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All about Italy’s greatest red wine Barolo

Barolo is justifiable as the King of wine and wine of kings

Subhasis Ganguli | Published 20.11.23, 12:04 PM
Barolo wines, Barolo Cannubi, one of the best vineyards

Barolo wines, Barolo Cannubi, one of the best vineyards

Pictures courtesy: The author

Barolo is Italy’s greatest red wine. Rich, powerful, tannic, made to last forever! Hailing from the rolling hills of Piedmont’s Langhe region, where winemakes fashion the Nebbiolo grape to wines, destined for the best tables of the world. Let’s delve deeper into this much-loved variety of wine...



The production zone lies within the boundaries of 11 communes in the Langhe, covering an area of about 2,000 hectares. The principle communes are La Morra, Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Monforte D’Alba and Serralunga D’Alba with an additional six communes of Verduno, Grinzane Cavour, Novello, Diano D’Alba, Cherasco and Roddi, with a total annual production of around 14 million bottles.

There are two primary soil types in the Barolo region. Towards the west, in the commune of La Morra and Barolo, the soil is calcareous marl, which is a mixture of sandstone and clay. Often called Tortonian marl, this soil is fertile and produces wines that are soft and rounded. Towards east, in the communes of Monforte d’ Alba and Serralunga, the soil is Helvetian sandstone and gravel, which is less fertile and produces more powerfully structured and tannic wines.


It is generally believed that the origins of the modern Barolo date back to the mid-19th Century when Count Camili Benso of Grinzane Cavour with the help of his oenologist, started making wine at his estate. This wine quickly became famous and popular among the nobility, and was being served in the House of Savoy.

For most part of the 20th Century the wine production of Barolo was controlled by big negociants or wine brokers, who bought wine and grapes from small farmers and blended them to make their own house style.

From the 1960s, the environment began to change. New techniques were being used both in the vineyard as well as the cellar, and many producers began bottling their own wine. Things grew so rapidly that more and more producers began estate bottling, some even marketing single-vineyard wines. By the turn of the century more single-vineyard wines appeared on the market than ever before and the need for a cru classification was justified.

Barolo can be made only from Nebbiolo grapes. Nebbiolo takes its name from the Piedmontese word ‘nebia’ meaning fog. During the autumn months, when harvesting is in full swing, the entire region is enveloped in intense fog. The grape itself is difficult to grow: late ripening, fickle, and susceptible to coulure during spring frost. But in proper ripening conditions Nebbiolo gives wines that are structured and powerful yet elegant, with a haunting floral scent and a sour cherry flavour. Like all good grapes, it too must suffer to give its best.

Barolo wines are rich, powerful, tannic, and well structured with ample amounts of acidity. Released in the market after 38 months of ageing (five years in the case of Riserva), the best wines require many more years to reach full maturity.

Barolo along with its worthy neighbour Barbaresco is separated by the Tanaro river from Roero. It is a beautiful region in the southern part of Piedmont with rolling hills dotted with small hamlets, rustic osterias serving fabulous authentic Piedmontese cuisine and welcoming enotecas where local wines are available in abundance.

The Crus

With Alba as its epicenter, there are 11 villages or communes within the Barolo appellation. In earlier years producers just used the name of the commune on the bottle and consumers were contented. But, in the last 30 years or so, more and more single-vineyard Barolos started to appear on the market, confusing the consumer. So, effective 2010, the whole region was again subdivided into 170 sub zones known as MGA (Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive). This is essentially a coding of each commune with a specific vineyard site similar to the Burgundian concept of cru. It is not a classification of quality, though certain MGAs have attained high acclaim for their quality long before the classification was put in place.

With more and more single-vineyard Barolo arriving on the market, it is important to know a little about the different crus of Barolo and their commune. As mentioned earlier, from 2010 the whole region was subdivided into 170 MGA. The six main communes contain the largest number of crus; most single-vineyard bottling comes from these crus. The crus of the additional five communes are of less importance and are mostly used in blends to make a generic Barolo.

Following is a list of the five communes with their most important crus.

l LA MORRA: Arborina, Brunate, Cerequio, Galina, Gattera, Rocche dell’Annunziata

l BAROLO: Bricco delle Viole, Cannubi, Fossati, Liste, Sarmassa

l CASTIGLIONE FALLETTO: Bricco Boschis, Monprivato, Rocche di Castiglione, Scarrone, Villero

l MONFORTE D’ ALBA: Bussia, Castelleto, Gramolere, Mosconi

l SERRALUNGA D’ALBA: Briccolina, Falletto, Lazzarito, Ornato, Prapò, Vigna Rionda

The remaining six communes, while adding to the overall production zone, are less well known for producing single-vineyard Barolo. Exceptions being Monvigliero in the commune of Verduno and Sottocastello di Novello in the commune of Novello.

Food pairing

Barolo is a rich wine with good tannins and high acidity. It is usually well structured and elegant. Aged Barolo has a haunting scent of violets, liquorice, cinnamon and tobacco. The wine pairs beautifully with meat dishes and heavy pasta based on meat sauce. In Piedmonte the traditional dish is Brasato al Barolo — meat braised in Barolo wine, Agnolotti del Plin — pasta filled with meat in a rich sauce. It also matches very well with ripe aged cheese. For Indian cuisine, meat kebabs, mildly spiced dishes such as mutton korma and rogan josh are most suitable.

The Producers

There are nearly 300 producers bottling and marketing Barolo, so quality can be variable at times. Producers who are usually a safe bet when you are searching for your bottle of Barolo: Fratelli Alessandria; Elio Altare; Ascheri; Giacomo Borgogno & Figli; Fratelli Serio & Battista Borgogno; Giacomo Brezza & Figli; G.B. Burlotto; Fratelli Cavallotto; Ceretto; Michele Chiarlo; Domenico Clerico; Aldo Conterno; Giacomo Conterno; Poderi Luigi Einaudi; Giacomo Fenocchio; Marchesi di Barolo; Bartolo Mascarello; Giuseppe Mascarello & Figli; Massolino; Cordero di Montezemolo; Poderi e Cantina Oddero; Pio Cesare; E. Pira & Figli Chiara Boschis; Francesco Rinaldi & Figli; Giuseppe Rinaldi; Luciano Sandrone; G.D. Vajra; Vietti; Virna.

Barolo in India

Majority of the Barolo is exported, with the USA being the largest market followed by Scandinavia, Germany and the mature economies of Japan and South Korea. There is a sprinkling of Barolo found in India and more and more importers are looking at importing the wine. It is a difficult market with high duties and local taxes. The sentiment is echoed by Matteo Ascheri, president of Consorzio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco. He says, “India is a difficult market but we are watching it very closely and gathering information. Soon we will host big events to showcase our wines in India.” It will be a boon for the Indian consumer. Till such time, look for that bottle on your trips abroad and enjoy a pleasurable experience.

The author is an independent wine and hospitality consultant

Last updated on 20.11.23, 12:05 PM

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