This Barolo Wine Guide is part of our wine region series of articles. Discover both famous and obscure wine regions, the styles of wine they produce and get a few recommendations on wines to try as you learn!

What is Barolo Wine? | Barolo Wine Guide

Barolo as a region is largely characterized by the rolling hills of Langhe, where the mornings are typically foggy in low lying areas. Image courtesy Progettarea Architettura.

Barolo Wine Guide | Barolo Tasting Notes | Barolo Food Pairings & Recommendations

Nebbiolo grape clusters. Image courtesy Dr. Graybeard.

 Barolo Wine Guide

What is Barolo Wine?

Put simply, Barolo (often labeled as Barolo DOCG) is a style of Italian wine that’s produced near the town of Barolo in Piedmont, Italy. Barolo wines are produced using the Nebbiolo grape variety, which is grown primarily in the Langhe Hills within the Barolo wine region. The final products are typically rich and full-bodied with elevated tannins, alcohol and acidity. Because of this, Barolo makes for an ideal style of wine to pair with a wide range of sharp cheeses, meats, roasted vegetable, tomato based and savory poultry dishes.

These wines can be somewhat expensive. In most cases a decent bottle of Barolo will start at $35.00 in US markets. This is in large part due to production techniques and because of Nebbiolo’s ability to be somewhat of a pain in the ass to grow (more on this later).

Barolo wines are great candidates for long term aging, as the tannin and acidic content not only allow for longevity, but overtime help to develop additional complex flavors of tobacco, mushroom and other earthy nuances.

Per the conditions set into place by the Barolo DOCG regulatory body (DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), in order for a Barolo to actually be labeled “Barolo,” it must be aged for a minimum of 38 months, 18 of which being in wood. In addition, Barolo and Barolo Reserve wines need to maintain at least 12.5% alcohol by volume. There are other production requirements, Barolo and Barolo Reserve wines, as seen in the chart below:

Barolo DOCG Wine Production Requirements in Italy

In order to label a wine as a Barolo DOCG, the wine maker must adhere to several regulations. Chart courtesy Consorizio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe E Roero.

 Fun fact: Piedmont (also known as Piemonte) has achieved world-wide notoriety in large part due Barolo and its fan base. Along with wines produced in the region, it’s also known for its cuisine.

Barolo DOCG Map and Location in Italy

 Growing Barolo Grapes & Production Techniques

Barolo Wine Guide | Barolo Nebbiolo Vines Growing in Piedmont, Italy on Hillsides in Langhe.

Classically laid out Nebbiolo vines bask in the sun across the Langhe Hillsides in Piedmont, Italy. Image courtesy Antonio Passaseo.

There’s a reason why Barolo is considered to be one of Italy’s cream of the crop wines. The Nebbiolo grape variety is particularly difficult to cultivate properly.

Nebbiolo itself drives up cost of production because its ability to grow vigorously and ripen late. Most premium producers will place Nebbiolo vines on South-facing hillsides atop limestone based, calcareous soil. This allows the vines to consistently soak up sunlight for most of the day, helping them to achieve ripeness faster. The calcareous soil allows for better drainage which helps force vines to work a bit harder for their nutriment, aiding in better fruit and more minerality while limiting overgrowth. These vines must be looked after and manicured often, as they are known to divert more energy towards leaf growth than they are to push it towards growing fruit.

Some vineyard sites offer more desirable locations to grow and produce Nebbiolo than others. These vineyards are dubbed Cru, Bricco or Sorì depending upon

The Barolo DOCG requires that no more than 8,000 kilograms per hectare can be harvested, with no more than 5,600 litres of Barolo wine being produced per ha. Classic Barolo’s must be aged for 38 months, 18 in oak. They are ready for consumption by the 1st January of the 4th year following the harvest. Barolo Reserve wines must be aged for 62 months, 18 of which must be within oak barrels. They are ready for consumption by the 1st January of the 6th year following harvest. Depending on the producer and vintage, French oak and or Slovenian oak barrels may be employed for aging. Combinations of the two may also be used.

Both Barolo and Barolo Reserve wine must have at least 12.5% ABV in order to label it as such.

