Italian Wine: Unraveling the B’s: Barolo

January 11, 2010

It’s January 6. Every month, on the sixes, Mr. Pencil and I hold a small festival in our house. It’s just us two, but it’s worth attending. The 6th is the monthly anniversary of our nuptials, and to celebrate as the months tick by, we each buy each other a bottle of wine.

This sounds simple, perhaps dull, even, but it has a satisfying, rounded purpose: We bring two bottles of cellar-worthy wine into the house, and then we, together, choose a wine from the cellar to drink. Net increase: one. Bonus: It gives us a “reason” to drink our cellared wines as they come of age.

We call this our mensiversary, from the Latin. Aileen has determined that this word is not acceptable because of its phonetic similarity to something else cyclical and non-gustatory in nature.

Today I bought David his wine: a Barolo.

This sticks to the theme of the wine-year: Learning about Italian wine. I talked to Travis, owner of our neighborhood wine store, Garrison’s Fine Wines. I told him I needed teaching. Start me with the basics, I said. Help me fix the problem I have with the all of the things that start with B.

Barolo: What it Is
What is it? It’s a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), that is, an official location, like a French appellation, where wine is made. It’s about 5 miles wide at its widest point.
Where is it? Barolo is located within Piedmont (Piemonte), in the Cuneo province of Italy. See the map below to see where Piemonte is.
What grape? Nebbiolo (Red). The word Nebbiolo is attributed, perhaps apocryphally, to the Piemontese word nebbia, which means “fog.” Nebbiolo is the famous grape of Piemonte, but well-loved as it may be, it only amounts to 3% of the wine from the region. It’s notoriously tricksy and fickle, ripening late and prone to drunken staggers in quality. Sensitive, one might say.
What’s it like? Typical of other wines made from Nebbiolo, traditional Barolo in its youth tends to have a style that is not terrifically approachable. Tannic and tightly wound, they can take upwards of a decade to develop a more come-hither attitude. They exude a quintessential Italian-ness, dusty and dry, bright and sprightly-sharp when young, mysterious and classic when mature. Terms that get bandied around when people talk about Barolo, and, more broadly, Nebbiolo, include tar, rose and paler red fruits (when young); truffle, earth, and general oomph (when older).

Map of Piemonte in Italy

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