Barolo is similar to Burgundy in more ways than one, and it’s no coincidence that if you ask a Burgundian what his or her favourite region outside Burgundy is then many will say Barolo.
The first obvious parallel is the use of a single grape variety: Pinot for Burgundy, Nebbiolo for Barolo, and this parallel is amplified somewhat by the similarities between these two varieties, both of which have a delicacy and elegance of fruit that is peerless. The ‘easy’ similarities continue in that both regions are largely populated by artisanal winemakers, winemakers who have inherited vineyards and expertise from their fathers and grandfathers.
Barolo is also very much about terroir, though if you think that Burgundy is tricky, Barolo moves the bar. The region can very broadly split in two: the soils of Barolo, La Morra, Novello and parts of Castiglione Falletto are a sandy marl that produces a more feminine style of wine, whilst the older sandstone clay of Serralunga and Monforte generally give a more masculine, structured style. But this is facile, as the intricacies of the terroir here are hugely complex, not least because the variances of exposure are extreme – the vineyards here point in every direction.
The more tenuous similarity is perhaps the most exciting one. There is a quiet revolution taking place in Barolo. After years of tradition, the winemakers are waking up to what they have been blessed with, and quality is on a very steep upward curve. The first wave of this velvet revolution took place in the late 1980s/early 1990s when a generation of young winemakers chose to break with tradition and embrace modern winemaking. Much money was spent on fermenters and new oak barriques, and a new style of Barolo was born, a style that seduced as many as it disappointed (should Barolo taste of terroir and Nebbiolo, or of gloss and new oak?).
Where we are now is at the second stage of the revolution. The excessive use of barriques has been reined in, though there is a pleasing difference in style throughout the region (which includes some staunch traditionalists and some equally staunch modernists). What is genuinely exciting is the number of young winemakers striving for the very best quality possible.
We made our annual trip to Piedmont last week. Our aim was twofold: to taste as many 2010 Baroli as possible, and to sniff out a few undiscovered producers. The trip was a great success on both counts.
2010 has already been hailed by a number of reviewers as a brilliant vintage. Antonio Galloni, arguably the most important critic in this region, describes the vintage as “shaping up to be a modern-day classic” and describes the wines as “vibrant Barolos that pulsate with tension, crystalline purity and site-specific nuance”. Our verdict is similar. Not only is 2010 clearly a brilliant vintage for Barolo, it’s one of those vintages, like 2009 in Bordeaux or 2005 in Burgundy, where the quality is incredibly easy to see. These are wines that, more often than not, are jumping out of the glass and begging to be drunk. Spitting as opposed to swallowing was frequently a challenge, and this is the sign of truly brilliant wines. Moreover, this is a vintage where terroir is clear. Differences from Monforte to La Morra were always clear, as were the more site-specific nuances that Mr Galloni alluded to. Barolo’s most famous vineyard is Cannubi, and every Cannubi we tasted screamed of its Musigny-like terroir, as did Brunate, Le Coste, Terlo and so on.
A great deal of work over the past couple of years has paid off, and Fine+Rare is blessed with direct relationships with many of Barolo’s finest. What we look for above all is quality, character, and wines that we know will give pleasure to our customers. Once the quality bar is met, there is an enticing menu of different styles available, from the spicy, savoury traditionalist Cavalottos, to the forward, glossy and accessible Parusso. Our selection of 2010 Barolo is broad, and many producers have yet to release (or, in some cases, bottle) their 2010s. The full selection can be seen here and a few of our picks are below:
Enzo Brezza is an intellectual winemaker, a man deeply in tune with his wines, and a man who crafts wine with an ethereal energy that borders on the breathtaking. Antonio Galloni describes his brilliant Barolo Sarmasa as “tightly-wound”, and the feeling of the potential energy in his wines is extraordinary: I was reminded of the ten-ton weight, held by a string, hanging above the head of a soon to be squashed Tom or Jerry. This doesn’t translate well into Italian: a crossbow, drawn and ready to fire, worked better. These are brilliant, intellectual wines that will repay time:
“Some mineral lift here. A traditional Barolo in that it is a blend from three vineyards in Barolo, Novello and Monforte d’Alba. This is pure with lots of lift. This follows in th
e mouth and the weight of fruit follows toward the end. This is all about the perfume and elegance and the lift. Long and lovely.” 93+. Drink from 2018–2015+
2010 Barolo Cannubi
“This has a savoury, meaty nose intermingled with a very Barolo rose-petal edge. This follows through I the mouth and again this is all about a mineral lift. Tightly, tightly wound. The lift is impossible. This is complete. Packed tight and there is no winemaking here: just the wine. Potential energy… a ten ton weight on a piece of string. Brilliant.” 96+. Drink from 2020–2030+
2010 Barolo Sarmassa
“This is the most vinous, and the least tight, on the nose. There is some depth here, which becomes clearer in the mouth. This is chewier and less tightly-wound than the Cannubi, and perhaps is a little more “grand vin” today. Very impressive and impossibly pure again. These will be quite excellent with some time in the cellar.” 96+. Drink from 2020–2030+
The Cerettos were amongst the original “Barolo Boys”, a number of producers who tore up the rule books in the search for quality and something different in a region where traditionalism was holding many wineries back. Once staunchly modernist, the style is being reined back in: the winery is moving away from the use of barriques and has re-introduced larger casks and longer fermentations. The results are hugely impressive: these are excellent wines – their best ever according to Mr Galloni – and wines with genuine pleasure in mind. The man in charge, Federico Ceretto, is one of Barolo’s most impressive, charismatic and visionary men: this is an estate to follow. Think Pontet-Canet.
