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Barolo: The glory days

1978 was the one vintage that really put Barolo on the map. Since then there have been enormous changes in both vineyard and cellar, as well as global warming. So has this changed the intrinsic character of the wines? Tom Maresca reports...

Barolo: Modern vs traditional

In Barolo-speak, the terms ‘modern style’ and ‘traditional style’ have fairly precise meanings, largely with reference to what is done to the grapes once they reach the cellar.

In terms of the care of the grapes in the field, almost everyone in Piedmont is a modernist, and there is a broad consensus about density of plantings, spacing of the vines, trellis systems, green harvest to reduce yield and concentrate the fruit and, increasingly, the use of organic and/or biodynamic techniques.

Once the grapes reach the cellar, differences begin. Modernists tend to give them shorter macerations (in many cases, for only a week), occasionally ferment them in and definitely age them in French barriques – a portion new and often strongly toasted. The fermenting grapes are also frequently pumped over to submerge their cap.

Traditionalists on the other hand give their grapes longer – often much longer – macerations: a month is probably average, and in certain vintages maceration may be prolonged for almost two months. There is less pumping over or disturbing of the cap, and usually not a barrique in sight. Macerations may take place in stainless steel or in large vats – the traditional botti – of Slavonian oak, and ageing will certainly happen in such botti.

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