Wine trip to Piemonte: Barolo

I am a member of the Dutch association of Vinologists (Verenigde Vinologen Nederland) and for the first time I went on a wine trip organized by them. This is the second article in a short series, in which I describe the third day, dedicated to Barolo. The first two days covered Nizza and Barbaresco. Next will be Dogliani, Roero, and Barbera d’Asti.

The most famous appellation in Piemonte (and one of the most famous in all of Italy) is Barolo, with noble wines of Nebbiolo. Barolo is called the king of wines, and a wine for kings. Barolo is special to me, because it was the first red wine that I really liked. I can still remember the first time I had a glass of Barolo, ordered by my boss at a restaurant to have with a fillet mignon after he had refused the house wine. Good Barolo (which usually means it must be at least 8 years after the harvest) can be so powerful and yet so elegant at the same time, with wonderful aromas of roses and silky tannins (if enjoyed with red meat).

Compared to Barbaresco, Barolo is generally a wine with more hefty tannins, caused by the soil (more clay), micro climate (less warm air from the plains of the river Po), and higher altitude. Of course it is not true that every Barolo is heavier than every Barbaresco, because there are light Baroli and heavy Barbareschi. There are also differences within the Barolo DOCG.

We started our exploration of Barolo with a very interesting lecture at the Enoteca Regionale del Barolo by Sandro Minella of the “Consorzio Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Dogliani“. This organization organizes all kinds of activities for all appellations of the Langhe, including education.

The Barolo appellation was created at the same time as Barbaresco (DOC in 1893, DOCG in 1980) and is also for wines of 100% Nebbiolo, but it is larger with about 2000 hectares and 11 million bottles per year. Barolo is subdivided into 11 counties, with a total of 170 different Menzioni geografiche aggiuntive (MGA), which can be printed on the label of a wine is made only from grapes of that specific geographic area. Click here for the official map of all MGAs. About 40% of all Barolo is produced as MGA, and about 10% from a single county. Half of all Barolo is generic Barolo, but 90% of producers use at least one MGA.

Sandro explained the geological history of the soil in the Barolo area, with the typical sawtooth profile of the hills in the Langhe. NW slopes are less sharp and therefore experience less erosion, whereas slopes on the SE are more eroded and water drains away faster.

Baroli from the counties of La Morra, Verduno, Cherasco, and Rodi are from more sandy soils, and are therefore fruitier and less tannic. Baroli from Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto, Diano d’Alba, and Grinzane Cavour have more clay, which makes the wines for complex with heavier tannins. Finally, the wines from Barolo and Novello are somewhere in between, more elegant and medium tannins. Soils with more clay have the earliest bud break and the latest ripening, and therefore a longer grower season with more opportunity for aromas to develop. Nebbiolo achieves the best quality when there is a large difference between day and night temperature before the harvest.

We tasted one wine from each of the three main terroirs:

  • Curto Marco, Arborina 2017 (La Morra, barrique)
  • Francesco Rinaldi & Figli, Cannubi 2017 (Barolo, large barrels)
  • Boasso, Gabutti 2017 (Serralunga d’Alba, large barrels)

We could clearly taste the effect of the different terroirs, although the wines were very young and there was also a difference between barriques versus large barrels.

After the very interesting lecture, we had lunch at Brezza, a winery that also has a restaurant. We started with vitello tonnato and insalata russa for antipasti, followed by tajarin al ragù as primo piatto. For secondo we had salsiccia con polenta, and finally hazelnut semifreddo. The food was good, but not as refined as at some of the other places.

Naturally we enjoyed wines by Brezza with this lunch, Dolcetto d’Alba 2020 and Barolo Cannubi 2010. This Barolo needed a bit of air before it showed its wonderful aromas, and was a good pairing with the salsiccia.

After lunch we visited Cavallotto, a family-owned winery in Castiglione Falletto with vineyards in the MGAs Bricco Boschis and Vignolo. Cavallotto is the sole owner of the Bricco Boschis MGA, which has a natural layout in the shape of an amphitheatre facing three directions (south, south-east, and south-west).

The central part of Bricco Boschis is the Vigna San Giuseppe vineyard. The best fruit of that vineyard is selected and bottled separately as a Barolo Riserva, with an additional year in large oak barrels.

Cavallotto makes traditional Barolo in large oak barrels, although they also use modern technology like a roto-fermentor. This is a rotating tank that mixes the cap and grape must during fermentation to facilitate extraction of color, tannins and flavor.

