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Barolo and Barbaresco

Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine

Kerin O’Keefe
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 346
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  • Book Info
    Barolo and Barbaresco
    Book Description:

    Following on the success of her books on Brunello di Montalcino, renowned author and wine critic Kerin O’Keefe takes readers on a historic and in-depth journey to discover Barolo and Barbaresco, two of Italy’s most fascinating and storied wines. In this groundbreaking new book, O’Keefe gives a comprehensive overview of the stunning side-by-side growing areas of these two world-class wines that are separated only by the city of Alba and profiles a number of the fiercely individualistic winemakers who create structured yet elegant and complex wines of remarkable depth from Italy’s most noble grape, Nebbiolo.

    A masterful narrator of the aristocratic origins of winemaking in this region, O’Keefe gives readers a clear picture of why Barolo is called both the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings. Profiles of key Barolo and Barbaresco villages include fascinating stories of the families, wine producers, and idiosyncratic personalities that have shaped the area and its wines and helped ignite the Quality Wine Revolution that eventually swept through all of Italy.

    The book also considers practical factors impacting winemaking in this region, including climate change, destructive use of harsh chemicals in the vineyards versus the gentler treatments used for centuries, the various schools of thought regarding vinification and aging, and expansion and zoning of vineyard areas. Readers will also appreciate a helpful vintage guide to Barolo and Barbaresco and a glossary of useful Italian wine terms.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95923-1
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-6)

    LOCATED IN THE NORTHWEST, PIEDMONT, which means “foot of the mountain,” is Italy’s second largest region and borders Switzerland and France as well as the Italian regions of Lombardy, Valle d’Aosta, and Liguria. True to its name, Piedmont is the most mountainous region in Italy, and not only do mountains cover more than 43 percent of its surface area while hills make up another 30 percent, but the region is also surrounded on three sides by mountains. On clear autumn days, somewhat rare, since much of the region is oft en shrouded in autumnal mists and fog, the sight of...


    • ONE The Ancient Origins of the Langhe Hills
      (pp. 9-16)

      ONE OF THE KEYS TO UNDERSTANDING BAROLO and Barbaresco lies beneath the surface of the Langhe, home to both wines. The Langhe hills, which rise up on the right bank of the Tanaro River, are composed of sedimentary rock from the Oligocene and Miocene epochs, although the area’s original formation began earlier, some thirty-six million years ago, with the collision of the European and African plates. The Langhe is located within the Internal Western Alpine Arc, at the junction of the Alpine and Apennine thrust belts that formed the eponymous mountain chains. Yet the most fundamental geological event for the...

    • TWO Noble Nebbiolo
      (pp. 17-28)

      WHILE THE LANGHE’S UNIQUE GROWING conditions are fundamental in producing beguiling Barolos and Barbarescos, an equally important factor (others may well arguethemost important factor) is of course Nebbiolo, the sole grape allowed in both wines and which finds its maximum expression in select parts of the two growing zones. Nebbiolo is one of the world’s most alluring yet infuriating grapes and can cause winemakers both joy and heartbreak. It is often compared to Pinot Noir, not only because both are extremely site sensitive, but also because like Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo yields complex, longlived wines that are not deeply...

    • THREE The King of Wines, the Wine of Kings
      (pp. 29-41)

      WHILE WE KNOW THAT THE FIRST WINE called Barbaresco hails from the 1894 vintage (see chapter 14), decades after Barolo first made its appearance, it is difficult to say exactly when the latter, as we know it today, was created. However, based on contemporary accounts, most historians agree that a dry version of Nebbiolo has been around since at least the mid-1800s. Before this, Nebbiolo-based wines made in and around the hills of Barolo appear to have been sweet wines and sometimes even sparkling, but even these precursors to today’s Barolo apparently had admirers, among them the English elite and...

    • FOUR The Barolo Wars and Their Effect on Both Denominations
      (pp. 42-52)

      FOR MOST SMALL FARMERS IN THE LANGHE, the poverty and deprivation that marked the post–World War II period continued right through the 1970s, compounded by a serious scarcity of water. Since pumping water uphill from the Tanaro River would have been prohibitively expensive, producers in most of the Langhe hills still relied on well water, which oft en dried up by late summer or early fall, and not all homes and cellars had running water. Household water rationing remained a fundamental part of life in the Langhe until water was finally carried down to the area’s many small villages...

