Sommelier Greogry Alonzo: Is There Such a Thing as a Cheap Barolo?
Literally at the foothills of the Alps, Piedmont abounds with vineyards producing Italy’s finest wine. A sumptuous and noble wine that has been heralded as the “the wine of kings, the king of wines.” Of course, I am speaking of Barolo.
Today, I am with my friend and fellow sommelier, Serena Dutto. We are visiting one of Piedmont’s loveliest villages, La Morra. Mornings in autumn are my favorite time to traverse the rolling hills that are striated with truly majestic vineyards. The region devotes roughly 3000 acres, which is dominated by Piedmont’s black grape, Nebbiolo. The varietal derives it’s name from the thick morning fog, the Nebbia.
“Gregorio,” Serena called for my attention. “Before we can discuss any inexpensive Barolo, I think our readers need to know just what makes Barolo so expensive.”
“But of course,” I nodded in agreement.
The Nebbiolo grape has distinct qualities that it brings to Barolo and produces wines at typically 14-15 % alcohol. The grape has complex flavors and bitter tannins. It also requires an exceptionally long growing season. For the grapes to ripen to their fullest, sunshine is of vital importance. To add to the difficulty in cultivating the Nebbiolo grape is, location, location, location. The vineyard must catch as much sunlight as possible. This has a direct bearing on the quality of the wine.
“Very true,” Serena smiled giving a nod of approval. “This is why bottles of Barolo are often labeled bricco, sori, and costa,” she paused lightly. “This indicates hilltop, hillside, and sun-catching potential.”
“Producing the best Barolos is a complex combination of of climate, soil, farming methods, choice of grapes, and the process of maturing,” I paused to collect my thoughts. “In the past Barolos were rich on tannin. So much so that it could take up to 10 years for the wine to soften and be ready for the most discerning of palates.”
“Quite true,” Serena added. “Fermenting wines sat on skins for at least three weeks extracting huge amounts of tannins. From there, they were aged in large wooden casks for years.”
“Today, in an attempt to appeal to international tastes, which prefer fruitier, early drinking wine styles, several vintners have cut fermentation times to ten days.”
“They also prefer to age wines in new French oak barriques,” Serena added.
“Ah, the Barolo Wars,” I flashed Serena a wide beaming smile. “The controversy abounds between the traditionalists and modernists.”
“Yes,” Serena grinned. “Traditionalist complain that this style of Barolo tastes more of new oak than wine.”
At length we returned to our hosts’ home. From the veranda of the Gagliasso family home, I peered out at the countryside. La Morra is roughly 1700 feet above sea level and the view is breathless. With the Alps as a majestic backdrop, the Gagliasso’s have nurtured, with the utmost of love and care, a winery of rare beauty and quality wines.
We were greeted by our host Luca Gagliasso. After the customary pleasantries, we took our seats at a table that had been filled with a myriad of fruits, nuts, and succulent meats.
“Gregorio my friend,” Luca flashed me a wide beaming grin. “Are you ready to drink some Barolo?” He then presented me with one of my favorites from the Gagliasso vintages.
“Ah, the 2004. You remembered how much I enjoy the wines from your Roche dell Annuziata vineyard,” I said gleefully.
Luca’s grandfather began the family business some 50 years ago. However, it was Luca’s father, Mario, who was the innovator behind the implementation of modern techniques and producing quality wines at a value.
“What I like most about the 2004 vintages is their elegance and finesse,” toasting both Serena and Luca. “Cin cin.”
Our 2004 Roche dell Annuziata is made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes from 50 year old vineyards. On the eye, our wine had a lovely black almandine coloring to it which paled towards orange around the rim. The bouquet was fairly rich with a scent of pleasing spice, rosa canina, and some underlying fruit. There is quite a bit going on and nice depth. On the palate, the wine is fairly rich with clean berry fruit supported by deft cherry acidity and tannins that are warm and have become more velvety with age. The finish was clean, somewhat tart, and with mineral accents. Overall this is a lovely Barolo that pairs quite well with succulent meats.
“My friend, I am truly pleased that you enjoy this wine. We aged it for 18 months in French oak barrels, then another 12 months in large barrels. Lastly, 12 months in the bottle,” Luca spoke with great pride.
“And the maceration period?” Serena queried.
“15 days with 4 daily remontages,” Luca shared a wide beaming smile.
“And at only $60 per bottle, a fantastic value,” I applauded our host.
“Gregorio, did you know that our 2005 Barolo Roche dell Annuziata received a score of 91 points from Wine Spectator?” Luca clearly displayed his pride.
“I have never tried the 2005,” Serena admitted.
“We will definitely try this vintage our next visit,” I reached over and patted Luca on the hand.
“Nonsense, and I won’t hear of it. You will both be our guests for dinner,” Luca’s tone was final.
Seeing Serena’s face brighten into a smile, I nodded in approval as I toasted our host. “My friend, we are at your complete disposal.”
The next day, Serena and I found ourselves at a local cafe, enjoying an espresso. “Are you ready to make our Barolo list?”
Serena nodded. “I think our readers now have a fair idea of what makes a good Barolo.
They will definitely have fun tasting some of the values we will recommend.”
Barolo $25-$50 price range
1. 2005 Giovanni Viberti Barolo Buon Padre-An elegant wine with a gorgeous nose and a dry youthful finish.
2. 2006 Vietti Barolo Castigllone-This is a young wine, but with a little air, it showed the darker and richer tones of Nebbiolo.
3. 2006 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe-There were no overwhelming tannins present. Definitely not a wine for aging. It was meant to be drunk now. A very affordable daily drinker.
4. 2006 Francesco Rinaldi & Figli Barolo Cannubbio-This classic Barolo is very “old school.” Plenty of stiff tannins and earthy fruit.
5. 2006 Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero-This is an enticing wine. Traditional in style, it is a delicate wine that is wrapped around a firm spine.
We hope you enjoy your journey through the world of Barolo. For me, this is my wine. Barolo is truly the “king of wines.”Just remember that there are some cheap wines on the market. Barolo fiends that have been indifferently fermented. However, if you start with the 6 wines we mentioned, you will be on the path to discovering what I consider the finest wine in the world.
“You are probably wondering how was the 2005 Gagliasso Roche dell Annuziata … That my friends is another story …