At the recent Barolo & Barbaresco World Opening event in Los Angeles, the first order of business was to attend a meet-and-greet with other journalists and the principal players in town to get acquainted with each other a bit before diving headlong into tasting and learning more about the regions. Upon meeting a fellow writer for the first time, I asked a question: “So – what’s your relationship with Barolo and Barbaresco?” Her answer was something to the effect of, “We’ve been introduced, maybe we’re even good friends, but I’m looking to go a little deeper.” It occurred to me that I would have answered in just the same way. While I’ve tasted wines from the region sporadically over the years, I’m certainly no expert. This is a great mindset from which to grow any relationship – do a lot of listening and experiencing (and get a translation if necessary) and give yourself a chance to find out if you’re made for each other.
As with getting to know anyone, learning their history is part of deepening the relationship, so let’s start there. Both Barolo and Barbaresco were first designated as DOC’s (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, or in domestic speak, appellation) in 1966, and became DOCG’s (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or simply stated, top shelf appellation) in 1980 – the first two areas to receive the new designation. Each region (since 2010) has several recognized MGA’s. MGA stands for Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive, which literally translates as “additional geographic mentions,” which means a particular area within the DOCG that is worthy of demarcation on a bottle label due to specific factors of terroir – soil type, slope angle or orientation, elevation, etc. Barolo now lists 170 MGA’s with more in the pipeline, and Barbaresco lists 48 to date.
Let’s compare this to Sonoma County to further focus on what the MGA system is defining. Sonoma County has 18 appellations within its boundaries, one of which is Russian River Valley, which has a total 96,000 acres, 15,000 of which are under vine. Within Russian River Valley, the Green Valley of Russian River Valley sub-appellation is 19,000 acres in area, with 3600 acres under vine. That 3600 acres is home to around 100 individual vineyards. So, you could have a wine labeled like this: “2018 Winery X Pinot Noir, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, Gunsalas Vineyard,” which would tell you (after a little digging) that the fruit for the bottle in your hand came from a ten acre plot on a northwest facing slope of Sebastopol loam and Goldridge sandy loam soil types.
Barolo DOCG covers just under 50,000 acres, with about 10,000 acres under vine, about half of which are Barolo-specific (as opposed to other vine varieties such as Barbera or Dolcetto). Within that acreage are 11 townships, and each township includes anywhere from 1 to 39 MGA’s at present. Barbaresco, which is roughly half the size of Barolo, is set up in similar fashion, with 4 townships and 48 MGA’s some of which cross township boundaries.
So, you might see a label like this one:
Caschina Chicco is the producer, Rocche di Castelletto is the MGA, and a glance at the back label lets you know that the wine comes from the Monforte d’Alba township (this particular MGA straddles the border between Monforte d’Alba and Castiglione Falletto townships), on a southeast facing slope at around 330 meters of elevation.
It’s interesting to note that although the MGA’s didn’t come into usage until 2010, the first bottle to be labeled with a vineyard name was from the 1961 vintage. It seems that vintners were already aware at that point that specific microclimates existed and were able to produce nuance outside the normal varietal aromatics and flavor profiles. Getting agreement from Consorzio members and jumping through the legal hoops to make things official evidently takes more than a little time.
Now that we’ve got a little history and context, it’s time to see what our new friend is up to now. Barolo & Barbaresco World Opening introduced the 2018 Barolo vintage and the 2019 Barbaresco vintage (Barolo is held a year longer per the DOCG rules), and I got to sample a subset of those wines at a sit-down tasting. Several panels of media members were tasked with tasting a different subset from the total offered, and following that we were able to taste any wines of our own choosing from the full set.