We tasted the following wines:

  • Pinner 2020, a white wine made from Pinot Nero in stainless steel with batonnage and only partial malo to retain acidity.
  • Vigna del Cuculo 2019, Barbera d’Alba Superiore DOC, 100% Barbera aged in large barrels for 2 years, bottled very recently and therefore not yet well integrated.
  • Langhe Nebbiolo 2019, 100% Nebbiolo aged for 15-18 months in large barrels, with nice aromas of flint.
  • Barolo Riserva Vignolo 2015, 100% Nebbiolo aged in large barrels for 4-5 years, earthy, fruity, and complex.
  • Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe 2015, 100% Nebbiolo aged in large barrels for 4-5 years, wonderful with great typical aromas and the best Barolo I tasted during this trip.
  • Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe 2013, more earthy and less fruity than 2015.
  • Barolo Bricco Boschis 2018 (barrel sample and not yet done aging in large barrels, still quite tannic but aromatic).

Our final stop before dinner in the Barolo DOCG was at La Spinetta, also family-owned but a more ‘modern’ producer than Cavallotto. La Spinetta uses barriques, of which a third new. La Spinetta is owned by the Rivetti family, and Giorgio Rivetti was one of the Barolo Boys, a group of Barolo producers that worked together and made radical changes to the way that Barolo was produced in the 80ies and 90ies. There is even a movie about this. In those years there was a battle between traditionalists like Cavallotto, who abhor the use of barriques, and modernists like Rivetti / La Spinetta. Now there is a place for both styles, and Cavallotto is also using some modern techniques like roto-fermenters.

La Spinetta wines are easy to recognize because their logo is a rhino to express strength. They produce both Barolo and Barbaresco, and own wineries in both zones, because it is a requirement that the wine has to be produced in a winery within the DOCG for both Barolo and Barbaresco.

The wines we tasted were:

  • Langhe Nebbiolo DOC 2019, 100% Nebbiolo, aged in used barriques
  • Pin 2017, Monferrato Rosso DOC, 65% Nebbiolo, 35% Barbera, aged in used barriques
  • Gallina 2014, Barbaresco DOCG, 100% Nebbiolo, aged in barriques (1/3 new)
  • Campè 2014, Barolo DOCG, 100% Nebbiolo, aged in barriques (1/3 new)

2014 has a bad reputation as a vintage, because it was very rainy. This is more true for Barolo than for Barbaresco, which got a lot less rain. Even so, even though 2014 has already aged a bit, the wines were still dominated by the new oak. It was clear that 2014 was a better vintage for the Barbaresco than for the Barolo, as the Barolo had some ‘green’ notes to it.

We had dinner at Ape Wine Bar, owned by the same family as La Spinetta. We started with vitello tonnato, followed by agnolotti del plin con sugo d’arrosto, and finally ice cream with an orange sauce. Contratto produces sparkling wines and is also owned by the Rivettis. The wines we enjoyed with dinner were:

  • Contratto Metodo Classico Millesimato 2016 Pas dosé, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and aged for 47 months on the lees after the second fermentation in the bottle.
  • La Spinetta Ca’ di Pian 2018, Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG, 100% Barbera, aged 1 year in used barriques.
  • La Spinetta Oro 2012, Piemonte Moscato Passito DOC, 100% Muscato Bianco, made from dried grapes and aged for 8 years in new barriques.

This concluded our day of Barolo. Coming up next: Dogliani, Roero, and Barbera d’Asti.

3 thoughts on “Wine trip to Piemonte: Barolo

  1. Fascinating ! I have loved Barolo for most of my adult life without knowing any of the background – great to learn ! Altho’ I mostly choose from the plethora of fine Australian wines these days methinks it may be time for an Italian dinner with friends – and wines chosen from your ;ist. Very surprised to see vitello tonnato as an antipasto, it always having been served as a secondo here . . . and do admire your obvious ability to last thru’ the days of grape temptations from the morning hours to late in the night , , , the lunches and dinners hardly being ‘wine tastings’ !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent post Stefan. I’ve been planning a Lange trip for November myself but I’m getting tempted by various side trips like Lake Orta and Bargamo. However, I don’t want to miss out on visiting wineries. I recently watched Barolo boys and want to do both Elio and Marscarelo, but I realize that it might be difficult booking visits so maybe I should visit more restaurants so I could experience more old Barolo’s. I’ve also heard mixed reviews of Piazza Duomo. My Q to you is what have you heard about which restaurant in the area has the oldest cellar at a reasonable price? Thanks, hope you’re well!

    Liked by 1 person

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