The Story of Barolo

Guest Author Nick Poletto tells us the story of Barolo…

BaroloBefore Italy, there was the House of Savoy.  The House of Savoy was formed in the early 11th century in the historical Savoy region, which included the modern day region of Piedmont.  The House of Savoy was a monarchy made up of Dukes, Princes, Kings and Emperors.  Through gradual expansion, it grew from ruling a small county in the region of Piedmont to the Kingdom of Italy from 1861 until the end of World War II. 

It was the leadership, strength and intellect of the House of Savoy that led them to unite all of Italy and rule for 85 years.  These same attributes led this nobility to desire and drink only one wine, which was anointed as “The Wine of Kings, the King of Wines – Barolo.”

The Place: Barolo

Located in the southeastern part of the region of Piedmont, the Barolo zone extends over an area of often sharply inclined hills all facing south.  Piedmont, as the name suggests (at the foot of the mountain) is surrounded by the Alps to the west and north, the Apennines to the east linking to the Maritime Alps in the south.  The region is 43% mountains, 30% hills and 27% plains.

Even though Barolo is almost three times larger than Barbaresco, it is only 5 miles wide at its widest point.  The original five communes consisting of La Morra, Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba make up 87% of total Barolo zone production.  The two communes of Barolo and Castiglione Falletto are considered the ‘heart’ and unofficial ‘classico’ areas of the zone.

Piedmont CroppedBarolo’s soil can be broken down into two types: Helvetian and Tortonian.  Tortonian soils are located mostly west of the steep slopes of the amphitheater of hills between Barolo and La Morra.  Tortonian soil has a bluish tint, is rich in magnesium and manganese, and is composed of 30% sand, 55% clay and 15% limestone.  Helvetian soils dominate in the area to the east on the rising hills of Monforte and Castiglione Falletto and across the valley at Serralung.  Helvetian soil is made up of many different types of sandstone, has a chalky beige color, and is rich in iron.   Both types of soil contain calcareous marls of marine origin.

Tortonian soils produce a more fragrant, elegant and early maturing Barolo requiring less aging, while the Helvetian soils produce stronger wines with more color, body, and tannins; requiring at least 12-15 years of aging to be at their best.

The Grape:  Nebbiolo

The Nebbiolo grape is one of Italy’s most revered varieties.  It is a very old variety with the first documented use of the name dating back to 1266.  It was of such high stature, that there was a 5 lire fine for anyone who cut down a Nebbiolo vine.  Repeat offenders had their hands cut off and in some cases were even put to death!

Nebbiolo is revered for its aromatic complexity, tannic power and exceptional aging potential.  It is a very vigorous vine which needs to be thinned with strict canopy management.  The vine is also unique in that is first 2 – 3 buds are infertile; this vine needs its space!

NebbioloThe name Nebbiolo is derived from ‘nebbia,’ the Italian word for fog.  This refers to the thick, natural bloom covering the ripe berries that look as if they are covered in a layer of fog.

The four distinct Nebbiolo clones are:

  • Nebbiolo Lampia: larger, longer bunches and reliable, balanced profile.  Most widespread.
  • Nebbiolo Michet: named after Michetta, or “bread roll” due to its shape.  Low yield, high concentration of phenolics.
  • Nebbiolo Rose: rarely found.
  • Nebbiolo Bolla: once widespread, today rarely as yields are quite high.

Nebbiolo is very unforgiving as it flowers in early April and ripens very late.  The key to success is a dry, warm September that allows the extremely late ripening Nebbiolo to develop for the late October harvest. In a normal decade growers expect to have two or three top vintages.

The Wine

While the Nebbiolo grape dates back to 1266, it is not until the 18th century that we find the first use of the word ‘Barol.’  Later, in the 1830’s, with the insistence of Giulietta Vitturnia Colbert di Maulevrier (the Marchesa), the wine of the region was named after its town of origin, “Barolo.”

The Marchesa was close friends with King Carlo Alberto and the wine Barolo was held in very high regard by all the wealthy and royalty of Piedmont.  The Marchesa owned massive Barolo Townamounts of land that encompassed Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga.  She grew her prized Nebbiolo in these towns and later hired the famous oenologist Louis Oudart from Burgundy, France.  Louis Oudart is credited with bringing a modern style of winemaking that was combined with the grape Nebbiolo to form Barolo as we know it.

With the passage of time, Barolo increased in popularity and was again reinvigorated in the early 1900’s with a new line of successful and famed Barolo winemakers, including Emilio Pietro Abbona, Cesare Borgogno, Giulio Mascarello and Battista Rinaldi.

The Barolo and Barbaresco Consortium was founded in 1908, but was not recognized by the Italian Government until 1934.  Today, the Consortium includes  Barolo,  Barbaresco, Alba Langhe and Roero.  There are 500 members, made up of small and large producers.  Traditions and traditional methods of production retain their place of importance, but with a keen eye on keeping up with modern techniques and styles.

As summer wanes and the chill of autumn air takes its place, the smell of wood fire and fermenting wine dances along the small villages of Barolo.  White truffles begin to arrive, shaved over pasta emitting the most captivating smells fit for a King and matched only by the wine of Kings, the King of wines, Barolo.

Click here for the study aid:  Fast Facts About Barolo

Nick PolettoNick Poletto, CSS, CSW, DWS has an extensive wine background that includes studying abroad in both Italy and Argentina, working a harvest season at a winery in Martinborough, New Zealand, and teaching the WSET at Johnson and Wales University. Nick started his career at Kobrand as the company’s Massachusetts and Rhode Island Area Sales Manager and was promoted to Kobrand’s Director of Wine and Spirit Education in January 2012.

At this year’s SWE Conference in Orlando, Nick will be representing Barolo as he goes up against Don Kinnan in their session “Barolo vs Brunello – A Clash of the Titans.” If you’d like to hear Don’s side, click here for the Story of Brunello.  The Clash of the Titans is scheduled for Friday, August 2nd, at 4:45 pm.  See you there!

 

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