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Bring On The Barolo

One of my goals for this year is to expand my palate and try new wines. I know what I like…Napa Cabernets!! But, with over 1300 varietals out there in this big world of ours, I feel like I’m missing out and have a lot to learn. If there is one area I’d like to be a continuous learner in, it is within the world of wines!

Last week I attended a webinar on Barolo wines. I gained a lot of knowledge, although I know I’m just scratching the surface when it comes to this. Barolo is a northern Italian region of Piedmont. Known for being distinctive and described as one of Italy’s greatest wines.

Barolo is produced exclusively from the Nebbiolo grape. Nebbiolo’s meaning is fog. A late ripening grape, harvesting early to middle of October. The vines need to be above fog level to ripen. Minimum 800+ feet although the best vineyards are between 1200-1500 feet. Minimum aging is 38 months with at least 18 months in wood. To be considered a Reserve, the minimum aging is 62 months. The wines are released in their 4th year or 6th year if it’s a Reserve.

Today there are almost 5000 acres of Barolo. The soil is typically clay, sandstone and limestone. Tortonian is the “younger” soils between 7-11 million years old. This soil is found on the western half of the region. Producing more approachable wines, floral, lighter and not as firm tannins. Helvetian is considered the older soils, 15+ million years old, found on the eastern side, poorer soils where the roots must go deeper creating more tannic, structured Barolos. Cannubi is a mix of both soil types. Barolos are known for their rich tannins due to the fermented wine sitting on the grape skins for at least three weeks.

For decades, Barolo was a wine that represented the Barolo zone and not one specific site. Most wines were made from fruit sourced from numerous communities. Large producers purchased fruit from growers, known as the negociant system. Single site (cru) Barolo began in the early 1960s and continues today. The most famous examples of Barolo are cru bottlings. A regulated system of Barolo cru began with the 2010 vintage. The MGA (Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive) regulations were put into place for Barolo with the 2010 vintage.

Traditional winemakers will ferment for 20-25 days. The wines are matured in large casks known as grandi botti (singular bottle). Ranging from 25 hectoliters to 50 hl (5000 liters). Many of the grandi botti is Slavonian oak from Austria, with some from Germany and France. Modern winemakers shorten fermentation to 3-7 days maturation in barriques (225 liters).

The controversy between traditional and modern winemaking is known as the Barolo Wars. Today, some winemakers are 100% traditional where others work with a mix of tradition and modern approach-aging in both large and small oak.

Hopefully you’ve learned something new and I didn’t put you to sleep with all the fun facts I gained. 😉 Now go out and buy a Barolo, and let me know what you think. Cheers!




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