October 23, 2018

Wine Style Focus: Barolo

Named after a village in the steep hills of southern Piedmont, Barolo is a DOCG-classified red that is famously assertive, complex, and fantastic with food. By Italian law, Barolo must made from 100% Nebbiolo, the classic grape of Piedmont.

Nebbiolo demands south-facing slopes and well-drained calcareous-clay soil, but even so it is late to ripen (as late as November in some years!). Its signature concentration of tannins, acid, and aromas and flavors of roses, violets, berries, truffles, prunes, tar, and chocolate all find expression in the wines of Barolo. Traditionally Barolo was given an extended maceration and lengthy aging in old barrels to maximize tannin and acid and minimize oak character; more or less undrinkable when young, but bottle aging of up to ten years led to a rich, complex wine with earth and fruit in abundance, cherry-red in color with brick-orange hues at the edges of the glass. Modern methods have shortened the maceration and incorporate new oak (often French) for a more international, approachable style with vanilla-oak character and earlier-drinking tannin levels, but this is still not a soft, delicate wine.

Piedmont is home to white truffles, so it's no wonder that Barolo makes a natural partner for the earthy flavors of truffles and other mushrooms (morel hunting, anyone?). The Piedmontese also pair their rich and hefty red with rich meat stews and sauces, pasta, and risotto. If you know a hunter or are one yourself, Barolo pairs very well with game, particularly rabbit or venison. It can also stand up to any cheese, including the moldiest blues. The protein in the cheese binds to the burly tannins of the Barolo, softening them and enhancing both. Salute!