the Grand crus of Burgundy. You can find excellent value outside of these crus within the Barolo DOCG. For further value, look to the Langhe DOC. There are plenty of wonderful Nebbiolo-based wines here.
Barolo and Food
Barolo is a brilliant choice for a table spread featuring red meats, hard cheeses, game, and of course, truffles – the hills of Piedmont are famed for their white truffles. In fact, great Barolos can have a truffle-like aroma to them.
Whether you love great reds or are serious about wine in general, Barolo is something everyone must experience at some point. It is not just one of Italy's greatest wines, Barolo is a contender for one of the best wines in the world.