As I continue to drink more and more Barolo (not sure what took me so long), I have been diving deeper into the study of the region’s vineyards. It seems, from where I sit, that the single vineyards of Barolo don’t have as much attention paid to them as they deserve.
Burgundy and Germany have long been the standard bearers for the differentiation of growing sites, with centuries of viticultural history (and monks) on their side. While Piemonte as a growing region has a long history as well, the phenomena of single vineyard bottlings is very recent. It is only with the rise of estate bottling that we began to routinely see individual vineyard bottlings in the 1980’s.
Winemakers in Barolo have always recognized that certain vineyard sites produce particularly excellent wine. The negociants who dominated the winemaking scene in Barolo up until the 1960’s were always willing to pay higher prices for the grapes from the best sites. These sites are immediately recognizable to the Barolo lover: Cannubi and Brunate in Barolo; Rocche and Cerequio in La Morra; Villero and Monprivato in Castiglione Falletto; Bussia and Ginestra in Monforte d’Alba; Falletto and Vigna Rionda in Serralunga d’Alba. Though far from a complete list of great Barolo vineyards, the aforementioned vineyards are the most well-known among consumers.*
While there is no formal classification or DOC governing individual vineyard sites, there has been a ‘semi-formal’ push to have vineyards defined in a legal sense. There is now a list called the Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive (loosely translated to Additional Geographical Definitions) that includes 166 vineyards. Each commune is responsible for defining the sites within their borders, so the system is not perfect. Langhe Consorzio has described the MGA as such: “The idea behind this list is not to judge the excellence of each cru but rather to provide the wine world with a means to understand the names of localities mentioned on wine labels. Obviously, major problems and various territorial disputes had to be overcome in order to arrive at the definitive version…” Let’s call it a work in progress.
We recently conducted a tasting at HDH to call some attention to the single vineyards of Barolo: 3 different single vineyard wines from Luigi Pira, all from the 2000 vintage. The tasting focused on vineyard differences, with the factors of vintage and producer being constant.
After tasting the wines, their differences were perfectly clear and absolutely indicative of their origins in Serralunga d’Alba. The tasting served as a great reminder of the nuance and complexity that can be found in this incredible region:
- 2000 Luigi Pira Barolo Vinga Marenca: By far the most ‘solid’ of a very solid trio. Full bodied, four square fruit just beginning to turn to secondary flavors. Clear notes of tobacco and leather. Heaps of broad, leathery tannins persisted in the wine. Powerful and rich. A beast in a good way.
- 2000 Luigi Pira Barolo Vinga Margheria: At the beginning, the wine was very similar to the Marenca – broad, powerful and full of brooding tannins. With air the wine became more elegant, gaining a bit of lift that the Marenca lacked. Had a nice balance of red and black fruits. Elegance and power. Bravo!
- 2000 Luigi Pira Barolo Vigna Rionda: Ridiculous aromatics! Violet, leather, rose petal and fresh fruit were intoxicating. Smelling the wine alone would be more than satisfying. On the palate the aromatics carried through to the flavors; the tannins are the finest of the trio-elegantly framing the sweet pure black cherry and lightly secondary flavors. Very long finish. Superb. Clearly the superior wine, from a superior vineyard.
The best way to discover the unique terroir of this celebrated region is to taste wines from individual vineyard sites side by side. Though the best of Barolo can be difficult to find, HDH retail has over 200 individual bottlings available ranging in price from $35 – $900 a bottle. I’d highly recommend picking up a few bottles for your own side by side vineyard tasting today.
*For an excellent source for information on the vineyards of Barolo, Antonio Galloni has created an interactive map on his website Vinoumedia.com. The map is loosely based on the Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive, with his own professional opinions fleshing out a quality hierarchy. The maps can be found here: http://vinousmedia.com/articles/vineyard-maps-feb-2014
In this HDH Blog series, Juicy Details, Senior Consignment Operations Associate, David Larson, delves deeper into the world of wine. Whether he’s discussing soil types of specific vineyards, laws within different appellations, or the weather of a certain region, these fascinating tidbits of knowledge help lift the veil on fine and rare wines and reveal what sets the best wines apart from the rest.