    • FIVE Expansion, Subzones, and the Future of Barolo and Barbaresco
      (pp. 53-64)

      BOTH BAROLO AND BARBARESCO HAVE ENJOYED great critical and commercial success since the early 1990s. It’s almost impossible to imagine that just a decade before this, many producers would oft en give away a bottle or two of Barolo to their loyal customers who came to the Langhe to stock up on Dolcetto and Barbera, as a way to generate interest in what the producers themselves always considered their flagship wine. The situation is of course inverted now, and as critics started raving about Barolo and Barbaresco, encouraging wine lovers around the world to seek out the best bottlings, two...


    • SIX Barolo and Novello
      (pp. 67-97)

      THE STRIKING VILLAGE OF BAROLO, which accounts for 12 percent of total Barolo production according to the Consorzio, is the birthplace of the eponymously named wine, for it was in this village that Tancredi and Giulia Falletti, the Marchesi di Barolo, began seriously producing fine red wine from Nebbiolo grapes from their vast holdings in Barolo and Serralunga. History also identifies the French-born marchesa (born Juliette Colbert de Maulévrier) as the first person to produce on a large scale the wine we now call Barolo.

      While other villages in the Langhe perch on steep hilltops or spread out along crests,...

    • SEVEN Castiglione Falletto
      (pp. 98-120)

      THE SMALL VILLAGE OF CASTIGLIONE Falletto makes what are perhaps the most well-balanced Barolos, noted for their fi nesse, intense perfume, and velvety texture combined with impressive structure.

      Dominated by its thirteenth-century fortress with its iconic round towers, Castiglione Falletto was part of the holdings of the Marchese di Saluzzo and defi ned as a “castrum et villa,” although an ancient inscription discovered on one of the village’s walls gives rise to the theory that Castiglione Falletto may have already been inhabited in ancient Roman times. In 1225, Saluzzo awarded what was then essentially a large estate or fief to...

    • EIGHT Serralunga d’Alba
      (pp. 121-149)

      THE ENTIRE MEDIEVAL VILLAGE of Serralunga d’Alba, commonly referred to simply as Serralunga, is located in the Barolo denomination, and accounts for 16.49 percent of total Barolo production. Dominated by its imposing fourteenth-century castle soaring vertically, high above the vineyards, Serralunga turns out the most complex and age-worthy Barolos from its thirty-nine crus, a number of which are among the most coveted sites in all of Barolo. Serralunga’s lightly colored, almost white soil hails from the Serravallian (locally still often referred to as Helvetian) age of the Miocene epoch. This smooth and uniform calcareous marl, which is void of pebbles...

    • NINE La Morra and Cherasco
      (pp. 150-171)

      La Morra has the largest surface area dedicated to Barolo vineyards, 479 hectares (1,198 acres), which account for 24.9 percent of the denomination’s total production. Located above the village of Barolo, La Morra also has the greatest difference in altitude among its vineyards, which range from 200 to 500 meters (656 to 1,640 feet) above sea level. While a few of Monforte’s vineyards also reach 500 meters, and a sliver of Monforte’s Bussia goes as low as 220 meters (721 feet), this gap in altitude is very common in La Morra.

      The village, whose summit offers the ultimate views of...

    • TEN Monforte d’Alba
      (pp. 172-195)

      MONFORTE D’ALBA IS ANOTHER ONE of the denomination’s core villages, and makes a wide range of Barolo styles, from structured with gripping tannins to perfumed and complex. A number of the denomination’s most acclaimed wineries are located in this large municipality, including Giacomo Conterno, whose iconic Barolo Monfortino—which since the early 1970s actually hails from Vigna Francia in Serralunga—is named for the producer’s hometown. Other renowned producers in Monforte d’Alba include Aldo Conterno, Elio Grasso, Rocche dei Manzoni, as well as cult favorites Giacomo Fenocchio and Attilio Ghisolfi , to name but a few. Not only do winemaking...