There were plenty of gems on both sides. While I couldn’t taste them all, here are first impressions of some of my favorites, presented in the order tasted. MGA names appear in quotation marks, sometimes including a specific plot within the MGA:
Abrigo Giovanni, Barolo “Ravera” 2018
Lively cherry fruit with notes of rose, dry field and brown spice. Aromas translate to flavors well, with firm acidity and a dry, earthy finish. A touch of oak astringency is evident. 90
Anselma Famiglia, Barolo “Bussia Vigna Pianpolvere” 2018
Tea, green pepper and wildflower aromas are layered and well folded and deliver a pepper forward palate with firm tannins. The structure is covering the fruit a bit at present, but it’s lurking, waiting for release. 91
Ascheri, Barolo 2018
A classic nose, with rich cherry, damp earth minerality (clay) roses, underbrush and brown spice. The palate is already showing good integration and retro nasal floral notes. The finish is extremely long, with full delivery of flavors promised by the nose - hold long term or decant well near term. 95
Bosco Agostino, Barolo “La Serra” 2018
Quite deep in color, the nose equals with depth of its own, with black cherry, moderate oak toast, powder and spice. Full throttle dry style palate is long on tart cherry, dried herbs and firm chalky tannins that bode well for a long life. A touch of heat shows but doesn’t intrude. 93
Cascina Adelaide Barolo “Cannubi” 2018
Cherry and cola aromas start things off, with a back line of powder and rose hips. This palate is medium to full bodied, with a rich presentation of cherry fruit, soft herbs and a touch of rhubarb. Though the structure is quite sturdy, its still approachable at present and will show best with a marbled steak or a fatty fish dish. 93
Chionetti, Barolo “Bussia Vigna Pianpolvere” 2018
This starts out with black cherry and soft oak toast aromas undergirded with brown spice and flowers. The palate shows typical vibrant acidity, enlivening the cherry with a zesty citric push. It’s on the less complicated side of Barolo, but that just means that there are more pairing possibilities to show it off with. 92
Diego Conterno, Barolo “Le Coste di Monforte” 2018
A green pepper driven example, with subtle notes on the nose and powerful presence on the palate. The aromatics include cherry, nutmeg and flowers, indicating more integration of flavor as the wine ages. The green pepper folds in well with a little air time, allowing the cherry and herb so peek out. Give this some time in the cellar. 92
La Ginestre, Barolo “Sottocastello di Novello” 2018
This is on the shy side at present, with muted aromatics nod flavors under the structure. Delicate floral and powder notes are just starting to show on the nose, and the palate shows mostly oak and acidity with faint strawberry. 88
Mauro Veglio Barolo “Arborina” 2018
Cherry compote and cinnamon show brightly on the nose, with a toffee note adding interest. It’s about as plush as a young Barolo can be on the palate, showing the aromatic elements as dry flavors and adding moderate oak toast. That said, there’s no lack of regional acid profile, and as it subsides in the cellar, a polished ruby will appear. The new world approach seems evident, and it’s appreciated in this case. 94
Roche Costamagna, Barolo “Rocche dell’Annunziata” 2018
This is quite deep and bold, showing cherry, kirsch, fall spice and flowers in a big expression that retains classic elements of style and structure while achieving approachability at the same time. The oak treatment helps here, rounding edges and adding a toasty character that offsets the fruit without muting it. Balance is key, they say, and it is on full display here. 95
Lodali, Barbaresco “Lorens” 2019
This wine shows tart cherry, soft oak toast and muted floral aromas, and they translate in linear fashion on a foundation of firm acidity. The toasty character is a little forward at present but seems poised to fold in well and let more exotic characteristics show. 91
Nada Giuseppe, Barbaresco “Casot” 2019
This initially shows what I call a “weedy” nose - it smells like a field of green foxtails and other mixed weeds that has just been mowed down. While that may sound like a negative out of the gate, it really isn’t - it’s often, as it is here, an indicator of a really interesting evolution about to take place. With airing, the weeds subside a bit, allowing the cherry, strawberry and rhubarb notes to speak in both the aroma and flavor profiles. It’s very complex and seems built for fish with heavy herb preparations. 94
Paitin, Barbaresco "Serraboella Sori Paitin” 2019
There’s a very attractive sarsaparilla note under the cherry fruit and moderate oak toast here, and it leads to a palate where the oak is dominant at this point in its development. The finish is zesty, a little weedy and tart – It’ll take a while, but this should resolve nicely. 90
Pertinace, Barbaresco “Marcarini” 2019
