Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Beauty of Barolo - Part 3

Our third and last day in Barolo was to be a full day of tastings.

Our first visit was to Sandrone, one of the more famous Barolo wineries, having received high praise from wine critics over the years.

Barbara Sandrone met us at the winery and took us through one of the most complete tours of a winery I have had. She showed us the vineyard where their grapes comes from, Cannubi Boschis. She then took us through their entire wine making process, from where the grapes were brought in, through to the on-site bottling. It was an impressive, well thought out set-up, in which gravity was used to move the wine throughout virtually the entire process.

The 2005 Barolo itself was a classy wine, of great structure and length. One thing that was noticeable was some really nice French oak on the nose. The wine was matured in the smaller French barriques. The use of French oak is something that the younger, more modern Barolo wine makers typically use. This is in contrast for example to the traditional Bourgogno Francesco Barolo, where the big, slavonian oak barrels are used. I like both styles of wine, but if I had to state a preference it would be for the traditional, slavonian oak wines. French oak I guess is a somewhat familiar flavour/aroma, whereas Slavonian oak was unique to me. The fact the slavonian oak barrels are far bigger than the French oak barriques means that there is less of an oak influence on the wine as well.

At 90 Euros, this Barolo was beyond my budget, and I wasn’t sure that it was so much better than some of the 20-30 Euro Barolo we had tried, that it justified the price difference. In saying that it, it was a wine that was perfectly balanced and gave me the sense that it would age beautifully.

Our next stop was Sottimano, a producer of Barbaresco. Barbaresco is half an hour north of Barolo, and the regular refrain is that if Barolo is the King of Italian wines then Barbaresco is the Queen. Barbaresco follows a lot of the same guidelines as Barolo, but is aged for only 2 years, not 3 years like Barolo. It is generally considered less tannic and more approachable at a younger age than Barolo.

The thing that I took away from the tasting at Sottimano was a belief in the influence of terroir on wine. Not that I hadn’t accepted its influence previously, but Sottimano provides the clearest evidence of this influence that I had seen. Two of their Barbarescos are the Curra and Cotta. These are two major vineyards in the Barbaresco area that are pretty much next to one another. Andrea Sottimano produces his Cotta and Curra Barbarescos in exactly the same manner. The vineyard treatment is the same, the grapes are picked at the same time, and the winemaking process is exactly the same. And yet they are distinctly different wines. The Curra is a darker, more tannic Barbaresco, while the Cotta while also quite powerful has a freshness and minerality that the Curra doesn’t. Both are beautiful wines. The difference between the two wines is 500 metres. 500 metres and the slight differences that means in terms of soil, exposure to the sun etc. is the sole reason for the distinctive difference that these two wines display.

After lunch we drove over to Serralunga D’alba. This pretty hilltop town northeast of the town of Barolo, is renowned for having the most powerful, tannic Barolo. Given how tannic a normal young Barolo is, I was keen to see what Serralunga had to offer.

The first Serralunga winery we went to was Palladino. We were hosted by an older Italian guy (with his niece translating), who had visited Australia a few years previously. He had loved his time in Oz, and when he heard we were from Australia we instantly became best of friends! His Barolos were very tannic, though still enjoyable to drink in my opinion. The best thing about the visit there was that we got to taste barrel samples from 07 and 08 (06 was already in bottle). This was the first time I had done any barrel samples, and it was interesting being able to get a snapshot of upcoming vintages. Interestingly Palladino are experimenting with both French and Slavonian oak with their upcoming wines.

Our final winery for the day was Germano Ettore. This winery is another great place to see the influence of terroir. Their two top Barolos are the Prapo and Ceretta, which are two vineyards once again only a few hundred meters apart. Compared to other Barolos, both are very powerful and tannic, but when comparing the two side by side, it is obvious that the Prapo is the prettier more aromatic wine. The Ceretta was literally the most tannic wine I had the whole time I was in Barolo! Mouth covering tannins had you literally chewing for a minute after you’d swallowed the wine. In saying that, it still had a beautiful nose, and good structure and length. I bought a bottle and its going to be in my cellar for at least 10 years!

If you are wondering why we only managed 4 wineries in a full day of tasting, that started at 10am and finished at 5pm, it was because it was virtually impossible to complete a winery visit in under an hour. Our hosts were all so incredibly friendly and generous that I reckon each visit lasted at least an hour and a half. They pretty much all showed us their vineyards, took us through the winery, and when it came to the tastings would take us through every bottle of wine and be more than generous with the pours!

So that was it for our 3 days in Barolo. I want to go back. While I feel I got a great insight into Barolo, the place and the wine, in another sense I feel like I only scratched the surface. As most of the wineries are small, family owned businesses, there are hundreds of Barolo producers, while I only tried wines from 10-15 wineries. I didn’t even try a wine from Castiglione Falletto, one of the main Barolo sub regions. Barolo is both a place and a wine, and I love both!

Another thing I haven’t even mentioned are the Barberas and Dolcettos of the region, which I loved as well . . . as well as the cheese and the chocolate! This is something I will post on as well in future.

My main thoughts now are, when can I get back there, and when will I be able to regularly afford to purchase Barolo in Australia which is normally $100 per bottle and more!


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