I'm very pragmatic when choosing a winery to visit. Especially when it comes to Barolo DOCG - a region so rich in outstanding wine and inspiring producers. Reading the estate's history, checking their labels and finding out as much as possible about their vinification techniques. Then selecting the TOP 5 Barolo wineries to visit and leaving one or two only. The best of all. In Barolo I ended up going to two places - and one of them is Vietti.
History of Barolo Wine Region
Apparently Barolo used to be a sweet wine in the very beginning of its' history. Even today Piemonte is not such a warm place, while Nebbiolo is known to be a late ripening gape. Therefore, if they harvested end of October, the temperatures would go cold enough in November-December to stop the fermentation while there is still quite a lot of residual sugar in the wine.
Barolo was first fermented dry in mid 19th century. Thanks to the efforts of the last Marquise de Barolo - Giulia Falletti and Count of Cavour, Camillo Benso.
Then the history has a few question marks regarding who actually created the 'recipe' of fermenting the Barolo wine dry. It was either Oudart (a French enologist) or Staglieno (an Italian enologist).
Starting from that point Barolo was known as 'king of wines, wine of kings' as the dry style of it was appealing to many royals. Well, there have been outstanding wines at those times, drunk by royals, but what was the majority of Barolo? It was farmers wine. Vines were growing along with trees and orchards at every farmer's house. If Oudart or Staglieno did improve the hygiene and fermentation conditions for the royal cellar, farmers still kept their never washed centenary botti (large wood casks, 3 to 10 thousand liters), cow, sheep and hen lived right there at the 'cellar'.
But let me talk about the second wave of revolution in among Barolo wineries in my next post. You know, the 'Barolo Boys' story.
Climate, soil, varieties of Barolo DOCG
Generally, we can speak of two different soil formations in the Barolo DOCG zone - Tortonian and Serravallian. Serravalian is older and it is composed of sandstone and sand, thus less fertile. Sandy soils always help to generate more tannins in the grapes and in fact, vineyards situated at Monforte d'Alba, Serralunga d'Alba and Castiglione Falletto are more powerful, deep, have more structure and require more ageing time to be enjoyed (and softened).
On the other hand we have the younger soils of Tortonian formation. This is where the villages of Barolo and La Morra belong to. Their wines are ready to drink earlier, have more fruity character. The soil here is composed of calcareous marl which is more fertile.
.At the same time Castiglione Falletto is at the boarder of two valleys - Serralunga valley and Central valley. So in reality the soils of Castiglione are a blend of Tortonian and Serravallian formations. Sandy soils with lots of calcareous formations. And, of course every hectare has it's own terroir - exposure is a big thing when it comes to Nebbiolo. Here from generation to generation they were observing at which plot does the snow melt earlier. Those places were always becoming the best for Nebbiolo plantings, as the variety is known for early bud break and late ripening.
If you are not too familiar with Barolo wine and don't have a preference yet, I'd recommend planing your Barolo wine route in a way that covers both valley (read - soil types). This way, you will find out what Barolo style you personally prefer.
What variety is Barolo wine made of?
Barolo DOCG wine must be 100% Nebbiolo and coming from 11 municipalities:
and the first 5 are considered to be the 'heart of Barolo'.
Some wineries like Vietti, that have vineyards outside of Barolo DOCG zone can still plant Nebbiolo and produce wine based on it. But they won't call it Barolo, they'll call it Nebbiolo d'Alba which is a larger and less restrictive DOC zone for producing affordable Barolo-type wine. In fact, if you want to learn more about the variety and look for a budget friendly option - Nebbiolo d'Alba is your solution.
Vietti Winery Visit
A family owned winery with an extraordinary history that has transformed from a farm to a solely winemaking site in 1919, way before others in the region did. This happened thanks to Patriarch Mario Vietti, the owner at those times.
The next achievements were done thanks to Lucia Vietti's husband - Alfredo Currado. He was one of the first to bottle single vineyard wines, one of the first Barolo wineries to export to America and introduced the almost extinct Arneis variety to his portfolio. Arneis is a native to Roero (north of Barolo) white vine.
It was in 1967 that Alfredo wanted to have some Arneis to vinify it separately. He went to farmers in Roero to ask for some Arneis. But they were scared by this foreigner from the other side of the river, they said they don't have any. He went to the priest and asked him to tell to people that he’s a good guy and will pay the farmers. So farmers agreed to bring a few baskets of this rare vine. 1976 was the first vintage of Vietti's Roero Arneis.
2 years ago Vietti's Roero Arneis celebrated 50 years since they first bottled it, that's why you can see a festive collar on their bottles from 2016 and on. Thanks to Vietti this obscure wine varietal became popular among winemakers in many countries, including New World.
Another significant event in Vietti's history happened 2 years ago when this family business was acquired by a US convenience store chain Kum & Go. Mario Cordero, Alfredo's son-in-law and Luca Currado (his son) are promised to stay leading the business and are very optimistic about the acquisition. As land prices grew to the extremes in the Barolo area, this might have been a realistic solution for expanding the business.