2010 Barolo Prapo
“The chunkiest wine of the three, with a touch of roasted coffee beans on a spicy nose. Immediately seductive. There is a firmness to the fruit here and an undeniable polish in the mouth. Exquisitely silky, with firm power underneath the gloss. This is begging to be drunk, though will blossom in time. Quite lovely.” 96. Drink 2018-2025+
2010 Barolo Brunate
“Immaculately clean and fresh on the nose with a touch of pure polish to it. Rose petals on the nose compliment the spice-market edge. Silky and sweet in the mouth with a minty edge to the dark fruit, and a mouthfeel that seduces. This is exceptionally well-made wine, and there is a great deal of pleasure in the glass. Excellent.” 96+. Drink 2020-2030+
2010 Barolo Bricco Roche
“Again this is about silky finesse and I’m seduced once more. This is brilliantly crafted wine that speaks of its terroir through what is an immaculate polish. A spice garden of a nose, followed by a brilliantly pure, and typical Barolo palate. Lovely. Grand cru. The balance between weight and purity is stunning. Excellent again.” 96+. Drink 2020-2030+
For a wine buyer there are few things as exciting, or as satisfying, as a discovery. Our visit to Giacomo Grimaldi had me bouncing down the street.
It started a little oddly. After the usual few minutes of getting lost we were met by Giacomo himself at the door. Retired, and the epitome of a Piedmont senior citizen, he spea
ks no English, and we spent a good five minutes trying to find some common ground with no language to help. That it was a beautifully sunny day provided the wherewithal until his son, Ferruccio, arrived.
Ferruccio now runs the estate and is clearly a man with ambition, drive, and no little skill. He has invested heavily in the winery - more in creating space than fancy equipment – and one can see that he has a clear vision of where he is going. Not modern, not traditional: just excellent wines that are about precision more than polish.
The wines are brilliant. His “straight” Barolo is not only an incredible buy at GBP 197 per dozen in bond, it would be worthy of recommendation at twice the price. His two single vineyard wines: Barolo Solto Castello di Novello and Barolo Le Coste, are simply stunning and, sorry Mr Galloni, you got your scores wrong here. The Coste is a firecracker; a brilliant wine, the wine that had us skipping to lunch.
“Dark colour. From two different vineyards. Clean and lifted nose of typical Barolo fruit. Excellent poise. And clean and impeccably pure in the mouth with some broody fruit underneath the polish. This is all here, all in the right place and very, very good.” Drink 2018-2025+. 94 points
2010 Barolo Sotto Castello di Novello
“This is vivified in the same way as the classic Barolo then spends twelve months in barrique, then another twelve in large botti. This has a sweet clean nose and there is clearly some substance here. Poised and powerful, and a step up. Depth. This is very, very good indeed. It tastes like a little like a Cannubi with a bit more precision, and has a “grand cru” depth to it. Clearly some exceptional terroir here. Excellent.” Drink 2020-2030+. 96 points
2010 Barolo Le Coste
“Even more intense on the nose with a slightly more spicy edge. Some glossy depth to it. And this follows in the mouth. This is very serious wine: it is the depth that impresses. And this goes on and is clearly the equivalent of grand cru Burgundy. Very, very long. Seriously brilliant wine.” 98 points. Drink 2020-2030+
For our full list of 2010 Barolo, please click here