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Barolo “The king of wines”

20/03/2020 Production area

Considered to be one of the best wines in the world, many have referred to Barolo as the king of wines and even as the wine of the kings. An exclusive product that is known for being made in the Italian province of Cuneo (Piedmont), with the best Nebbiolo grapes and aged for a long time. Here at Decántalo, we want to show you a selection of the best Barolo wines, but before your make a choice, let’s have a look at the main characteristics of this Italian red wine.

wine barolo

The three main characteristics of Barolo wine

1: A regal origin

Piedmont is the Italian region where the Savoy kings of Italy came from, and it has an amazing terroir for making wine. This was something that the noble Falletti family caught onto in their time. It all started in 1807 when the Marquis of Barolo, Carlo Tancredi Falletti, married the French noblewoman Juliette Colbert de Maulévrier. It was Juliette who discovered great potential in the wine that was produced in Barolo and she managed to make it the ambassador of Piedmont across Europe. That is where this Italian red wine gets its name, from the Marquesses of Barolo, who began production in their vineyards.

Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) since 1980, Barolo is located in one of the most important wine regions in northern Italy, in Piedmont. Specifically in the province of Cuneo southwest of Alba, in an area that includes 11 municipalities: five large ones (Barolo, La Morra, Monforte, Serralunga, Castiglione Falletto) and six smaller ones (Verduno, Novello, Cherasco, Diano, Roddi and Grinzane Cavour). All of them are part of the Langhe landscape, a hilly area with towns and old hamlets, and small plots of vines where the soil, exposure and microclimate change every 30 metres, which provides enormous variability in the wines and can only be compared to the Côte d’Or Burgundy wines.

2: From good stock

Barolo wine is made by fermenting the best Nebbiolo grapes, which is without doubt one of Italy’s most noble varieties. The name comes from the Italian word nebbia (fog) because of the intense fog that covers the Langhe region at the time of the grape harvest, usually in October. However, this is not the only explanation for the origin of the name; some say that it refers to the milky coating that grows on the skin of the grape when it ripens, and there are also those who think it comes from the word ‘nobile’ (noble), because of the nobility of the variety. Whichever is true, we can be certain that this red grape is associated mainly with the northern Italian region of Piedmont across various Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita like Barolo, Barbaresco, Roero, Gattinara and Ghemme.

Difficult to grow, the Nebbiolo grape is characterised mainly by how delicate it is. It takes time to ripen, is susceptible to rot and oxidises easily in the cellar. Although great care must be taken when working with the grape, the end result can be incredible. Its wines are powerful, perfumed and very complex, with a high level of acidity and a high degree of alcohol and tannins. It has often been compared to another noble variety, Pinot Noir, because both are very delicate but produce complex wines, with a long life and bright, but not intense colours.

3: Aged for a long time 

There is no doubt that the terroir and grapes make these wines unique. However, Barolos can only express all their organoleptic qualities when they undergo complete fermentation and a prolonged refinement. Compared to other varieties, Nebbiolo has a higher content of polyphenols and produces very tannic wines that need to age for several years before they can be enjoyed. Specifically, the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita Barolo specifies that a wine produced within this denomination must age for a minimum of 38 months, 18 of which it spends in barrels. If it is a Reserva, this time increases to 62 months, 18 in barrels.

However, among Barolo producers, not everyone agrees on the need to age this king of wine for such a long time. And this is where the controversy begins between those who call themselves traditionalists and innovators.

The Barolo war

The controversy began in the 70s and 80s when the demand for Barolo declined due to the widespread discontent of consumers who protested the extortionate price set by some producers. This is when a new generation of producers emerged; a group who wanted to break the mould and reject wines with excessive tannins, too much aging and obvious defects like high volatile acidity and unpleasant aromas. They decided on harvesting before the grapes over ripen, shorter macerations, fermentation in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperatures, the use of French oak barrels and shorter aging. This resulted in less tannic, smoother and more fruity wines. Furthermore, the increase in production in such a small area led them to consider using local varieties other than the Nebbiolo.

The traditionalists say that Barolo wine must be made as it always has been: using very ripe grapes, fermentation at high temperatures, long macerations and long aging in large barrels. And most importantly, they refuse to use grapes other than Nebbiolo, the variety that provides this wine’s tannicity and structure. Not only do they defend the traditional production methods at all costs, but they also accuse the innovators of allowing themselves to be swayed by international trends and not understanding how to preserve the essence of an authentic Barolo.

Be that as it may, although the production method is very important, the greatness of the Barolo lies in the terroir. Whether you use new barrels or old barrels, long or short aging, the thing that really makes the Barolo Italian red wine stand out from other wines, and the reason it is known as “the wine of the kings, the king of wines” is the place it comes from. There is something for everyone.