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Langhe, Barolo red wine Region, Piedmont, Italy. Vineyards in Autumn

Barolo Wine Region

(Br · ow · low)

A village, a wine region and a wine, Barolo stakes its claim as “the king of wines and the wine of kings.” As a premier production area within Italy’s northwest region of Piedmont, it is steeped in history and surrounded by verdant vineyards, which have been recognized as part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the Langhe DOC, in the Cuneo province, and lying just south of the city of Alba, Barolo’s 11 communes, or villages, feature rolling hills dotted with medieval castles, dense curves of vines and some of Italy’s most revered gastronomy.

History of the Barolo Wine Region

The Count of Cavour, Camillo Benso, who founded the Piedmont Agricultural Society and was also a leading figure in the Italian reunification, is largely credited for modernizing Barolo. The wine had been produced in a sweet style and sold from casks until Benso worked with consultant Pier Francosco Staglieno to reduce premature oxidation and volatile acidity in the wines from his family estate in Grinzane. They fermented grapes in closed vats before hiring French oenologist Louis Oudart, who fully fermented these grapes to dryness. The Marchioness of Barolo, Giulietta Falletti, also employed Oudart for her estates in Barolo, La Morra and Serralunga d’Alba, where he created a dry Bordeaux-style wine said to be favored by King Carlo Alberto di Savoia, thus helping to establish Barolo’s reputation.

The purchase and usage of glass bottles in 1844 marked the start of “modern” Barolo. The Barolo territory was established by decree on August 31, 1933. In 1966, Barolo received controlled designation of origin (DOC) status, which led producers to turn their eye toward single-vineyard bottlings. In 1980, Barolo became a wine of controlled and guaranteed designation of origin (DOCG), another significant step that propelled its reputation across the globe.


Geography and Climate of the Barolo Wine Region

Around 4,900 acres, the Barolo region includes 11 communes, three of which lie entirely within the region (Barolo, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga d’Alba) and the others are partially outside the boundaries: Cherasco, Diano d’Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, Novello, Roddi and Verduno. Of the group, Monforte d’Alba, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga d’Alba are recognized for outstanding quality. As with the greater Piedmont climate, the Alps and the Apennine mountains offer moderating protection from coastal currents as well as warm winds rising from the Tanaro River valley. The Barolo commune is distinguished for its high limestone content in the soils.


Grapes of the Barolo Wine Region

Nebbiolo, producing robust, full-bodied wines with pronounced tannins and acidity, is the only grape permitted in the production of Barolo.


Wine Production in the Barolo Wine Region

There are two camps in Barolo, made famous in the so-called “Barolo Wars” of the 1980s, which pitted traditionalists against modernists. The former group was loyal to the historic style of Barolo with its large, neutral-oak cask aging and long maceration, which makes tannic wines that require years of aging to soften. Modernists advocated for a riper, more approachable crowd-pleasing style, aged in French barrique, and that could be consumed at a younger age. Ultimately, there was no declared victor, with each side learning from the other, and allowing room for both styles.


Classification of Wine in the Barolo Wine Region

After the 1980 Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) classification for Barolo, producers were required to follow specific rules: Barolo wines must be produced from 100% Nebbiolo grown on designated southern-facing hillsides and have a minimum aging requirement of three years, half of which must be spent in oak barrels. In addition to the DOCG classification, two designations may appear on the label: Riserva, for those wines aged for a minimum of five years, and Vigna for a single-vineyard wine.

A further classification system codified in 2010 called Menzione Geografica Aggiuntiva (MGA) identifies registered single vineyards within the DOCG, a concept similar to Burgundy’s climats. Though they may represent the jewel in a producer’s crown, there is no official quality guarantee attached to the designation; it’s just an implication that the parcel of land somehow imparts a distinguished Barolo. Currently, there are 170 officially recognized MGAs, in addition to the 11 communal MGAs.


Famous Wines of the Barolo Wine Region

Some significant historic “traditionalists” include Giacomo Borgogno, Pio Cesare, Elvio Cogno, Poderi Colla, Giacomo Conterno, Bruno Giacosa, Bartolo Mascarello, Massolino and Francesco Rinaldi.

From the “modernist” movement look for Elio Altare, Ceretto, Paolo Cordero, Angelo Gaja, Luciano Sandrone, Paolo Scavino and Renato Ratti.

Fun Facts About the Barolo Wine Region

  • The “Barolo Wars” spawned a 2014 documentary film called The Barolo Boys: The Story of a Revolution, which details the group of Langhe rabble-rousers challenging the old guard.
  • Count Cavour’s iconic estate in Grinzane, now called the Castle of Grinzane Cavour, is open to the public and features one of the oldest enotecas in Italy.
  • Barolo Chinato is an aromatic digestive using DOCG Barolo wine as its base and includes cinchona bark and a medley of botanicals and spices such as juniper, coriander, citrus rind, clove, ginger, vanilla, bay leaf and cardamom. It’s fortified to 16 % to 18% abv.

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