So where to begin on this trip through Winefulness? With the King of course.
Let’s explore why Barolo gets top choice.
I was first properly introduced to Barolo wines while my wife and I were dating and living in Manhattan. We would frequently dine (and had our first date) at I Trulli. And although there are many reasons to recommend I Trulli: delicious food (Sardinian saffron dumplings are out of this world), outdoor garden seating and beautiful fireplace, one of the main things I Trulli excels at is its wine list. The list is extensive, and is filled with many many back vintages. From the wine books I had read at that point, I knew Barolo was regarded as one of the top wines from Italy, so in my effort to seem sophisticated and knowledgeable, I would typically turn to the Barolo section of I Trulli’s wine list. Thankfully the list didn’t just include recent releases (which would have numbed our mouths and prevented us from tasting our food), but it had many back vintages to choose from as well. My first tastes of Barolo then were ones that were ready to be consumed and enjoyed, and ready to provide a splendid introduction to the possibilities of the region. And obviously the environment of a beautiful restaurant and the beginning stages of love helped make the wines taste that much better.
The seeds for a relationship with Barolo had been planted, but admittedly other wines still remained at the forefront of my attention. However a few years ago I decided I wanted to learn a bit more about Barolo (and its Piemontese partner, Barbaresco), so I attended a wine tasting/course on the two at Italian Wine Merchants, a great wine store on 16th St in Manhattan. In the class we explored several examples, and I was blown away by the great heights that Nebbiolo could achieve in the two regions. I bought a lot of wine that day, and decided to devote out a large section of my wine cellar to Barolo and Barbaresco.
However, I could never give my full attention to Barolo with all the tasting and learning that was required across all the wine world as part of my WSET studies. But I would stare at the bottles I had purchased and always felt their pull on me. I always knew the would eventually draw me in to their world and all of its wonder. And in many ways that draw was what led me down the path of deciding to start this blog. I knew that to learn Barolo, to truly feel like I knew it and felt comfortable with it, I would need to give it my full and utmost attention.
Barolo was also an easy first choice for me because there is so much to learn and explore. The region and its wines are a playground for those who seek answers to the many questions that exist in the wine world. Themes that cut across the entirety of the wine world can be examined through the Barolo lens. Here are just some of the highlights, many of which I will explore in greater depth as the weeks and months go along.
- The history of wine from Piemonte, from which Barolo hails, could fill countless pages. Much has been made recently about Burgundy and Champagne being granted UNESCO Heritage status, but Barolo (and Barbaresco) beat them to the punch in the year prior.
- The role that tradition and wine’s deep-rootedness in the region has had in shaping how wine was made, and continues to be made.
- The famed Barolo Wars, where the traditional ways of winemaking were contrasted against modern influences, and a seemingly middle-ground, post-modern way of winemaking that has emerged.
- The constant that threads its way throughout any differences in winemaking is Nebbiolo, the beguiling and precocious grape varietal that makes its home and finds its most complete expression in Piedmont (and has rarely found root outside of its home)
- There is an abundance of diversity across the many vineyard plots in Barolo, which helps to highlight how different aspects of the land (and terroir) influence the end product. Explorations of these different vineyard sites and underlying soil show how wine can retain a connectedness to the place it comes from.
- The wines of Barolo have continually maintained a quality of age-worthiness that has seen few equals in the wine world.
For many, Barolo represents the pinnacle in winemaking, both in Italy and across the wine world. Yet many times its qualities remain hidden and tucked away behind big burly tannins, requiring years and years of waiting until they become apparent. And even then, the wines from Barolo typically do not scream at you or blast you in the face. They live in the worlds of nuance and subtlety. That is not to say that the wines lack for intensity or substance. However, they require you to engage with them. To sit down and devote your time and focus on them. In short, the wines of Barolo in many ways require you to be mindful of them. When you allow yourself to explore a Barolo, to let it wash over you and take root, then you will begin to see the effects that mindfulness can bring to wine. And a true enjoyment will then follow.
Of course the wines of many other places can lead you to a similar place. A full exploration of those wines can provide as great an understanding of many of the themes that exists in the wine world as Barolo can, including some aspects that Barolo only touches on. And as time goes on I hope to turn to some of these different places. But for the next short while, Barolo will be in my glass and on my mind. And on these pages.