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24 Apr 2018 | Randy Kemner

Barolo & Barbaresco: Italy's Red Wine Divas

Customers who come back from Italian vacations are enthralled with the wines, foods, lifestyle, hospitality and beauty of the greatest-hits places like Rome, Tuscany's Siena and Florence, Venice, the Amalfi Coast and the Cinqueterra and, of course, Venice.


Fewer tourists visit food meccas like Emilia-Romagna (the home of Balsamic vinegar, Parma Reggiano, Prosciutto Parm, Lambrusco and lasagna) or Piedmont, home to October's white truffles, risotto and some of the most hauntingly beautiful wines in the world.

Tucked away in northeast Italy between Liguria on the south, France to the west, Lombardy to the east and the Swiss Alps to the north, Piedmont (foot of the mountain) is hilly country, with plenty of grasses from the cooler, wetter climate, and some of the most meticulously manicured vineyards I've ever seen.  In fact, there are Barolo vineyards that look like hedges that have been trimmed by a chainsaw rather than hand-tied to grape stakes and trellises.

The white wines of Piedmont are some of the most famous in all Italy, Gavi, Arneis and the sublime Moscato d'Asti and its sweet, frothy red brother Brachetto d'Aqui.  The red wines range from the versatile joys of Dolcetto to the fresh tasting, berry-like goodness of Barbera.


But it is the fickle and sometimes untamable Nebbiolo (named from Nebbia, the fog that shrouds the area) that is the stuff of Piedmont's most celebrated wines:  Gattinara to the north closer to Turin, and Alba's twin giants Barolo and Barbaresco.


The characteristics of wines made from Nebbiolo are a range of colors from dark and black to light cherry red.  Because the grape oxidizes easily, there is a look of advanced browning to wines just a few years old, but that works in Nebbiolo's favor, bringing unimaginable beauty and spicy complexity to its aromas and flavors. 

The tannins in Nebbiolo are not like the broad drying material in Cabernet Sauvignon, but are more astringent, like long steeped tea.  All but the oldest Nebbiolos benefit from long decanting to release its hidden charms, often for two hours before consuming.  Favorite foods are game, mushrooms and braised meats.  When I was a visitor, all the Barolo producers I met offered generous portions of Fontina and Parma Reggiano cheeses to accompany their young Barolos.


The Nebbiolos of Barbaresco & Barolo

Barberesco and Barolo are privileged regions within the larger umbrella of the Langhe.  In fact, wines labeled Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d'Alba are a good cost-conscious introduction to the more prized wines of Barbaresco and Barolo.  Many producers offer Langhe Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo d'Alba wines in addition to their pedigree wines as a way of providing a commercial outlet for their fruit from younger vines, and vines planted on less advantaged vineyard sites.  I've sampled some Nebbiolos from top producers that were superior to Barolos from lesser producers, making them great values by comparison.


The Nebbiolos of Barbaresco, immediately northeast of Alba, exhibit the trademark rose-petal perfume of the grape and generally are a bit lacier in structure and lighter in body.  I wouldn't call them girly-girl, exactly, because of Nebbiolo's notorious tannins.  They are a modern definition of femininity, chiseled, focused, firm and still able to cast its charms when it chooses.  Barbarescos were rarely celebrated until Angelo Gaya began picking his grapes riper, fermenting them in rotary fermenters, aging them in new French oak barrels and promoting them as the equal to any great wine in the world.  That one force of nature was the tide that raised all boats in Barbaresco.


Most wine experts would agree, the king of Piedmont wines are those from Barolo, directly south of Alba.  Majestic, deep and full bodied, possessing the ethereal charms of aroma and flavor only found in red Burgundy, and occasionally in Côte-Rôtie.  Barolo vineyards are usually laid out on south-facing hillsides below the picturesque medieval hilltop villages of the region.


Barbarescos can be released a year earlier than Barolos, which traditionally had required 20 years in the cellar to tame its tannins, but due to modern winemaking techniques can be quite charming upon release with a couple hours decanting.


Wine has been a part of northern Italian culture since Roman times, but it has only been in the 20th century that Barolo came into its own.  It's motto, "The King of Wine and the Wine of Kings" would suggest there was Barolo on the tables of Louis XV and the Medici Popes.  There was noble interest in the wines in the early 19th century, but the fact is, most Barolo producers were poor farmers until the 1980s when there was an American rush to discover everything wine, thereafter infusing the countryside with cash.  That enabled the best and most ambitious of the farmers to upgrade their vineyards and cantines with modern technology.


