It could only be explained by Christmas magic, when a winemaker from the Francone family sent us two bottles of Barolo and Barbaresco that won Decanter Silver and Gold medals. Those two wines – even without awards – are often said to be Italy’s best. They are collector’s dream, made to age in the bottle. “The kind of wines and the wine of kings” – that’s what people say about Barolo. We felt really privileged to import these two award-winning wines to the UK, and we put together a few facts about them for you.
Barolo and Barbaresco are produced in the foothills of the Alps in Piedmont, which is in the Italy’s North-Western part. They both are produced from the Nebbiolo grape, which is one of the world’s most site-specific varietals. No other part of the world has more Nebbiolo planted than here. It is also very demanding, challenging and hard to cultivate, and yet winemakers in Piedmont achieved some remarkable success with this grape, producing a wine which deserved to be called “the king of wines”.
Barolo is named after a village in the Langhe hills in Piedmont, and Barbaresco is an old town fifteen miles down the road. They have both been labelled DOCG areas, which legally defines what grapes can be grown there (Nebbiolo only), and the permitted style of winemaking. The name Nebbiolo is possibly comes from “nebbia”, the Italian for thick fog, which covers the valleys in the foothills of the Alps in the fall and winter.
Barolo and Barbaresco wines are made for long ageing. Nebbiolo is genetically super-charged with high tannins. Twenty-thirty years ago, Barolo was not supposed to be opened until it was 15 years old, and sometimes even 25 years. But now winemakers make them a touch more drinkable at younger age, such as 4-5 years.
Both wines are powerful, and experts sometimes call their aroma “tar and roses”. Expect to smell flowers, liquorice, violets, leather, chocolates, prunes, and black figs. Those aromas are not subtle nor gentle, but they rather vividly present here and now, overpowering your senses like fire and ice. With high levels of tannins, those wines are made to mature in the bottle, where over time the tannins soften and new pleasant flavours develop.
Barolo is more austere, masculine and powerful of the two. It is made in eleven villages, sometimes called “cru” reminding of the grand French wines. The most important cru-vineyards for Barolo are: Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d’Alba, and Serralunga d’Alba.
Barbaresco is generally a more gentle and mellow of the two wines. Each year, only about a third as much Barbaresco is produced as Barolo. The only three cru-vineyards for Barbaresco are Barbaresco, Nieve and Treiso.
By law, Barolo and Barbaresco are one of the longest-aged wines in Italy. Barolo must be aged for at least 38 months after the harvest, before it is released to the market. Of this, the wine must spend 18 months in oak barrels. In order to be labelled Riserva, Barolo must be aged for at least 62 months, of which 18 must be in oak. Barbaresco must be aged for the total of 26 months, including 9 in oak, and Barbaresco riserva will be aged for 50 months, 9 of which must be in oak.
Both wines are loved because they have the incredible and rewarding ageing potential well beyong the minimums required by law (while it is hard to call 62 month a “minimum”). Nebbiolo is a late-ripening grape, and it is harvested late in the fall (grapes for the wines we have were harvested between 10 and 20 October). Wines made from late-ripening grapes are usually harsher, and the tannin-rich Nebbiolo is like sandpaper when drunk young. Barolo and Barbaresco just need to be matured in the bottle for the pleasant and more complex flavours to develop. There is no other way, you just have to wait and let this bottle mature, probably for 10 years or more. The wine will reward you. Harsh tannins, which you encounter if you drink this wine young, will be transformed into layers of complex flavours and rich texture, which is what this wine is adored for.
Barolo and Barbaresco have medium and balanced acidity, and as such they pair well with food; in fact those wines that should be drunk with food. It goes particularly well with beef, game birds, mushroom risotto or pasta.
We hope this article interested you and that you will make us company and enjoy those wonderful wines …perhaps ten years from now?
 K.MacNeil. The Wine Bible