Beautiful, romantic, and historic, Italy is the site of much lore and, alas, many historical tragedies. Pompeii is a glaring example of such an historical tragedy, and of course the tragic play Romeo & Juliet is known by all – ok maybe this one is fiction (though you can visit Juliet’s balcony at an actual home in Verona?). A modern-day tragedy however – and one not known to many – is the tragedy of the wines of Barolo.
The tragedy lies not in the state of affairs (thriving) or the quality of the wines (mostly amazing), but rather with the recognition and availability of these wonderful wines in Michigan – both on wine lists and retailers’ shelves. Note that when referring to Barolo, we take the liberty of including Barbaresco, Barolo’s slightly less known neighbor, which can make equally regal wines and that is equally under-represented and underappreciated. Locally, there might be a bit of resentment lumping these two regal and competitive wines together, but for the purposes of this appeal, the Wine Geek makes no apologies.
To clarify, Barolo (and Barbaresco) is the name of a town in Piedmont which lends its name to the wines produced there and in neighboring towns, from Nebbiolo vines planted in the best sites. Though locally-produced Barbera and Dolcetto can also be delicious, it is Nebbiolo that rules. There is a reason Barolo was historically referred to as “The King of Wines, The Wine of Kings”. Indeed, there is a strong link between the development of Barolo as a wine and Italy as a nation.
A recent trip to Piedmont, where the Wine Geek was immersed in Barolo and Barbarescos of all types and styles, kept the travelers begging the question: ‘Why don’t we sell more of these?!’. For the uninitiated – and apparently there are many of you – Barolo is stereotyped as a big, brawny, long-lived wine. But this is not really accurate. Barolo can be big, indeed the tannins can run high, but the best examples have the fat to match, and bracing acidity. Hence they are beautifully balanced, and reward ageing better than all but a handful of wines. Note that the color of the wines throws off some folks. The thin skinned Nebbiolo doesn’t provide much color, compared to say, Cabernet, but provides everything else you find in great wine. The wines are enticingly aromatic, classically showing notes of tar and roses that can be haunting; and the palate is usually rich yet fresh (that vibrant acidity). Baroli rarely exceed 14% alcohol, which naturally adds to their food affinity; they are superb at the table. One note for perspective: there are just under 50,000 planted acres in Napa; in Barolo there are only 4,285!
Like many reading this, we love Cabernet Sauvignon. We have an amazing book chock-full of them. Likewise the wine lists and shelves of our customers are packed with dozens and dozens of offerings. But it would not be a sacrilege to turn a bit of that space into some new offerings of the classic, unique, singular wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. It will be a romance that rivals Romeo and Juliet’s.