Barolo : The Pinnacle Of Nebbiolo Production

  • By Beatrice Bessi
  • 16 Dec 2020
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
Made possible by
Langhe - Credit : Consorzio di Tutela Barolo e Barbaresco

Barolo, one the most beautiful areas in the Langhe hills of Piedmont, northern Italy, is indissolubly linked with a grape: Nebbiolo. Barolo has been called “the King of wines, the wine of Kings”, and its history is connected with the House of Savoy, the royal dynasty of Italy until the establishment of the Republic in 1946.

History: From The 13th Century

The first ever documentation of Nebbiolo in the area is dated 1299, when a wine named “Nibiol” was mentioned. Some believe that the name Nebbiolo derives from  nobile, or noble, perhaps referring to the quality of its wines. Others point to the term nebbia, or fog, a common autumnal Piedmont climatic condition, usually occurring around harvest, while others feel it refers to the thick bloom occurring on ripe Nebbiolo berries.

Until the early 1830s, Barolo was made as sweet red wine (actually more of a deep-coloured pink). The future of what became one of the most prestigious of wines changed due to the work of some key figures who created the Barolo we know today.

The Marquis of Falletti wished to impress the court of Savoy with red wine from their vineyards. Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, hired the French oenologist Louis Oudart and General Francesco Staglieno, implementing temperature controlled cellars and closed vat fermentation, leading to dry wines.

King Carlo Alberto was so impressed by these wines that he  purchased vineyards in the area. His successor, King Vittorio Emmanuele II, gifted the Count of Mirafiori, his son by the royal mistress Rosa, with the property of Fontana Fredda. The first wine labelled Barolo was made here in 1871.

Some Curiosities About Nebbiolo:

  • It has high acid and high levels of tannins (sabbiosi in Italian, meaning sandy in texture).
  • It is thick-skinned, early-budding, and late-ripening.
  • It has low levels of Anthocyanins, the compound responsible for colour, hence its wines tend to be quite pale.
  • Nebbiolo is historically connected with Piedmont with 70% of the total plantings of Nebbiolo in the world (around 5,000 ha) being found there. Other notable plantings are found in Argentina and Australia.
  • Nebbiolo requires the best vineyard exposition to fully ripen (south or southwest-facing in the northern hemisphere)..
  • The soil in Barolo is a major factor. It is characterized in general by marl, sandstones, and sand of various colours and types, crossed at times by veins of chalk.
  • In the wine one can discover mainly red berries, violet, rose, mushroom, truffle, liquorice, tar, and more.

Into The Modern Era: Barolo D.O.C.G.

Barolo achieved the Italian D.O.C.G. recognition in 1980 and can now be made only from 100% Nebbiolo. It is delimited between the three provinces of Cuneo, Torino, and Asti, with the towns of Alba and Barolo as epicenters of the wine area. The area of production of Barolo D.O.C.G. comprises 11 villages with the most renowned being Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, La Morra, and Monforte d’Alba.

Barolo must be aged for a minimum of 38 Months before being released. If labelled “Riserva” the minimum ageing increases to 60 Months. Barolo is recognised as the most classic expression of the Nebbiolo grape.

The “traditional” method of making Barolo is to create a blend from different vineyards for balance and structure, a long maceration on skins, a very long and slow fermentation in cement vessels, and the use of big old Slavonian casks, or Botti

The common belief was that Barolo should not be enjoyed for 10 years, as the harsh tannins needed this time to smooth out. In the early 20th century this led to serious economical issues for the producers. 

In the 1980s a new wave of producers, AKA “the Barolo Boys”, initiated what amounted to a war upon tradition. A “Modernist” style of  Barolo was born, with the introduction of stainless steel vats, shorter macerations/fermentations, and ageing in 100% new  barrique, like Bordeaux. This helped to re-establish the reputation and curiosity for Barolo, as these wines could be enjoyed after only a few years of ageing.

In more recent years, the recognition of single vineyards has become increasingly more important. Single vineyards like Cannubi, Monprivato, Brunate, or Cerequio, are highly regarded worldwide.

Barolo was the reason behind my passion for wine. It intrigues, it challenges, it surprises. It is definitely “The King of Wines” in my heart.

Langhe - Credit : Consorzio di Tutela Barolo e Barbaresco