Decanter Italian Fine Wine Encounter Masterclasses - Barolo: the importance of the vineyard

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2: Barolo: the importance of the vineyard

Presented by:
Ian d’Agata, journalist and wine lecturer

Few people can have as detailed and encyclopedic a knowledge of Barolo as Ian d’Agata, an Italy-based journalist and wine lecturer.

His minute dissection of the Barolo DOCG was peppered with anecdotes and insight into the workings of this complex region.

Despite the varietal dominance of the Nebbiolo grape, understanding Barolo is far from simple: more than 900 estates occupy 1,827 hectares of land in 11 different communes.

What is more, Nebbiolo is, in d’Agata’s words, ‘one of the greatest translaters of soil’, meaning that plots barely 30 metres apart can give very different wine styles.

These are deceptive wines – often relatively pale and very floral, but with the structure and power to last for decades. ‘You should never, ever, drink a black Barolo,’ d’Agata explained to the masterclass audience. ‘It’s impossible. It’s ruby red and looks prematurely aged – but it isn’t.’

Dominant flavours ranged from roses and violets to sour cherry and more developed, truffly and gamey notes – reflected in the selection of 12 wines from six different communes.

There were styles to suit every palate, from the perfumed, velvety Barolo Rocche 2001 (Renato Ratti), sourced from La Morra; to the smoky, structured depth of Massolino’s Vigna Rionda 2001, from Serralunga d’Alba.

Best panel comment: Ian d’Agata on tasting Paolo Scavino’s Barolo Bric del Fiasc 2001 (Castiglione Falletto): ‘When I taste a wine like that, I don’t know about you, but I feel the need to fill up the bath and go snorkelling.’

Hot topic: The huge variation in soils and conditions within the Barolo appellation – and its reflection in the style and character of the wines.

The area’s 11 villages are located in two main valleys: in the west, more clay soils give softer, fruitier and faster-maturing wines, while the east’s limestone produces wines with a more rigid structure and longevity.

But these are generalisations – Novello is in the west, but has soils more typical of the east, while Cannubi has a mix of both soil types.

TASTING NOTES - by Richard Woodard

Renato Rocchi – Barolo Rocche 2001 (La Morra):

Reputedly from one of the five best vineyards in Barolo, this has an explosively perfumed, intense nose of red cherry and classic rose. The tannins are smooth and the palate very fine – restrained, supple and with persistent red fruit and just a hint of spearmint. Fresh and beguiling.

Elvio Cogno – Barolo Ravera 2001 (Novello):

Novello is in Barolo’s western half, but has soils more typical of the east, giving a noticeably bigger, meatier nose, albeit with that floral element still in place. It’s quite robust and even a little austere, with the merest edge of bitter black chocolate – but still has freshness to spare.

Chiarlo – Barolo Cannubi 2001 (Barolo):

Cannubi’s varied plots embody the best of Barolo’s two main soil types, giving wines that impress even in rainy years. This has a real whiff of the farmyard about it, with those ever-present flowers concealed underneath a truffly, almost manurey bouquet. Smooth and broad on the palate, the fruit is appealing and the tannins nicely integrated. Very polished.

Vajra – Barolo Bricce delle Viole 2001 (Barolo):

From the ‘hillside of the violets’, this vineyard is at 400m and is one of the last to be harvested in the Barolo commune. That’s reflected in the hugely perfumed violet and rosewater nose, following through with fruit and flowers in perfect harmony on the palate. Pure, ethereal, linear and poised, with an endless finish. Flown in from Australia especially for the tasting, and worth every air mile.

Damilano – Barolo Liste 2001 (Barolo):

Noticeably darker than the Vajra, this is fuller and riper, edging from sweet cherry into plum. Structured and rich with more evident tannins, it shows perhaps a little more power than finesse, but has superb length.

Cavallotto F.ill – Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe 2001 (Castiglione Falletto):

As a Riserva, this spends a year more in oak – although you’d struggle to notice that, unless it’s suggested by the appealing hints of seasoned leather and spice on the palate. This is really fleshy and fruity, all sour cherry and redcurrant, but undercut by truffly notes and a decent backbone. Fine tannins, punchy acidity – it’s a traditional wine and all the better for it.

Paolo Scavino – Barolo Bric del Fiasc 2001 (Castiglione Falletto):

A favourite of Ian d’Agata’s, this was a little tight on the nose, needing some work in the glass before revealing sweet, supple red fruits – wild strawberry to the fore. Truffles coming through too, along with quite pronounced but fine tannins, with some spice and richer fruit on the finish. A touch shy, but lots going on and excellent balance.

Ceretto – Barolo Bricco Rocche 2001 (Castiglione Falletto):

Confusingly, part of a range of Bricco Rocche wines, but actually sourced from the Bricco Rocche vineyard too. Once you’ve got your head around that, enjoy the perfumed warmth of sour cherry, raspberry and musk, then the redcurrant-scented palate with biting acidity and deceptive structure. Some not-quite hidden depths here, with tobacco leaf and an earthy character, but still a lightness of touch.

Parusso – Barolo Bussia 2001 (Monforte d’Alba):

With a reputation for producing big, beefy, long-lived wines, this starts off perfumed and rosy, before the brooding, tarry, licorice-edged fruit kicks in. The broad and creamy palate offers hints of toffee and mocha and a little sweet mint. Solid fare.

Poderi Aldo Conterno – Barolo Cicala 2001 (Monforte d’Alba):

Again the mint shows up here, supplemented by tight-knit cherry fruit and rose. The palate is quite precise, showing real purity of fruit but also some hints of mushroom and leaf. Velvety-smooth, deceptively powerful and very, very long.

Pio Cesare – Barolo Ornato 2001 (Serralunga d’Alba):

There’s a bit more muscle here: smoky, deep fruit alongside classic rose/violet lightness. Then earthy and quite concentrated, with the powerful tannins nicely tucked in. Rich and full in style, with excellent length.

Massolino Vigna Rionda Barolo – Vigna Rionda 2001 (Serralunga d’Alba):

The greatest vineyard in Barolo? This has a bit of everything that has gone before: warm red fruits, rose and a slight smoked tea/tobacco character. The structure is tight and poised, the complexity substantial and the purity of youthful fruit beyond reproach. Nor does the finish disappoint – amazingly fresh, mineral-edged, leaving the palate clean but never lacking in persistence.