    • ELEVEN Verduno, Grinzane Cavour, Roddi, and Diano d’Alba
      (pp. 196-210)

      OF THESE FOUR VILLAGES, grouped together to facilitate a single map of the northern and northeastern quadrants of the growing zone, Verduno is the clear star, although it too is not as well known as the core Barolo villages. Modern-day Barolo production has taken a back seat in these villages, although like Verduno, Grinzane Cavour’s history is closely linked to the mid-nineteenth-century creation of Barolo. With the exception of Verduno, these townships possess fewer great and good vineyards when compared to the more celebrated Barolo communes, and their overall impact on volume is minimal; altogether these four areas produce just...


      (pp. 213-222)

      Barbaresco, long seen as Barolo’s junior partner—albeit it in a very successful venture—has always lived in the shadow of its more famous neighbor. Although die-hard fans of Italian wine may passionately debate which of the two wines they prefer and the reasons why, many more Italian wine lovers, even those familiar enough with Barolo to know it as the King of Wines, the Wine of Kings, know on the other hand relatively little about Barbaresco, other than perhaps the name of Angelo Gaja. One reason why Barbaresco remains less famous than its neighbor is simply volume: there is...

    • THIRTEEN (Village of) Barbaresco
      (pp. 223-260)

      WHEN THE ROMANS CONQUERED the local population and founded the city of Alba Pompeia in 89 B.C., the territory of Barbaresco was a vast forest. The Stazielli tribes from Liguria took refuge from the troops in the dense woods, and the Romans, who called all those who were not Roman “barbarians,” named the area Barbarica Silva, meaning “woods of the barbarians.” Over time, Barbarica Silva transformed into the name Barbaresco. According to local history, the “barbarians” were devoted to the god Mars, and their exact place of worship was the hill and valley called Martinengen, which is undoubtedly the Martinenga...

    • FOURTEEN Neive
      (pp. 261-281)

      NEIVE OWES ITS NAME TO the noble Roman family Gens Naevia, or the Naevii, who once owned what is now the town of Neive and much of its surroundings during the rule of the Roman Empire. Neive, which became a municipality in the twelft h century, is divided into the walled medieval town on the top of the hill, known as Neive Alta, with charming cobblestoned streets and old stone buildings, and the urbanized sprawl constructed during the 1960s and 1970s below. In terms of total surface area, it is the largest township in the Barbaresco denomination. In 2000 the...

    • FIFTEEN Treiso and San Rocco Seno d’Elvio
      (pp. 282-300)

      TREISO, WHICH BROKE AWAY from the municipality of Barbaresco in 1957, is not as well known as Barbaresco and Neive, but the village makes what are generally among the most elegant Barbarescos in the whole denomination.

      Treiso prides itself on its rich history and its direct connection to ancient Rome. The village is the acknowledged birthplace of Publio Elvio Pertinace, or Publius Helvius Pertinax in Latin, who was emperor in 193 A.D. Pertinace, also known simply as Pertinax, was born into humble circumstances in Treiso in 126 A.D., and after an illustrious career in the army became emperor. He had...

    • SIXTEEN Wineries in Alba and outside of Barolo/Barbaresco Villages
      (pp. 301-312)

      HISTORICALLY, IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY and for much of the twentieth century, almost all the Barolo-producing firms were located in Alba. Until the latter half of the 1900s, these large houses did not possess their own vineyards but instead bought grapes from the network of the Langhe’s numerous small growers, transported the grapes to the wineries in Alba, and made Barolo. This all began to change in the late 1970s and more so in the 1980s as the Langhe’s grape growers began making Barolo themselves, forcing many of Alba’s Barolo wineries to close, while others decided to buy their own...

  9. APPENDIX A. Vintage Guide to Barolo and Barbaresco
    (pp. 313-320)
  10. APPENDIX B. Barolo and Barbaresco at a Glance
    (pp. 321-326)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 327-330)
    (pp. 331-332)
    (pp. 333-336)
    (pp. 337-342)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 343-346)