The Beauty of Traditional Barolo
As more consumers experience a greater number of wines from around the world, there is always a learning curve. Naturally, many wine lovers want wines that are easy to drink and easier to understand; this explains the popularity of wines ranging from Provence Rosé to Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The former is rather light, while the latter is more robust, but both get their message across instantly in most cases.
But what about Italian wines, specifically those made from the Nebbiolo variety, such as Barolo and Barbaresco? Wine drinkers who admire California reds may be confused by these Piemontese reds, as their identity – lighter color and higher acidity – mark them as vastly different wines.
But the excellent quality of these wines speak for themselves, so it’s to a consumer’s advantage to learn the variations in these wines, and admire them for their individuality. You don’t eat the same foods every day, so why would you continue to drink the same wines again and again?
At Empson, we represent several notable producers of these famous red wines from Piemonte. In a series of articles, we will learn from the producers about the characteristics of their Nebbiolo-based wines, and how consumers should approach these offerings. We begin with Manuel Marchetti of Marcarini, located in the town of La Morra in the Barolo zone. Marchetti produces three Nebbiolo-based wines: a Langhe Nebbiolo “Lasarin” (a fantasy name), as well as two single-vineyard Barolos, La Serra and Brunate, both from the commune of La Morra.
Tried and True Methods
Marcarini produces his wines in the traditional way of the region, as he ages the wines in large oak casks known as grandi botti; these are large containers, as much as 15 and 20 times larger than a barrique, which is the smaller barrel used throughout California and much of France. Some of his colleagues in the region now use barriques, perhaps to emulate Franch and California wines, or perhaps to fight tradition. But Marchetti stays with botti and tradition. Why does he continue to do this in the 21st century?
“It’s true, we have produced traditional Barolo for many decades, and the choice of this style of production has several motives,” Marchetti remarks. First of all, we haven’t forgotten the history of our region nor the story of our estate. It is a characteristic that has a great strength earned from experience.”
Marchetti believes the more a bottle of wine can communicate its origins, the better. “Wine is a product highly influenced by nature, so I find it appropriate for nature to take the prevail over human intervention, as far as harmony and balance.”
He understands that many consumers prefer wines that have a deeper color and offer more upfront ripeness than his various Barolo. “This is not a bad thing,” Marchetti says. But time has a way of changing one’s perspective, he believes. “With time, many consumers will discover wines of diverse characteristics that they will appreciate, and will change their style of consumption.”
Thus Marchetti works on educating wine lovers about Barolo. “We dedicate many personal resources to communicate to consumers what to expect and what they need to look for to appreciate a Barolo. Nebbiolo is a grape that is heavily influenced by the climate and the soil where it grows, so one must expect even important differences, caused by the different origins of the grapes and between one vintage and another, whether they come from Australia, South Africa or Brunate in La Morra.”
So Barolo is different than a Barbaresco produced only a few miles away; this is due to several factors, with the most important being terroir – why a wine tastes the way it does based on where the grapes are grown (this being a basic definition of terroir; there is also human intervention that affects a wine’s profile). And certainly, a Nebbiolo-based wine from the Southern Hemisphere will taste very different than one produced in Piedmont.
This is an important notion to grasp if one is to appreciate the vast diversity of wines produced around the world. A young Cabernet Sauvignon, regardless of its origins, is rich and ripe, but that doesn’t make it a better wine, only different. Marchetti believes that because of its appearance and aromatics, too many consumers may believe that Barolo is light in body. “As the color is not very intense, and as the perfumes are more floral and spicy, this may lead some to mistakenly believe that it is not a structured wine.”
He continues on this theme. “In reality, if one notices with Barolo, the persistence in the mouth and can sense the evolution as they consume the wine, perhaps they would change their ideas. It’s a bit like seeing Rambo versus James Bond in the movies; it’s not a brutal wine, but one that is strong and elegant.
“Wines strongly influenced by the territory, such as Barolo, are wines that are not boring, and that can adapt perfectly to the dishes they are combined with, offering great satisfaction for years.” Among the best food pairings for Barolo are rabbit, duck or game birds, along with most red meats, especially lamb.
Comparing Modern and Traditional Barolo
Many believe that as a Barolo that can age for 20 years or longer, it must be too tannic for the dinner table, at least when the wine is first released. Marchetti also has strong opinions on this as well. “You can opt for ‘modern’ Baroli (plural, Barolo) that have characteristics of ready to drink or traditional Barolo which have soft, silky and well-integrated tannins. These wines will certainly improve in the following ten years but they are ready to drink already when they are young,” he explains.
One reason that Barolo can be enjoyed in its youth is the so-called ‘feminine’ character of the wines; in other words, as long-lived as these wines are, they are not overly bitter, as with many other important red wines. These wines often do offer charm and grace in their youth – these are the Baroli made to drink, though some examples are more forceful and would be more enjoyable with time. What are the best examples of Barolo in this more refined style? According to Marchetti, “the wines coming from La Morra and the commune of Barolo.” (Barolo is part of the production zone for these wines; it shares a border with La Morra.)
For wines as distinctive as single-vineyard Baroli, there are subtle, but fascinating differences, as the vintner explains regarding his La Serra and Brunate wines.
“The description we give about Barolo La Serra is that compared to Brunate it is more elegant because it offers more floral scents such as rose or violet and dried flower petals but also fruity scents such as cherry, blackberry, and other small berries.
“Regarding Brunate, other essences prevail such as spices, menthol, balsamic aromas such as eucalyptus, frankincense, and licorice; therefore more ethereal fragrances even if there is no lack of fruit scents. With the evolution, we will find in both hints of leather, tobacco, truffles, and undergrowth which together, give unique wines.”
No matter whether the wines come from a cool or warm growing season, the Baroli of Marcarini are elegantly styled examples of this iconic red from Piedmont. Marchetti appreciates the singularity of these wines. “Our Baroli are unique, intriguing and profound wines,” he remarks. “The long history of our family in which we express an authentic philosophy that combines nature and our experience, allows us to craft excellent wines that express emotions.”
By Tom Hyland
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