Barolo and Barbaresco: A Q&A with Ca’ Rome
“You need to get to know Barolo and Barbaresco. You have to drink them often to learn to love them.”
– Giuseppe Marengo, Ca’Rome
At the Ca’Rome winery in the town of Barbaresco, there is a small quantity of Barbera, Langhe Rosso and Langhe Nebbiolo that is produced, but the overwhelming majority of the portfolio are the two great Nebbiolo-based wines of the area, Barbaresco and Barolo.
There are dozens of producers such as this in the Langhe, where these two wines originate, but few concentrate equally – 50/50 on Barbaresco and Barolo. “My most important wine is the Barbaresco Maria di Brun, named in honor of my grandmother, who was from a tiny town called Bruni in Serralunga,” remarks Marengo. “But I consider all my wines equally important. I don’t want to produce second-string wines.”
Whenever the subject of Barolo and Barbaresco comes up, there is the inevitable comparison between the two. Barolo, sometimes referred to a “the king of wines,” is always seen as a more powerful wine, while Barbaresco is viewed as a more elegant wine, more approchable upon release. While this is a generalization, is is largely true; Romano explains in part the reasons for this. “The soils in Serralunga (where he sources fruit for his Rapet and Cerretta Barolos) are calcerous (containing limestone) and clayey with layers of sand.
“But compared to Barbaresco, there is less sand. That’s why the Barolo we produce have more body. As to the Barbaresco we produce, the wines are more elegant, as there is less sand in these soils.” As to his preference between the two wine types, Marengo notes that “I love Barolos for their structure and I love Barbarescos for their elegance and finesse.”
Let’s look at the individual wines produced by Marengo at Ca’ Rome, beginning with the two Barolos from Serralunga d’Alba. Barolo from this commune tend to be quite rich, often intense, with firm tannins and a structure that assures long-term aging, often 15-20 years, and even more in the finest vintages. The Cerretta Barolo is produced from grapes grown at the eponymous vineyard situated between 350-371 meters (1150 to 1217 feet) above sea level. The soils here are typical of Serralunga, with compact clay of various types. These are among the oldest soils in the Barolo production zone, their origins dating back more than eight to ten million years ago.
The fact that these soils are so old means that the roots of the vines have to search quite deep for water. This results in firm, robust tannins in the wines’ youth, meaning a Barolo from Serralunga is generally at is best given several years in the bottle after release, which is generally four years after the vintage. From the finest vintages, such as 2010, 2013 and the newly-released 2016, these wines often drink well as many as 20 or 25 years after the vintage. Yet that does not mean that one has to wait a long time to enjoy these wines, as producers have learned how to produce Barolo from Serralunga (and other communes) that are more approachable a short time after release.
As for the Rapet (pronounced rah- pet), Barolo, this is a fantasy name that Ca’Rome uses to denote that this Barolo is made from a small section of the Cerretta vineyard. Marengo matures his Cerretta and Rapet Barolos in both large 25 hectoliter casks of Slavonian oak, as well as in the much smaller (225 liter) barriques; in this way, the color does not fade, while wood notes, while adding complexity, do not overwhelm the fruit. The recent 2015 release of the Rapet is an excellent example of what Marengo is aiming at, displaying aromas of balsamic, tobacco and dried cherry; backed by very good depth of fruit, good acidity and persistence, the wine needs a few years to round out, and should be in peak condition in another 12-15 years. The 2015 vintage resulted in very good examples of Barolo, and while not as intense as some recent years, the wines display excellent typicity alon with very good Nebbiolo character.
Marengo crafts three separate Barbarescos at Ca’ Rome: Chiaramanti, Söri Rio Sordo and the previously mentioned “Maria di Brun.” The first two wines are both produced from grapes that are grown in the Rio Sordo vineyard, genrally agreed by local producers as one of the finest in the commune of Barbaresco. The technical difference in the wines has to do with the fact that the Chiaramati offering is a special selection from the Rio Sordo vineyard; as this is a fantasy name, this name is not seen on any other producer’s Barbaresco. For the Söri Rio Sordo, this refers to the highest sections of the vineyard – söri literaly refers to the highest, best exposed section of a hill or vineyard that receives the most sunshine, and in theory should result in a riper wine.
Both wines are produced in similar fashion, maturing in both barriques and large casks. Marengo notes that “the difference between the Söri Rio Sordo and Chiaramanti varies according to the vintage. Both wines are from the Rio Sordo area, but in different locations. Chiaramanti in a flatter part and Rio Sordo in a steep southern position. Generally, Rio Sordo needs more time in oak to open up. It has firmer tannins, while Chiaramanti has softer tannins. Naturally, the harvest and weather trends are what cause the differences.”
Tasting the 2016 versions of these two wines, the Rio Sordo is definitely the more powerful of the two. Both offer impressive Nebbiolo character with aromas of orange peel and dried cherry, along with notes of tobacco, and have medium-weight tannins. Both need a year or two to round out, with the Chiaramanti being more approachable at present; both wines should peak in 7-10 years, perhaps a bit longer for the Rio Sordo.
As for the Maria de Brun, this is a more traditional Barbaresco, with the majority of the aging in large casks. This wine is aged in oak for a longer period than the other two examples of Barbaresco – 30 months compared to 20 for the Chiaramanti and 24 for Rio Sordo – and is a rounder wine that offers more elegance in the finish at present, while also displaying a more complex mid-palate. Look for the 2016 to peak in 10-12 years.
What does Maregno recommend for consumers that are not familiar with wines produced from Nebbiolo? “ I would suggest Barbera d’Alba for those who have only ever had Cabernet. You need to get to know Barolo and Barbaresco. You have to drink them often to learn to love them. Nebbiolo is ruby red in color and is elegant with fine aromas that start out fruity. Over time, the perfumes transform and you get woodlands, truffles and forest floor. Early on, they’re more tannic, but with age, they soften.”
He adds a postscript. “Clients who drink Pinot Noir are more prepared for the world of Nebbiolo.”
By Tom Hyland
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