The unending acerbic debates about remaining and no-deal Brexit, has me reaching for the drinks cupboard. The same type of confrontational politics took place in the 1970’s in the Piedmont province of Northern Italy. The most notable and ‘Burgundian’ styled wines from the Barolo region south of Alba, gain the new globally recognised DOCG status. Then disputes begin to arise between the traditionalists and the modernists or the Tradizionalisti versus the Modernisti. (Since becoming hooked on the TV series Montalbano I can’t resist the mellifluent tones of Italian.) A straight forward argument developed into the “Barolo Wars”. Barolo wines had a problem.
The Nebbiolo grape variety has strong tannins but a weak colour and the traditional way of making Barolo accepted by kings of Piedmont and indeed the only declared king of united Italy, Victor Emmanuel II who invested buckets of money in the place, was to enrich the colour by lengthy extraction. However, a bit like making tea, it’s very easy to stew things up. So to calm down the high tannin levels extracted from the skins, seeds and stalks they matured the wines in cask for long periods even up to ten years. Now the common sense approach is to go light on the extraction; make Barolo more fruity, less tannic and more accessible and the modern commercially aware farmers liked this approach. But the ‘stick-in-the-muds’ believed their extracted tannic wines were a hallmark, non-negotiable and anything else was close to sacrilege. After a lot of shouting, the Modernisti were on the unstoppable side of progress and more easily marketable Barolo was made and eventually some has ended up on our supermarket shelves.
I have tried three locally available Barolos and come up with a recommendation that will not break the bank and hopefully leave you with the true taste of Barolo, without spending over £50 – because it’s Barolo? My choices this month are three of the modern styles of Barolo, a 2014 Terre da Vino Barolo from Waitrose at £13.99, a 2013 Peironte Barolo from M&S at £18 and a 2011 Serre Alta Barolo Riserva (from the above Terre da Vino co-operative) available from Sainsburys at £24. All three were great to taste with aromas of dark cherry, plums, strawberries, with herbal nuances, and a touch of medicinal notes. The Terre da Vino had lovely fruit with sandlewood hints from the well-integrated oak and silky tannins, whereas the Peironte was more fragrant with violets and included with the fruit, hints of white chocolate, but if you can afford it I’d go for the Serre Alta Riserva. You will be rewarded with rich complex fruits, enticing oak influence including leather and liquorice, and a wonderful long finish, what’s more the Barolo hallmark is pronounced – ‘tar and roses’! Barolo is a great wine region making very drinkable dry red wines, great with rich food and pasta dishes, and enjoyable alone. The brand has manged to remain top quality and approachable without the exclusiveness of Bordeaux and Burgundy. No ‘argy bargy’ now in the vineyards, just pour a glass and relax – anyone for Montalbano?
Terre da Vino, Italy
Clear Wine Co. Founder, shares his latest wine-based musings and expertise to get your taste buds tingling.