There is a push-pull between modern and traditional winemaking in both regions.  Some wines are fermented and aged in large casks, while some are fermented in stainless steel rotary fermenters and aged in French oak barrels, like Burgundy. 


Also, like Burgundy, Barolo producers place great emphasis on single-vineyard bottlings, and for some time there has been an effort to create a Grand Cru designation for its finest vineyards.  Each of the eleven Barolo communes lays claim to several vineyards designated "great," even though there is no offical status.  The Barolo Communes are Barolo, Montforte d'Alba, Castiglioni Falleto, Serralunga d'Alba, La Morra, Grinzane Cavour, Novello, Verduno, Diano d'Alba, Cerasco and Roddi.  Of those, most of the great Barolos I've had the pleasure to enjoy come from the first five.

Elio Altare is given credit as the father of the modern Barolo movement.  His discovery of great Burgundy in the 1970s gave him the inspiration to abandon the old ways in favor of a progressive vision of clean aromas and a meshing of oak aromas and flavors with Barolo's classic perfume.  So revolutionary was Altare that opposing camps formed.  It even created a family rift with his own father who completely rejected Altare's reforms.


Because of Altare, the world can now enjoy younger Barolos like the plush, inviting wines of Azelia, Chiara Boschis, M. Marengo, Marcarini, Luigi Enaudi and others. 


There is no better way--other than spending a week in Piedmont during Alba's truffle festival--to fully grasp the magic of Barbaresco and Barolo than attending an emersive seminar like the one Kevin Lepisto has planned Friday May 11 at The Wine Country.  Cost is $55 per person, a very fair price to assess such world-class premium wines.  Reservations can be made by calling the us at (562) 597-8303.


Recommended Barbarescos & Barolos:

 2013 Sottimano Barbaresco Pajore, Piedmont

A newly released Barbaresco from one of the top producers of this Queen of Italian wines. “The 2014 Barbaresco Pajoré is superb. Rich, deep and intense, the 2014 possesses fabulous depth to match its intense personality. Here, too, the tannins are nearly buried by the sheer luxuriousness of the fruit. Dark blue and purplish stone fruit, lavender, mint and sage infuse the deeply layered finish. Deep, enveloping and bursting with class.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous

$59.99 per bottle


2008 Bruno Rocca Barbaresco Coparosa, Piedmont

I was very excited to find this stunning, ready to drink Barbaresco from Bruno Rocca. His Coparossa Barbaresco is a blend of two cru vineyards and truly expresses the beauty of the noble Nebbiolo grape. The purity of red cherry and dried plum fruits takes center stage with licorice, spice and mint playing supporting roles.   This wine is smooth, silky, elegant and drinking beautifully now. A great example of this Queen of Italian wines!

$76.99 per bottle


2012 Carlo Giacosa ‘Montefico’ Barbaresco, Piedmont

Carlo Giacosa is a small 4th generation family winery with all their  vineyards located in the village of Barbaresco.  Their 2012  ‘Montefico’ cru Barbaresco is complex and powerful but elegant and  already approachable.  On the nose it delivers all the classic floral  and spice aromas and on the palate is dense with dark sour cherry  fruit with notes of vanilla and spice.

$53.99 per bottle


2013 Produttori del Barbaresco ‘Rabajà’ Barbaresco Riserva, Piedmont

Produttori del Barbaresco is recognized as one of the very top  producers in Barbaresco and only produce their ‘Riserva’ single cru  vineyard wines in the outstanding vintages.  “A hallmark expression of  nebbiolo, Produttori del Barbaresco's 2013 Rabajà Riserva offers  aromas of wild red berry, menthol, Alpine herb, saddle leather and  dark culinary spice. The concentrated palate boasts enviable finesse  and is practically weightless in the mouth, showing crushed black  cherry, juicy raspberry, orange zest, clove and licorice alongside  firm, velvety tannins. Bright acidity provides impeccable balance.”  Kerin O’Keefe, WE

$65.99 per bottle


2013 Azelia Barolo, Piedmont

Azelia by Luigi Scavino is an incredible value and a great  introductory Barolo for anybody new to the noble wine.  Azelia’s entry-level Barolo is always approachable and packed with ripe red cherry  fruit but still delivers the classic notes of spice and floral aromas.

