In his review of the Bruno Giacosa Barolo Reserva Le Rocche del Falletto 1997, The Wine Front’s Gary Walsh commented that it “combines the best fragrant aspects of Pinot Noir with the strength and impact of Cabernet.” (Gary Walsh, The Wine Front, 24 May 2010)
Walsh was describing one of Barolo’s most iconic wines, but his description could just as well apply to all great examples of Barolo and Barbaresco. Typically, the wines have rose, cherry fruit, dried herb and even truffle aromatics, and like Burgundy’s pinot noir they develop more savoury and tobacco aromas as they age. Complex and full of flavour, they share cabernet’s propensity for big ripe tannins and longevity.
Barolo and Barbaresco are neighbouring wine regions in The Langhe on either side of the town of Alba in northwestern Italy’s hilly Piedmont region. Both wines are made from the region’s signature grape variety, nebbiolo, which is grown on steep, hillside vineyards that are typically owned and managed by the fourth or fifth generation of the same Italian families.
While less than 20 km separates Barbaresco from Barola, subtle differences in terroir give the wines from each appellation their own unique character. Barbaresco, for example, is typically more refined and lighter than Barolo, and generally have less tannin and more fruit. This makes them more approachable when young, but not as long-living as Barolo, although examples from the best Barbaresco vintages will mature for up to 30 years.
Situated northeast of Alba and south of the river Tanaro, the significantly smaller Barbareso appellation enjoys a slight maritime-influence that provides warmer and more humid conditions, allowing the nebbiolo to ripen a little earlier than it does in Barolo. Both areas share limestone rich soils, but Barolo’s 11 wine-growing communes are not as uniform in soil and climate as Barbaresco. Consequently wines from the different Barolo villages can be quite distinct in character.
Like Bordeaux and Burgundy, the weather in Barolo and Barbaresco plays an outsized role in determining vintage quality. When the weather is smiling, the finicky nebbiolo grape enjoys a gloriously long growing season, and the marked diurnal shifts from warm daytime temperatures to cool nights create ideal conditions for perfect ripening, guaranteeing wines with beautiful aromatic intensity, bright colours, and supple ripe tannins.
But unfortunately the weather doesn’t always cooperate. Many of the better 300 odd wineries in Barbaresco and Barolo produced no wine in 2002 because conditions were so dismal – a disappointment no doubt for the wineries but a testament to the region’s unflinching commitment to making wines of superior quality.
Photo Credit: Paul Marcus Wines