An exploration of wine

Barolo: the powerhouse of Nebbiolo

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Barolo topography

View across the folded vineyards of Barolo from La Morra hilltop town

Barolo is the first region from Piemonte on anyone’s list from. Its 170 official MGA (Menzione Geografiche Agguintive), or cru vineyards produce one of the great, classic styles of wine in the world. Its style is considered one of power over Barbaresco’s elegance, and to a fair extent, that’s what I found visiting the area and tasting wines from both regions.

Nebbiolo grapes

Nebbiolo grapes at Oddero close to harvest with their tall canopies

Nebbiolo to make Barolo must be planted on slopes with an aspect that has a southern-facing component, to ensure the late ripening variety does just that. Dolcetto and Barbera are planted on other sites or on hilltops and windier sites that Nebbiolo doesn’t perform well on. That is not to say that Dolcetto d’Alba and Barbera d’Alba wines are half-baked or substandard in this day and age – far from it. Nevertheless, Nebbiolo is the star and Barolo wines achieve the top prices.

Barolo was traditionally a multi-site blend. In the modern era though, single cru vineyard expressions have become the norm for premium bottlings.

What I found most remarkable about the landscape here was just how folded and steep the topography, creating a myriad of mesoclimates. When amounts of clay or limestone-clay versus sand in soils is overlaid, there are opportunities for a range of expressions of the aromatic Nebbiolo grape across the crus. Sandier soils tended to produce lighter, more delicate styles, in the views of most people I spoke to and that came through in the wines I have tasted.

Barolo topography

Closer view of steep and varied Barolo topography and soil variation


Producers profiled

  • Oddero: good, solid, classically-styled wines from a traditional estate in La Morra. Also have an interesting take on Riesling – blended with Chardonnay
  • G. D. Vajra: well-respected estate in Barolo that now incorporates Luigi Baudana wines too, producing some innovative styles including Nascetta, Riesling and Pinot Nero, but justly renowned for their Bricco delle Viole cru Barolo
  • Damilano: good to very good quality estate in Barolo that produced modern style Barolo crus including Brunate and Cannubi, until pulling back on the use of new, small oak barrels after 2008 to increase terroir expression
  • Elvio Cogno: estate in Novello producing not only some compelling cru Baroli including from the Nebbiolo Rose variety, but also supple-tannin’d Dolcetto and dark and tannic, pre-phylloxera Barbera that run counter to the stereotypes of each variety, as well as the finest quality Nascetta we tasted
  • Ettore Germano: modern estate in Serralunga d’Alba whose Lazzarito cru Barolo is a particular highlight, and who are branching out into traditional method sparkling Nebbiolo and Riesling, amongst other novelties
  • Fontanafredda: long-established and sizeable estate in Serralunga d’Alba making classically-styled wines that certainly have longevity and can be very fine indeed
  • Casa E. di Mirafiore: sister estate of Fontanafredda, revived as a brand by Oscar Farinetta of Eataly fame and focusing on making wines that are for contemplation, whose Lazzarito Riserva shows the potential of this relatively young ‘old’ estate

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