Calories in Barolo Wines

It’s impossible to pinpoint an exact calorie count in Barolo wine as it’s so heavily influenced by alcohol content. On average, expect a 5 ounce pour of Barolo to run you between 150 and 175 calories.

 What do Barolo Wines Taste Like?

Common Flavors and Aromas

  • Fruit: Red (Red Currant, Dark Cherry, Tomato, Cranberry, Raspberry, Strawberry)
  • Earth & Mineral Notes: Dry forest floor, Underbrush, Limestone, Dark spice
  • Additional Complexities: Rock Rose, Damp Violet, Balsamic, Mushroom, Tobacco, Tomato Paste, Cranberry Sauce, Tar, Tulip

Structure

  • Body: Full
  • Sugar: Dry
  • Tannins: High
  • Acid: High
  • Alcohol: High (12.0% – 15.0% ABV)
  • Finish: Medium – Long

Terroir

  • Soil: Limestone, Stone, Gravel, Crushed Rock
  • Climate: Moderate
  • Notable Regions: Barolo, Italy | Langhe Hills, Italy | Piedmont, Italy

Barolo Wine Recommendations to Try

It can be a daunting task to select a Barolo wine given the average price point for some of the finest examples. However, if you know where to look, great tasting wines can be found starting at $35.00. Below, we’ll highlight a few of our favorite somewhat inexpensive Barolo’s in addition to some of the more famous but a bit more expensive versions, should you be inclined to try them. We actually recommend sampling premium Barolo’s from time to time, it will give you a finer example of the quality potential of these wines. The wines we list below range between $40.00 and $120.00.

 Barolo Buying Tip: Barolo has had both fantastic and dismal vintages over the past few decades. Today, if you can find a Barolo from 1993 to 2001 (’96 was one of the best), 2004 from a premium producer, or from 2010, you’ll have an opportunity to taste some of Barolo’s best years. If you do buy a 2010 or younger Barolo, consider aging for several more years in order to taste the best bang for your buck. Even though there are great years, Barolo needs time for tannins and acidity to soften. Remember, Barolo’s are some of the best wines in the world to age, even up to 40 years after bottling. 

Big and Bold: Damilano Barolo Riserva 2000

Fruity, Floral & Astringent: Borgogno Barolo Riserva 2004

Red Fruit & Dark Spice: Michele Chiarlo Barolo Tortoniano 2010

Floral, Mineral & Red: Prunotto Barolo 2010

Tobacco Spice, Red & Black Fruit: Marchesi di Barolo Tradizione Barbaresco 2010

 Barolo Food Pairings

Barolo Food PairingsBarolo wines make for great food pairing partners because they’re so high in everything. Flavor, intensity, acidity and tannins must therefor be matched by a food that is equally as powerful, otherwise the wine will appear to taste too strong alongside a lightly flavored food. That said, seek out richer and even slightly acidic dishes to balance and enhance the wine and food. Thick cuts of steak or brisket with salt and pepper. Drinking Barolo offers an ideal time to bring out dry-rub rack of ribs or lamb. If meat is too heavy for you, try tomato based pasta dishes or chicken Parmesan. Four-cheese risotto alongside any of the above with grilled or roasted veggies will offer nice flavoric accents as well. Take a look at some of our favorite Barolo food pairing recipes below: 

Additional sources and images include Arturo CiompiJancis Robinson, The New York Times and WSET.

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4 Comments

  • Barolo is a an excellent wine and I love it with a hearty pasta dish with mushrooms and meat that fits with the profile of the wine.

  • Glad I found your blog. Anything about wine has my attention. This Barolo wine sounds great!

  • I have never heard of Barolo, but I’m not a wine connoisseur. Since it is dry, it probably wouldn’t be to my liking. However, that wouldn’t stop me from trying it! I could be surprised. I love good surprises that come in the form of wine.

  • If it takes 38 months for the wine to age no wonder they ask for a minimum of $35 a bottle. I’ve heard of Barolo wines, but never visited the region. From what you are describing I think I’d like the wine. I like fruity and dark spices. Thanks for the food pairing tips.

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