$39.99 per bottle


2012 E. Pira e Figli Chiara Boschis Barolo ‘Mosconi’, Piedmont

Chiara Boschis was the first female winemaker in Barolo and a pioneer  in converting many growers in the region to organic farming.  Chiara  was a graduate of Economics but gained experience in winemaking while  working with her brothers at the historical Borgogno estate.  Her  family took ownership of the E. Pira vineyards in 1990 and she took  the reins.  Chiara considers herself a farmer first then a winemaker  and places great focus on vineyard management.  Known for producing  Barolo wines with power but also elegance and approachability, Chiara  has become one of the most respected producers in Barolo receiving  critical acclaim year after year.  With the first vintage in 2009,  Mosconi is Chiara Boschis’s newest addition to her range of cru  bottlings. It is perhaps her darkest and most powerful Barolo.  The  2012 Mosconi is deep and rich with dark black fruits, leather and  spice but of course still offers her signature elegant aromas of  violets and sweet berry fruit.   The Mosconi is beautifully balanced  with the structure to age into an amazing world class Barolo.

$99.99 per bottle


2013 Poderi Luigi Einaudi Barolo, ‘Terlo Vigna Costa Grimaldi’, Piedmont

The Einaudi family has played an important role in Italian culture for  ver 100 years with Luigi Einaudi being the 2nd president of the  Republic of Italy.  Four generations later his grandson Matteo runs  the highly respected winery.  Einaudi’s ‘single vineyard ‘Costa  Grimaldi’ Barolo was one of the favorites at our Fall 2017 Barolo  tasting event.  The youthful Barolo is dark red with touches of brick  but aromatically powerful with cherries, violets, truffle and leather.    It is powerful and meaty on the palate but well balanced with dark  red fruits, spice and licorice.  The tannins are firm and guarantee  this wine will age for many years.

$79.99 per bottle


2013 M. Marengo Barolo ‘Brunate’, Piedmont

The Marengo estate was established in 1899 and the family still farms  only a total of 6 hectares of vines in Barolo. Their ‘Brunate’ wine  comes from a mere 1 hectare of vines in this top La Morra Cru.  Marco  Marengo practices a blend of modern and traditional wine making  methods and each year his wines stun with beauty and complexity.  His  Brunate Barolo is powerful yet elegant and finessed.  It’s fragrant  with ripe red fruit, herbs and violets. On the palate it’s complex  with red berries, cherries, licorice and baking spices.  The tannins  are silky but still chewy given its young age.

$64.99 per bottle


2013 Luigi Baudana Barolo ‘Baudana’, Piedmont

The Baudana family dates back so far in Barolo that they have a tiny  hamlet and vineyard named after them. In 2009 the family decided to  sell their estate and vineyards in a behind-the-scenes deal the highly  respected GD Vajra family who are their close friends, with the  agreement that the Vajras would keep the Baudana name on the labels.   Their single cru ‘Baudana’ Barolo shows the masculinity and power of  wines produced in the Serralunga commune.  This wine is rich with dark  red currants and berry fruits and savory with herbs, black olives and  earth.  The wine is deep, lengthy and highly structured.

$93.99 per bottle


2013 Cavallotto Barolo Bricco Boschis, Piedmont

“The 2013 Barolo Bricco Boschis is a tremendous effort that has an edge on the excellent 2010 vintage in my view. The wine shows a beautifully exuberant but elegant bouquet with the ethereal and undertone fruit and spice aromas you get with Nebbiolo. Although the wine is never overdone, it does show silky persistence and a long finish that comes from the noble nature of the tannins and the wine's textural finesse. Yet, it is playfully deceiving in a way because behind that polished grace, it delivers impressive depth and power.” Monica Larner – Wine Advocate

$75.99 per bottle



Friday May 11, 2018                   $55 tax incl

In truth, these may be Italy's greatest wines, period.  The incredible Nebbiolo of Piedmont produces wines so hauntingly beautiful, so ageworthy, so regal, you have to turn to Burgundy to find red wines with such expression.  It's no wonder they are called "The Wines of Kings."  Join our Italian wine expert Kevin Lepisto in a tasting of our latest releases and some favorites from preceding vintages.  The aromas alone are worth the price of admission!



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