Produced in the Italian region of Piedmont, the Barolo wine has carved out a reputation for itself as one of the country’s premier Italian reds. Made using the Nebbiolo grape, a good Barolo will have a stunningly rich, some would even say velvety, texture that makes it a joy to drink during practically any occasion.
To truly get the most out of the grape it needs to be planted in soil that has a calcareous-clay property and the winemaker must ensure that the slopes and orientation of the hill is just right. This is the primary reason why it is produced in just a few communes in the Piedmont region, and this attention to detail and quality also means that it has quickly become revered amongst connoisseurs both domestically and abroad.
Traditionally the drink is often described as having aromas of tar and roses, with many fans also pointing to the fact that it ages extremely well as yet another reason to give it a try and add a bottle to your collection. In fact, many would espouse having it age by a couple of years before it is opened if you intend to enjoy it to its fullest.
Furthermore, the wine is also one of the more controversial vintages, having been the subject of what is known as the Barolo Wars, which came about as some producers looked for ways to make the wine more acceptable to an international palette. The new ideas that they produced rankled with traditionalists and caused something of a schism with Barolo makers tending to fall on one side or another. The story has been documented in the 2014 film ‘Barolo Boys: The Story of a Revolution’, but it is worth taking a look at the story ourselves to make the case for both the traditional and more modern variants of this stunning red wine.
The Genesis of War
The Barolo Wars came about simply because the international market had started to favour red wines that were a little fruitier than traditional Barolo in addition to being less tannic. This was a problem for Barolo producers as the Nebbiolo grape is traditionally known for producing an enormous amount of tannins, which would have meant extremely lengthy production period for any distributor aiming to capitalise on these worldwide tastes.
On top of that, Italians take great pride in their wines as they represent cultural heritage and tradition that stretched back centuries in some cases. Traditionalists in particular saw no reason to alter the wine simply to have it appeal to a larger segment of the international audience, as it would have meant tampering with something that was indelibly etched into the culture of the Piedmont region.
Still, there were some young firebrands that wanted to create a Barolo that was a little fruitier and could be consumed at an earlier age when compared to the traditional drink. After all, Barolo is recognised as one the wines for which aging plays an enormous part in the process, which is something that not all international consumers have the patience for.
In the 1970s and 1980s a group of Barolo producers led by the likes of Ceretto, Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo, Elio Altare, and Renato Ratti, began to make Barolo that was more suited to international tastes by spending less time fermenting and macerating the wine while also using much more modern techniques to minimise the harsher tannins that were less compatible with international tastes.
Traditionalists were outraged and many saw these new techniques and production methods as an insult to the ways of Barolo. This was compounded by the fact that the result was unlike Barolo produced in the more time-consuming traditional fashion, which even led to some people claiming that it was a completely different wine and should not receive the DOC classification as a result.
The war waged on, with some producers sticking to their guns and continuing to produce traditional Barolo while others took advantage of the reduced time required when using the new techniques to create higher volumes of the drink. The war also divided drinkers, despite the fact that the change allowed Barolo to attain even more popularity on an international scale.
Though the furore over the issue has since dies down in the years that followed, there are still sections of the market, particularly domestically, that believe that the Barolo produced using the traditional methods is the only type of Barolo that is worth drinking. While that can certainly be debated, especially as many of the newer Barolos are of an exceptional quality, at the end of the day it truly comes down to personal tastes as much as anything else. The revolution that sparked the Barolo Wars was a brave move by producers who had recognised a demand in the market and some would even say that the period ranks up there with that of the introduction of the Super Tuscans in terms of showing that the Italian wine market is still able to adapt to modern demands.
While it is difficult to give definitive food pairings for Barolo due to the fact that the wines differ so radically when comparing the traditional to the modern, there are a number of dishes that go well with the drink.
Practically any kind of rich red meat will be complemented well by the textured taste of a good Barolo, so grilled beef or ribs are an excellent dish to enjoy with the drink, particularly the traditional version.
The more modern, fruitier versions of Barolo can also be enjoyed with a good pasta, particularly if it features truffles and Robiola. However, because of its less tannic nature the modern Barolo is also great for dinner parties and can complement a wider range of foods. Furthermore, it is an excellent choice if you are entertaining guests from a variety of different countries as the one was created with them in mind and is much more likely to appeal to an international palette.