The Complexity of the King of Wines
The Piedmont region is graced with many exceptional wines. Although most are labeled by grape variety, Barolo and Barbaresco merit names by the areas that produce them. Nebbiolo is the grape of each of these renowned areas. DOCG requirements are that to be labeled Barolo or Barbaresco, the wine must be 100 percent Nebbiolo. In the mid-19th century, the process for creating the Barolo wine was studied and perfected. The body and complexity of this dry red wine soon became a favorite among the nobility of Torino and the ruling House of Savoy, giving rise to the popular description of Barolo as “The Wine of Kings, The King of Wines.”
As the art of wine making advanced through the 20th century, Barolo has continued to evolve to its present status, placing it among the most elite of wines. It is no surprise that it continues to receive significant acclaim throughout the world. It all starts with the grapes. The Nebbiolo grape clusters are a deep waxy greyish blue color and have a rather thin skin. Although it is one of the first varietals to have its buds emerge in March, it is the last grape to be picked, with harvest generally taking place in October. Barolo wine has always required time to mellow. In the 19th century, that meant about 10 years. Refinement to the process today has dropped the time in the wooden casks considerably, but Barolo will never be a wine that can be savored young. Its character has been likened to the development of a personality, just as in people. The wine grows more complex over time and reveals a bit more with age. It is said that every time you open a bottle of Barolo, it gives off unique emotions and sensations. Rich and full-bodied, with a strong presence of acidity and tannins, rose flower and dried herbs are aromas frequently associated with this wine. According to DOCG regulations, the wines must be aged for at least two years in oak and one year in bottle, with five years of age (three in oak) required for Riserva labeling.
The area that produces Barolo, the Langhe, can be divided into two areas. There is the Serralunga Valley in the eastern portion which encompass Castiglione Falletto, Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba. The other area is the Central Valley, which covers Barolo and La Morra. Although there are small microclimate differences, the real division lies in the soil composition. The soils of Serralunga have a sandy loam, providing not only excellent drainage, but are ideal for the roots of the grape vines. This soil produces more intense wines. In turn, these demand a longer aging period than the Central Valley Barolos, which are known for a softer, fruitier character.
With its grand title of the ‘King of Wine,’ Barolo is often set aside for special occasions. Pairing should be carefully considered. Robust meat dishes as well as dried meats and hard cheeses are often selected. Barolo is especially delightful with truffles.
The wines of Barolo are structured and firm, refined, elegant and elite. While some Riservas are quite costly, wines from Barolo are worth every penny. Discovering all that Barolo has to offer is like a headfirst dive into the culture of Piedmont, a journey into the terroir of Italy’s magnificent northwest.