Barolo, the wine of kings

Col-head-ZalkinBarolo is called the king of wines and the wine of kings. In the glass, it is a luminous, delicate ruby. It is aromatic and elegant, with delicate notes of wild roses and mint, underscored by leather and powerful tannins.

It is prized by collectors and analyzed by obsessive fans. Made from the Nebbiolo grape, Barolo is grown in the Barolo region of Piedmont, in Italy. Piedmont is located in the north, on the border with France, and is considered by many to be Italy’s answer to Burgundy. Tourism there is driven almost exclusively by regional food and wine, and the wines are hailed as some of the best that Italy has to offer.

Nebbiolo is a finicky, thin-skinned, grape that is the first to bloom in the spring and the last to ripen in the fall, and is therefore subject to all the unpredictability of three seasons of weather.

In the past, Barolos have needed extended aging to soften their powerful tannins. Old style Barolos spend several weeks in contact with the skins, yielding a wine that can be harsh when young but has the structure to age beautifully. Before release, it is aged in large casks that impart little oak flavor.

Barolo wines are required by law to be aged for two years in barrels, and one in the bottle, but many of these old-style producers will age their wines for far longer before releasing them to the public. The drawback is that some old-style Barolos can take so long to soften that all the sweetness is gone by the time the tannins are ready.

In the 80s, some producers wondered whether they could stay relevant making wines that needed up to 10 years in the cellar before they would be ready to drink. They pioneered a new style of winemaking, creating Barolos that are ready very soon after they are released to market. New-style Barolos spend only days in contact with the powerfully tannic skins, then age in smaller French barrels that add a vanilla note and soften the wine further. New-style Barolos still age exceptionally well, but they are ready to drink much sooner and are not meant to be cellared for decades.

Producers of old-style Barolos complain that the use of new oak barrels overwhelms some of the delicate aromas. But the market has increasingly shifted toward consumers looking for a wine they can enjoy shortly after purchase, rather than those with the space and the means to lay down bottles for many years.

Barolos pair with powerful, weighty foods like smoked game, steak tartare, meats, ripe cheese, and mushroom risotto, anything rich, fatty or high in protein. Barolo is still, by and large, a wine to wait on. Even new-style Barolos can usually benefit from a few years of aging.

So if you’re looking for something to drink with dinner tonight, this may not be your best bet, but if you want something to lay down or as a gift that can be held and enjoyed long after it is given, Barolo is a fantastic choice.

Here are a few featured Barolo wines for your enjoyment:

• Vietti Barolo Castiglione 2009. Polished and radiant. Black fruit, licorice, leather, and a hint of tar offer complexity and sweetness. An excellent year.

• Silvio Grasso, Barolo Bricco Luciana 2010. Complex and aromatic, with red currant, oak, violet, and dried berries. This wine will need time to come into its full potential. From an estate committed to natural agriculture.

• Massolino Barolo 2010. A delightful spectrum of perfumes, spicy and sweet, floral and fruity. A full-bodied wine, with classic structure.

• G.D. Vajra di Aldo Barolo 2010. Juicy and fruit driven, with bright herbal notes and a pleasing minerality. A vibrant wine with a pleasing tannic backbone.

• Fontanafredda Barolo di Serralunga d’Alba 2010. Intense nose of vanilla, spice and rose petals. Velvety and balanced, with a lengthy finish. Young and succulent, but will age beautifully.

• Elio Altare Barolo La Morra 2009. Dark plums and complex spices, with grounding earthiness and pleasing acidity. One of the pioneers of new-style barolo, this wine is great to drink now but will get even better with age.

• Boroli Barolo 2008. An excellent entry level barolo. Glittering garnet color, with notes of crushed flowers, leather and tobacco, underscored by mature red fruits.

You can find all of these delightful Barolo wines for purchase at our store, Old Greenwich Fine Wines & Cheese, located at 195 Sound Beach Avenue, Old Greenwich, or visit our website, Ogfinewines.com, or call 203-990-3030 to place an order. When you stop in, we invite you to taste a number of our favorite wines while we help you find the right bottle for your palate.

Robert Zalkin is the owner of Old Greenwich Fine Wines & Cheese at 195 Sound Beach Avenue. His column is available weekly at Greenwich-post.com.

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