Erik Neilson on March 3, 2017 1 Comment Italy is being recognized as a giant in the wine world more and more with each passing year. The country is known for producing some of the most intense and concentrated wines on the market, and Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) certification helps to keep traditions and methods alive without hindering the winemaker’s creativity. While plenty of Italian wines end up in the cellars of enthusiasts worldwide, there is perhaps none that is coveted more than Barolo. Barolo is a red wine made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes and produced in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. A DOCG wine, production must occur in and around the commune of Barolo, and vineyards must be located not only on hillsides, but also away from flat/humid areas and north-facing hills. The wine must be aged for a minimum of 38 months before being released, and qualifies as a Riserva once it has been subjected to at least five years of aging. Barolo: A Rich History There are plenty of reasons why Barolo has gained such popularity over the years, chief among them being the wine’s rich, intense flavor. The history of Barolo is another reason to learn more about this special wine, however, as it’s nearly as infectious as the wine itself. Historically (that is, prior to the 19th century), Barolo was considered to be a sweet wine. This was due in large part to the fact that the Nebbiolo grape, ripening in late October, was unable to ferment fully and would become halted, or “stuck.” As a result, the wine was left with a fair amount of residual sugar, lending it a sweet taste and cloying finish. Over the years, winemakers in and around the region worked to improve techniques and methodology to ensure a complete fermentation, thus creating the dry version of Barolo known and loved around the world today. While many estate bottlings exist today, Barolo production in the mid-20th century relied mainly on wineries purchasing grapes/wine from around the designated zone and blending it before aging and bottling. It was one of the first wines in Italy to receive DOCG status in the 1980s, and though production methods have been experimented with by many winemakers, the overall profile of modern Barolo has remained relatively the same across the board. Characteristics of Barolo In order to be classified as Barolo, a wine must be made with 100% Nebbiolo grapes, which are known for being darkish blue in color and feature an abundant amount of wax on the skins. The grape is unique in that it tends to bud before any other varieties grown elsewhere in the area yet is harvested after most other grapes, allowing winemakers to fully ferment grapes such as Barbera before harvest of the Nebbiolo grapes ever occurs. As one might assume, the grape is heavily concentrated and bursting with flavor, hence explaining why it is utilized in the production of Barolo. Barolo can vary from producer to producer (and from one vintage to another), but if there’s one word that could be used to describe practically every bottle you can expect to encounter, it’s “rich.” This being said, the color of the wine tends to be lighter than one might think considering its concentration, taking on ruby and garnet colors that bring to mind a refined Pinot Noir. Unlike certain wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo is never opaque and can always allow light to pass through the glass. Because the wine spends such a long time on oak and the Nebbiolo grape’s skins are so hearty, Barolo tends to feature firm tannins that don’t seem to want to let up no matter how long the bottle is aged. Barolo is also characterized by a pronounced acidity, giving it a strong backbone that allows the wine to pair with countless types of food. Upon pouring, Barolo gives off a multitude of different aromas, often including notes of freshly laid tar and budding roses. Depending upon the bottling, flavors in Barolo wine can range from concentrated dried fruit and leather to ripe, fruit strawberries, plums and mulberries. Tobacco and spice are also common descriptors used in analyzing Barolo, and the texture of the wine can be described as “chewy” given its high tannin content and typical presence of over 15% alcohol by volume. Bottles to Try If you’ve never tasted Barolo wine before, chances are you’re unsure of where to start. There are plenty of Barolos that are known for their consistent quality and great value, and starting with these before branching out is always a good idea. While some Barolos must be aged for 10+ years before drinking, many are ready to drink as soon as they’re released. Here are a two aged Barolo recommendations that are not to be missed. Aldo Conterno, Romirasco, Barolo 2006 Looking to try one of the best Barolos the world has to offer? Look no further than the 2006 vintage of Aldo Conterno, Romirasco. It’s a famous Barolo cru that comes from the lightest soil imaginable, featuring light, classical style characteristics that allow the wine to dance on the tongue. Berries, roses, light tar and violets shine in this cru, with silky tannins that have mellowed over the course of the past decade. Though it carries a hefty price tag of around $250 a bottle, there’s no better option for celebrating an engagement or the birth of a child. Monprivato Barolo 2003 This wine has a bit of extra age on it, and it’s one of the best Barolos you can ever expect to taste at its price point of only $60-70. Refined and as smooth as silk, the wine pours with aromas of cranberries, blackcurrants and light smoke, featuring the added nuances of tobacco and baking spices. There are few wines on the market that have been aged this long and are available at such a price point, so jump on this bottle before they all disappear. Barolo need not be intimidating, and every wine enthusiast owes it to themselves to taste this distinctive wine at some point. As far as Italian wine goes, you’ll be hardpressed to find a more luxurious example of the country’s winemaking history.