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Northern Italy’s Barolo A Light, Floral Wine That Needs Aging

December 5, 2018

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No red wine stands so completely opposite the wine market’s trend for blended, sweetish, fruity wine than Barolo, a red wine from northern Italy.

Many Americans seem to crave red wines that are rich, hearty and full of fruit flavor. The shelves are full of them. Even pricier pinot noir and moderately priced cabernet have evolved to become juicy, purplish, kind-of-sweet wines.

While powerful in flavor, barolo remains light in structure, lighter than many pinot noirs when compared side-by-side. Hailing from northern Italy in the Piedmont and made from the nebbiolo grape, barolo often is described as having a floral, earthy character summed up as “tar and roses.” While the vast majority of wine is made to be drunk now, barolo and its strong tannins must age. A barolo fan once told me opening one less than 10 years old was “infanticide.”

Barolo, like many of the most respected wine regions in Europe, also is steeped in tradition and, often, controversy. The 1970s and 1980s saw the barolo wars, in which a group of producers tried to make the style more drinkable and likable. They won, but the wines still stand apart from popular tastes.

A very approachable Vietti 2014 Castiglioni Barolo has floral smells and tastes of licorice and black fruit with leather and a gamy quality. $55. ★★★★ 1/2

Villadoria 2014 Serralunga Barolo smells of dried roses and tastes of black tea, orange bitters and earth. Special order in Pennsylvania. $37. ★★★★

The oak aging is front and center in Bersano Badarina 2012 Barolo, which shows ripe black cherry and barrel-related flavors of vanilla, coconut and spice. It finishes a bit hotter than most. $30. ★★★ 1/2

Decant barolo for several hours and don’t forget to try its white grape cousin, arneis, an overshadowed gem.

GRADE: Exceptional ★★★★★, Above average ★★★★, Good ★★★, Below average ★★, Poor ★.

DAVID FALCHEK, executive director of the American Wine Society, reviews wines each week.

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