Piedmont, in the northwest corner of Italy, is as renowned for its food as its wines. The town of Bra is home to the Slow Food movement, while arguably the most famous truffle market in the world can be found in historic Alba. Both espresso and vermouth lay claim to having been invented in the region’s capital, Torino.
But here, the wine should really take centre stage, and fittingly the region’s most famous export – Barolo – is known as the ‘king of wines’.
Nebbiolo in Piedmont commonly serves up plenty of acidity – a feature preserved in the grapes by the cool morning mists that roll over the hillsides of Monforte – which provides freshness to these wines and balances the weight of tannin and fruit. As discussed in our piece on wines for the Christmas table, acidity is your friend in these situations.
Alongside red fruit flavours, classic Barolo characteristics can include violet, rose, liquorice and tar, depending on a wine’s stage of development.
The mature Barolos listed below range from the ‘very umami’ 1961 Riserva from Borgogno, to the ‘fine-boned, sinewy’ 2010 Vigna Elena Ravera from Elvio Cogno.
Mature Barolo for Christmas:
This selection of mature Barolos, tasted by Decanter’s experts, is arranged by vintage.
Barolo and food
Barolo’s tannic structure can be overpowering when young, but with time the tannins begin to integrate and soften.
Barolo works well with red meats and game, but be careful not to drown out older wines with strongly flavoured sauces. It’s also a fitting match for the region’s truffles.
The high acidity of Nebbiolo enables Barolo to cut through oily, fatty and salty ingredients, and reach equilibrium with high acidity foods such as tomato.
Barolo Crus: Brief guide
The vast majority of Barolo is produced in the five main communes: Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba.
In addition, each of these communes has several vineyard crus, which are notable for their individual characteristics – much like a grand or premier cru Burgundy. Both Barolo and Burgundy can be defined by their patchwork of communes, crus, and family-owned domaines.
There are strict laws designed to maintain the quality of Barolo. Every wine labelled as Barolo must be made from 100% Nebbiolo, and must be aged for at least 38 months before release – including a minimum of 18 months in oak. This increases to a minimum of 62 months if it’s labelled as a Barolo Riserva, with at least 18 of those months in oak.
See also: The Cru-isation of Barolo