Seems strange now, but I used to be daunted by Barolo: that authoritative label bearing down on you from a high shelf, like a hilltop fortress. I suppose the price tag – not astronomical in the UK, but enough to intimidate a scavenging journo – played a part.
In reality, the region is extremely accessible. I’ll be writing about some of the fantastic people and wines I came across on my recent visit, but first want to put together a basic guide. Though sketchy – especially relating to prices – I hope it’ll persuade some to discover the region for themselves.
Barolo is a village just over an hour’s drive south of Turin or 15km south of Alba, in the region of Piedmont in northern Italy. It’s also a DOCG appellation for wines made from Nebbiolo grapes sourced within the immediate vicinity of Barolo itself, including famous villages such as La Morra, Castiglione Falleto, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba. These villages are an easy 10-minute drive away. It’s a fabulously picturesque area, strewn with steep vineyards and hilltop castles.
For my money, it’s agriturismo all the way. These local farm stays are often well situated, give good guidance on food and wine and offer great value, starting at about €45 a single and €55 a double. I stayed at – and heartily recommend – Gioco dell’Oca, 2km from Barolo, and Il Quarto Stato, in the heart of the village. Friends stayed at Casa Svizzera a couple of doors down. Another one that caught my eye was Le Viole, but there’s nothing to stop you staying in La Morra or Serralunga. For a more complete listing go to Agriturismo.It
The villages are small but have quite a few options. You may need to book on Friday and Saturday night, especially in Barolo. My favourite in Barolo was La Cantinetta, while L’Osteria del Vignaoiolo in La Morra was sensational. Value across the board is good – primi piatti (pasta ribbons with porcini mushrooms or ravioli with butter and sage, say) start around €9, and secondi piatti might start at €12. As you’d expect, the wine lists are superb and the mark-ups thankfully modest – say, €20-€25 for a lovely drop of Nebbiolo. For Barolo you’re probably looking at more like €40+. There are also by-the-glass options – Dolcetto and Barbera from €3.50, Nebbiolo from €4 and Barolo from €8.
It’s common for wineries to close the doors for a couple of hours for lunch. In any case, it’s best to email or ring ahead to make sure it’s OK to visit. You’ll often find the ensuing welcome embarrassingly warm. Many will show you round the winery and chances are there’s unlikely to be any hard sell attached to your tasting. For those meaning to buy, price lists are not prominently displayed, so here’s an idea of what you might be in for: Dolcetto d’Alba from €6, Barbera d’Alba from €7-8 basic Nebbiolo from €10-12, Barolo from €25-€30 (climbing much higher for single-vineyard wines from best sites and producers).
This is red territory. Some producers have a token international white in their stable – we tried a good Chardonnay and Riesling – or else a white from further afield in Piedmont, such as a Gavi, Arneis or Moscato d’Asti. But really it’s all about these varieties:
Nebbiolo: High in tannin and acidity, low in colour, with typical aromas of roses, tar, red fruits from strawberry to plum, and liquorice. Producers may offer a Langhe Nebbiolo or Nebbiolo d’Alba, often approachable, ready to be drunk young and spectacular value. Barolo is the cream of the crop, produced from a designated area and released after at least three years (minimum 18 months in wood). It has the potential to change your life and, with age, do things you can’t even imagine.
Barbera: High in colour and acid, low in tannin. Varies in quality but can be extremely juicy, lively and fresh and food friendly. Some producers also make a Superiore version, a little more complex, ready to drink a little later, perhaps with some oak, perhaps able to age well over an extended period.
Dolcetto: Low-acid grape producing early-drinking wines that are fragrant, soft, round and juicy. Typical aromas of cherries and plums, liquorice and almonds. As one winemaker quipped of this and Barbera: “They’re family wines. You can drink them all day.”
Freisa: A slightly weird and much-maligned local grape, which you can read about on the blogpost, In Praise Of Freisa.
For more information about wineries, the Barolo di Barolo website is good for producers in the village itself, but you’d be missing out on lots of other great Barolo makers on your doorstep. Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion has good recommendations, including contact details. Bear in mind, too, that Barbaresco has Nebbiolo to rival these, and is just a few miles up the road…