We have written at length about the wonderful Barolo wine in many previous blog posts on Xtrawine. We’ve delved into the rich history of this most famous of Italian wines and explained its cultural significance, both in Italy and to the wine industry in general. We’ve even written some about some of the interesting facts relating to the wine that you may have never come across before.
Simply put, there’s a lot to say about this prestigious wine because of how long it has existed and because it’s held in such high regard in Italian culture.
This week, we’re going to take a more general look at the wine. The aim is to examine what it is, where it comes from, what producers have to do to ensure they create a Barolo DOCG wine, and some of the best ways to drink it.
What is Barolo?
Barolo is an Italian red wine that calls the famous region of Piedmont its home. This region is infamous among wine connoisseurs because of the sheer amount of great types of wine that have emerged from the location.
The wine is made using the Nebbiolo grape, which is an interesting grape for a number of reasons. For one, it’s one of the first grapes in Piedmont to undergo what’s known as budbreak. This is when the grape breaks out of the bud and begins to ripen in earnest. However, this early start doesn’t mean an early harvest for the Nebbiolo grape. In fact, harvesters generally don’t pick the grapes until late October, which means it has one of the latest harvesting periods in the entire region.
As for the grape itself, it’s a relatively small type of red grape that’s renowned for being high in both tannins and acids. It is perhaps these qualities that lend the resulting wine so much of the character that it has.
Another key point is that Nebbiolo is the only grape used in the production of the Barolo DOCG wine. No other grapes may be mixed into the wine, else it loses the fabled DOCG status.
The wines that these grapes create are both full-bodied and extremely rich, which lends them a power that has the ability to completely overwhelm foods that don’t share similar qualities.
Many compare Barolo to the great Pinot Noirs that come out of Burgundy, with many pointing towards the similarities between the Piedmont and Burgundy regions as the reason for these similarities.
The DOCG regulations also state that a wine must meet various stipulations before being classified as a Barolo DOCG. As well as using solely Nebbiolo grapes, the wine must spend at least two years being aged in oak containers. After that, it must spend at least one more year ageing in the bottle before it’s put up for sale. The Riserva variety has an even longer ageing period, with three years spent in oak and two spent in the bottle. Finally, the wine can contain no less than a 13% alcohol volume.
Despite this rigidity, Barolo is known for the vast variety that comes with every bottle. No two producers will create similar wines under the Barolo label.
Where is the Barolo Region?
The Barolo region is located in the northwest of Piedmont in an area known as Langhe. All told, there are 11 communes within this region that all produce Barolo, though it is the one that shares its name with the wine that is perhaps the most famous of them all.
You can break Barolo production down into the Eastern communes and the Central Valley of the Langhe region. This is where the differentiation between producers comes into play. Each region has completely different soil. The Eastern communes’ soil tends to contain a lot of limestone and sand, which lends the Barolos that come from the region a more mineral quality. However, they’re also very intense wines that typically require more ageing.
The Central Valleys have a high volume of clay in the soil. This often produces a softer and more subtle version of the wine, in which it’s much easier to detect Barolo’s fruity notes. Incidentally, this also makes it much easier to market these versions of Barolo to an international audience. In fact, we recommend that those who are new to the wine should try a Barolo from the Central Valley before moving on to the more intense and complex varieties that come from the Eastern communes.
When’s The Best Time to Drink Barolo
We’ve spoken about Barolo being a wonderful winter drink before, and we still stand by that notion. Its intensity is sure to warm you up during the coldest days of the year, and it makes a perfect complement to the interesting and rich flavours of a nice, thick steak.
But the truth is that you can drink Barolo during any time of the year. It’s particularly good when served with the rich grilled meats that come from the average barbeque. Moreover, its complex flavour profile means that it meshes well with a large variety of foods, as long as they’re rich enough to not get overpowered by the wine.
Here’s our tip, though this is by no means a solid declaration. Try drinking the fruitier and lighter versions of the wine that come from the Central Valley during the summer. Save the more intense versions for the winter.
The Final Word
Barolo DOCG’s lofty title of the “King of Wine” may lead people to become intimidated before they even try to taste the wine. This is understandable, as the wine holds an indelible place in the Italian wine industry.
But Barolo is actually a very accessible wine that we’d argue is an excellent introduction into the lore of Italian red wines. After all, if you’re going to start with something, why not start with the King?
The sheer variety of flavours that you can enjoy from wines under the Barolo DOCG banner also helps. Even if you find that one producer’s wine is a little too much for you, there’s almost certainly another Barolo waiting in the wings that may suit your tastes better.