Thursday, July 6, 2023



By most estimates, there are about a half dozen top Italian red wines: Taurasi, Brunello di Montalchino, Chianti Classico, Barbaresco, Amarone. And last, but not certainly not least, say a legion of fans, is Barolo

There are a number of reasons why wine fans consider Barolo special. Maybe it's because Barolo the wine comes from a place named Barolo.  Perhaps it's because the name rolls off your tongue so easily. Or, it could be that Barolo is from Italy, practically everybody's favorite vacation spot.  

All good reasons, but they miss the most important point: the wine itself.  Here are four tributes from wine people on why they think Barolo is special. 

The late British wine writer Cyril Ray wrote sparingly in 1967 about Barolo, in his award-winning book "The Wines of Italy," but he clearly described the differences between Barolo and Barbaresco. "Considered rather superior to its close relative Barbaresco, because of its greater capacity for aging in bottle, (Barolo) is usually very slightly the fuller and heavier." 

Bill Traverso, a Californian who has sold many a bottle of Barolo, echoed Ray with these words: "Barolo is one of Italy's great wines due to its sense of place, structure, age-worthiness and complex flavors."

"...the first Barolo I tried overwhelmed me; as I recall, it took four or five experiences before I saw the light," wrote Burton Anderson in his seminal 1980 book,"Vino."  Anderson described Barolo as an "extraordinary" wine.

And in his book "Italian Wine," here's Victor Hazan on Barolo: "...Barolo has always been the one red wine to turn to in Italy when one looked for grandeur, for a wine able to temper force with refinement." 

The Heart of Barolo 

Across the top of the boot, from Liguria to Friuli, Italy is a complex land of broad green plains, deep lakes and soaring mountains. The fertile expanse contains no fewer then seven wine regions.  Barolo is in land-locked Piedmont, hemmed in by Liguria, Valle d'Aosta, Lombardy, Trentino Alto-Adige, Veneto and Friuli.


Barolo and Barbaresco are varietal wines, made 100% from Nebbiolo, Italy's top red wine grape. Other Piemontese red wines that use Nebbiolo as a base, such as  Gattinara and Ghemme are required by law to blend Nebbiolo with an "ABC" trio of grapes: Arneis, Bonardo and Croatina, and a few others.

The character of Barolo varies by vineyard location. The heart of Barolo, where Nebbiolo grows at its finest, are the communes of Barolo and Castiglione Falletto, plus La Morra, Monforte d'Alba and Serralunga d'Alba.  These five communes produce 87% of all Barolo.

La Morra and Barolo wines are softer, fruitier and tend to age sooner.  Monforte and Serralunga Barolos are more intense, structured and age slowly. Castiglione wines split the difference.

Additions to the list were made in 1966, but today the five original districts are considered the true Barolo. In the same year, Barolo was granted DOC status and in 1980, it was elevated to DOCG.

Italian regulations for DOCG require a three year minimum aging, of which 18 months must be in "wooden barrels."  Barolo Riserva requires five years of aging, 18 months of which must be in wood. 

"Wooden barrels" is a non-specific requirement that allows for winemaker discretion about the type of wood to be used.  French oak is the preferred choice today, but Barolo wineries have a history of using chestnut for barrels or large upright casks. However, chestnut vessels are often coated on the inside to temper  the wood's strong tannins.                                


The color of Barolo is never opaque, but like Pinot Noir, is medium ruby, with an early tendency to evolve to brick-red. Barolo smells of ripe black cherries and roses.  And with age, Barolo takes on scents of anise and tar.  Barolo is a powerful concentrated wine with ample tannin and bracing acidity.

There are hundreds of different Barolos in the market today. That means, of course, popularity has pushed prices into the stratosphere and that's not an exaggeration!  Most Barolos are in the $40 to $60 price range, but many are priced in the hundreds...a 1.5 liter of 1967 Mascarello is going for $1,000.

Here are eight reliable Barolo producers that more or less fit into the $40-$60 range: Vietti, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Giuseppe Mascarello, Paolo Scavino, Giacomo Conterno, Giacomo Borgogno, Vajiri, Elio Grasso. 


Next blog: California Wine Adventures 2

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