This fits the typical Barbaresco profile, with a balanced mix of tart cherry, blueberry, moderate oak toast and gentle brown spice that makes for a wide range of possibilities at the table, from simple seared beef preps to spicy fish dishes. 92
Albino Rocca, Barbaresco “Ronchi” 2019
Now we’re talking! A lively nose of cherry, almost fully ripe strawberry, nutmeg and cardamom leads to a full, dry expression on the palate, with zesty acidity and a long finish that shows a little heat, but it works completely here. A savory meaty note tilts me toward steak. 93
Castello di Verduno, Barbaresco “Rabaja-Bas” 2019
This kicks off with a balsamic note that quickly folds into an earthy floral mix where the fruit is just barely starting to show. The palate keeps those elements intact, and they ride out together on a wave of acidity and moderate oak toast - the fruit will start coming forward with a little more bottle aging. This is a wine to enjoy evolution with - once a year or so would be great fun. 92
Fontanafredda, Barbaresco “Coste Rubin” 2019
This producer tends toward bolder expressions, and they don’t disappoint here, with a savory, plush presentation of black cherry, white pepper, sanguine meaty notes and supportive oak toast. While this is still integrating, it is quite pleasant to drink now and will reward further aging with real gravitas. 94
Attilio Ghisolfi, Barolo “Bussia Bricco Visette” 2018
A favorite producer of mine, and a wine that just reinforces that fact. Cherry pie, nutmeg, easy toast and sweet wildflower aromas lead to a dry, bright palate with intense cherry and strawberry fruit, gentle spices and a zesty push in the finish that knits it all together. House style is a thing, and it’s achieved again here. 95
Bricco Maiolica, Barolo del Comune de Diano d’Alba “Contadin” 2018
A bold, forward style that satisfies with black cherry, blueberry, nutmeg and hibiscus tea aromas and flavors. It’s typically ageworthy, but it’s also quite rewarding right out of the gate. 94
Ceretto, Barolo Bussia 2018
Another favorite producer – I appreciate the textures that Ceretto is able to consistently develop, present here in a silky midpalate that keeps tension with the acidity expected in such a wine. All this allows the flavors distinction – cherry, nutmeg, faint toffee, vanilla and a touch of balsamic just keep coming and coming, and the finish keeps pushing flavor. I’m not sure I’d be able to age this – it’s too good right now. 95
Ettore Germano, Barolo “Prapo” 2018
There’s a ton of complexity in the aromatic profile here, and they are both subtle and distinct. Flowers, cherry, strawberry, powder and delicate fall spice notes entice at the rim, and deliver on the palate with real elegance and integration that promises to turn into a grand old lady down the road. I love this as a solo glass for its nuance and intrigue. 94
Fontanafredda, Barolo “Vigna La Rosa” 2018
I love the tension between the aromatic elements here - strawberry, cherry, flowers, faint dried herbs and a sort of dusty oak vibe that adds significant interest. The palate is lively with all the nose elements in play, and great finish push from taut acidity keeps the fun coming. Drink or age up to ten years. 94
Massimo Rivetti, Barolo 2018
This shows great regional typicity and would make a fine bottle to introduce friends to what the area is all about without tipping into the often more complicated MGA wines. Great acid props up the cherry, vanilla and spice and holds them intact through a long bright finish where a little oak toast come forward. Solid! 91
Poderi Moretti, Barolo 2018
A rigid structure defines this bottling at present, but I find markers that bode well for a great unwinding. It’s a dark side expression, with a mix of dry and damp earth minerality giving counterpoint to black cherry, baking chocolate and nutmeg. Sturdy oak is still folding in, and its going to take a while, but the wait will be worth it. 93
Renato Ratti, Barolo “Marcenasco” 2018
One of the storied producers of the region brings another long term ager to the table - in my experience this bottling is virtually unapproachable at release, but shows the promise to unwind gracefully with time. This vintage remains true to form, with oak and structure all in front now, but that will fold into the cherry and strawberry fruit and become an elegant, aged beauty. 93
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The bottom line? I think Barolo, Barbaresco and I are certainly on the precipice of a long-term relationship that will continue to expand. I must say, I look forward to all the future joys it promises today.
If you’d like to continue to develop your relationship with the region, I’d suggest searching our archives for the writings of WineReviewOnline
editor Michael Franz
, whose long-term relationship with these wines is like that of a friend from youth whose secrets you know and have been authorized to share as appropriate.