Walking in the vineyards of Barolo in Piedmont just a couple of years ago, I was aware of being in the presence of these noble vines. However, I did not quite get it first hand. A glass of Barolo did not hit me then as it has recently.
Barolo is the name of the place the wine comes from in the Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian). The name of the varietal is Nebbiolo – the flagship Piedmont red grape. Wine made from Nebbiolo looks deceptively light in a glass but packs a serious punch.
Barolo has long been considered the best expression of Nebbiolo. Indeed it has often been considered the best representation of wine, from any grape. At least in Italy, it has earned the moniker – “The King of Wines”. “The Queen of Wines” being Barbaresco, a close neighbor producing wine from the same varietal. The difference can often be subtle and sometimes be pronounced, even to the untrained palate. Barolo has the reputation of being more muscular and masculine, as the Europeans like to say. While Barbaresco is slightly more feminine at least in its feel, though it packs a lot of muscle too. I have heard Barbaresco aptly described as an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Barolos typically take a long time to mature. It takes about six to eight years at a minimum for a Barolo to be approachable, and that number is generally ten years. Good quality Barolos can keep and mature for over twenty to twenty five years and in some cases, even over thirty to forty years. Italians say that they buy Barolos for their grandchildren.
High tannins and a good amount of acid undergird the structure of a Barolo. When these and other structural elements are in balance, the wine ages beautifully and indeed, very gracefully. The more qualitative markers are often dark cherries, rose petals, sweet tobacco, or leather.
As a rational thinker, this is where I suffer from pinning words and descriptors to everything in a fine wine. When one opens an aged Barolo, one imbibes the wisdom, the intelligence, and character of a quality wine that has learned and grown with balance and grace – no different from a great human being. I have said things like that to some people who look at me like I have lost it. There are things that a fine Barolo does to you that cannot be captured in language. It is like doing justice in describing love in rational terms. It transports an intelligent sentient being to a babbling idiot who often gives up with tears in his eyes trying to describe it.
Alas, the downside to Barolos, like fine Burgundy is that they are expensive. One is lucky to get a decent Barolo with some age under three figures. And that is just retail. But I say it is well worth it. And if you do not know what I am talking about, well we will have to sample some together.
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