What Is Barolo?
It’s one of the 2 most famous red wines of Italy, and one of the country’s leading stars in terms of quality. It’s a powerful, intensely flavoured red, from the north west, which is revered the world over, and commands very high prices. At its best it is an unforgettable experience and luxury, and some of the small producers craft the most incredible, individual wines possible. However, there are also some very overpriced and overrated Barolos on the market, which are thin, acidic and tannic, so make sure you know the producer or your merchant well in order to avoid disappointment!
Barolo is a wine region in Piemonte, in the north west of Italy, and lies towards the south of the region, close to and drifting up the steep slopes of the Langhe hills, south east of the town of Alba. It is famous for producing some of the most sumptuous, intense ( and often expensive) red wines of Italy, from the Nebbiolo grape, and on the day that the new appellation DOCG ( the highest quality level possible) in 1980, it was one of only 3 to be given this accreditation, the other 2 being Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano , from Tuscany.
Given its fame, it’s somewhat surprising that the entirety of the Barolo region, is an area just 7 miles in length, and 5 miles at its widest, with soils of clay, marl and limestone. The River Tanaro cuts through it, and tempers the weather, particularly during the hot summers, although increases the fog and mist during the winter.
The region produces 500,000, and almost 90% of this is produced in 5 small communities – Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba. Within these La Morra produces the most fragrant and aromatic wines, and Serralunga those requiring the longest maturation period.
Barolo is produced entirely from the temperamental but brilliant Nebbiolo grape, which is characterised by its perfumed, intense aromas, classically described as ‘tar and roses’, its richness of fruit, and most of all its high tannins and high acid levels, which makes this a wine for keeping, not early drinking.
Barolo wines must spend a minimum of 18 months in large wooden vats, and a further 20 months in bottle before release, whilst Barolo Riserva, must spend a minimum of just over 5 years of ageing – however, with the longevity of Barolo, wines younger than this, would hardly be drinkable. There is some innovation in the area, with some producers, now maturing the wines in smaller French oak barrels, which will speed up the maturation and softening process.
What Should Barolo Taste Like?
Barolo is a unique experience – it is an incredibly powerful wine, yet a very seductive, and beguiling one. The uniqueness of the Nebbiolo grape lends a distinctly perfumed aroma, with violets, roses and ripe mulberry fruit, which are almost deceptive, since the power and tannins kick in on the taste. Rich, multi-layered, slightly gamey, with forest fruits, mushrooms and violets, backed by an acid kick and a powerful structure, these are serious wines, to be appreciated and revered.
However the cheap, dilute, acidic versions which are wending their way onto supermarket shelves are worth avoiding.
Matching Barolo with Food
Barolo needs seriously rich and flavoursome dishes to bring out their mutual best. The tannins and high acidity means that Barolo works well with rich, and often fatty cuts of meat, such as lamb shanks, slow braised pork belly and rich stews. As ever, wines tend to go with the food from their region, so any match with wild mushrooms, or porcini mushrooms, for which Piemonte is famous, is a given.
The area of Alba is also famed for its white truffles, and Barolo is a natural match to dishes, infused, or layered with truffles, although this is the luxurious touch.
Also perfect with a slab of top quality cheddar, parmigiano, or similar hard cheese.