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Ask a Somm: Is Young Barolo Ever Good?

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Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine. Wondering about a bottle? Drop us a line.

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Italian-born Mauro Cirilli heads up drinks at San Francisco's Press Club wine lounge and Schroeder’s restaurant, splashing his lists with both local and international juice. In 2011, Cirilli helped found the North American Sommelier Association wine school (linked with The Italian Sommelier Association), and with it he created the first ever "Italian Wine Specialist" certification program. So, it's safe to say this guy knows a few things about Italian vino. Below, Cirilli considers Barolo wine and great young bottles to try.

Q: Is there any good Barolo that doesn't have to be aged for 10 years or more before drinking?

Cirilli: Absolutely, yes! Not all Barolo bottles needs to aged 10 years before opening.

It’s true that Barolo is a wine that needs time to reach balance and complexity, but not all Barolos are the same. This is what makes these wines so fascinating.

It’s true that Barolo is a wine that needs time to reach balance and complexity, but not all Barolos are the same.

To understand and identify different Barolo styles, many aspects need to be considered: vineyard location (village), soils, winemaking and vintagesall of these are going to deeply affect the final product.

The most common way to identify different styles of Barolo is by the location of the vineyards. There are five key sub-zones (villages) that make up 85 percent of all Barolo production. These are La Morra, Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d'Alba and Monforte d'Alba. The soil types divide these regions into two zones: the Central Valley to the east, made up of Tortonian soil (creates more approachable wines with fragrance, softness and elegance); and the Serralunga Valley to the west, consisting of Helvetian soil (generally creates long-lived, powerfully concentrated wines).

Barolos from La Morra are more perfumed and graceful, aromatic and feminine. On the palate these wines are suppler and usually the easiest of all to drink young. This is due to the soil composition in La Morra that has a higher concentration of younger limestone and marl, as compared to the Barolos from villages like Serralunga and Monforte where the older, chalky and heavier soil produces wines with a bigger tannic extraction.

Meanwhile, characteristics of Barolos from Monforte d’Alba are structure and depth of flavor. These Barolos are bold and rich, concentrated and firm. Barolos from vineyards located in Barolo are broader, open, plush and warm, sometimes more feminine, yet with considerable structure and concentration, overall very classic wines. Barolos from Castiglione Falletto have a very rich bouquet, quite aromatic. Ranging from medium-bodied to powerful, with a generous mouthfeel and a strong tannic extraction. Barolos from Serralunga d’Alba are powerful and can age for very long time. These wines are more extracted and more tannic, rich with depth and concentration, usually the most powerful Barolos.

Barolos from La Morra are more perfumed and graceful, aromatic and feminine ... the easiest of all to drink young.

We can add that more modern and international winemaking approaches produce wines ready for early enjoyment. Also, Barolos from slightly warmer regions will be ready sooner compared to more "classic" vintages whose tannins needs more time to integrate into the wine. Look for vintages like 2007, 2009 and 2011.

My suggestions from La Morra village: Cordero di Montezemolo 2010 Monfalletto ($39) is a Barolo carefully made blending fruits from different vineyards in La Morra. It’s always a great example of a young Barolo.

Andrea Oberto 2009 Vigneto Rocche ($60) is another good example: supple, rich, and approachable even after just being released into the market. Meanwhile, Renato Ratti 2007 Marcenasco ($54) shows complexity and balance even when younger.

In addition to those from La Morra village, I suggest: Comm. G.B. Burlotto 2010 Monvigliero Nebbiolo ($65), from the little town of Verduno. The Burlotto family still presses the grapes for this soft wine by foot during fermentation. This old technique extracts tannins very softly which results in a smoother mouthfeel. Even though Burlotto use a very traditional winemaking style, I find their Monvigliero extremely pleasant and attractive even when younger.

Vietti 2011 Castiglione ($49) is made from grapes selected from vineyards located in four different villages. This Barolo shows finesse and elegance even just after bottled.

When enjoying Barolo, don't forget to open the bottle sometime before drinking, let the wine breathe and drink it from a large wine glass.

Press Club

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