But let's talk about my visit to Vietti winery at last.
As you enter the cellar you can see that the estate grew gradually, year after year adding more vineyards and... more rooms to their fermentation and ageing cellar.
In the cellar you can find lots of stainless steel tanks of different sizes and shapes. A sign that they vinify each plot separately. There is a horizontal stainless steel tank - some years ago it became 'trendy' and believed to help extraction during maceration.
Briefly the processes behind Vietti's Barolo wine production are the following:
Cold pre-maceration - berries are crushed and together with ice kept in tanks. Low temperature prevents the start of fermentation, while the must gets as many phenolics (colour and aromas) as possible.
Fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks of different sizes, each of them has a refrigerating belt. Controlling temperature is paramount here, especially because at Vietti they use selected yeast. Which means the fermentation can happen too rapidly unless you know how to control it.
Post-maceration with the cap being pulled down and pumped over with the must. As you can see, Nebbiolo is a quite light coloured variety and here they do their best to extract as much colour as possible.
Malolactic fermentation is done in wood in casks of all sizes. In small barriques for increased oxygenation, while in large botti for building a more complex structure. So they do it in both. The proportion between the large botti and small barriques is up to the winemaker's decision each year.
Same story with ageing. Botti made of Slavonian oak and French barriques are in use here. Barolo DOCG wine ageing requirements are 38 months out of which 18 months in oak, and 5 years (riserva) of which 18 months in oak.
Barriques and botti are crowding in the ageing cellar. Here, among the rest, you can even find oval shaped casks (this allows to use the space more efficiently). The newest part, added to the cellar a few years ago, is actually the oldest. It's a 17th century town wall. Vietti left it untouched just added ceiling. The walls are more than a meter thick and north-facing. Therefore, no temperature control is needed here.
The last part of the cellar takes you along the oldest preserved bottles of Vietti - no indication of date, just bottles burried under layers of fungus. And finally, a secret tunnel digged into the rock by hand. Whatever troops were entering the region they were always looking for wine. Obviously, every producer tried hard to hide their precious bottles away from their eyes.
French vs Slavonian oak in Barolo wine
First of all, Nebbiolo is oaked not for the sole purpose of making a more expensive wine as people sometimes think (ageing wine in high quality oak adds around 4$ per bottle in production costs). To understand why is it oaked, you can try unoaked Nebbiolo which didn't make it to Barolo wine.
Langhe Nebbiolo or Nebbiolo d'Alba (the one I mentioned above) are either very little (2 months as in Vietti) or not oaked at all. The wines are fruity, for every-day drinking, gastronomic and easily paired with food, but astringent and very dry. The last two are about the variety, if you don't like acidic wines Nebbiolo might not be for you at all.
So Barolo DOCG is oaked to:
fixate the colour (Nebbiolo is very light by nature)
round the tannins of the grape, allow them to form more complex molecules which taste more 'round'
soften the astringency
add tertiary aromas (like game, leather, meet, tobacco, chocolate etc.)
allow long bottle ageing
Historically farmers here used large botti, made of Slavonian oak. Nowadays, producers either use only botti (traditionalists), combine botti with new French oak barriques (middle-ground approach), use only new French oak (modernists). Below a short explanation of differences between French barriques vs Slavonian botti.
French vs Slavonian oak:
- both are the same tree but grown in different places, thus different geo-climatic conditions.
- French oak grows in hilly, mountanious places, so the oak has tighter grain. This gives silky, velvet texture to the wine and spicy flavours.
- Slavonian oak comes from Croatia's Slavonia region (this is not Slovenia or Slovakia). It's a fertile lowland in the Pannonian Basin. As it's not burnt, but dried out naturally, it's a neutral oak. With this oak you preserve easier the fruity character of the wine and reflect the terroir.
French oak is used for barriques (225 liters), while Slavonian for botti (3 to 10 thousand liters). The walls of barriques are more thin, so oxygenation goes on faster and you can achieve the softened tannins in less period of time. Botti have thicker walls and require patience to develop complex tannin.
Vietti Wine Tasting at the cellar
Roero Arneis 2018 - the story of this rare vine varietal's connection to the Vietti Barolo producers above. As for the taste it's very floral with peach, apple, tangerine aromas. It's a rare wine, when Currado started producing his Roero Arneis the variety was almost extinct. The wine had no wood contact (stainless steel only) and is suitable for 2-3 years ageing.
Dolcetto d’Alba 2017 - Dolcetto together with Barbera were the farmers' wine on everyday table. The Barolo was for celebrations. Vietti's Dolcetto goes through 6 month ageing in stainless steel. Thus it kept its' original character - a fast to produce energy drink for farmers to keep hard working. North-facing, too flat, too high or too low lands within the Barolo DOCG are given to vines like Dolcetto.
It’s called Dolcetto because it’s sweet, but not the wine, only the bunches when you eat them. Dolcetto is a medium bodied wine with light to medium tannins, cherry, plum and blackberry notes with some spices. It's very fresh and gastronomic.
Barbera d’Alba Tre Vigne - cherry with vanilla hints, violets, ripe soft tannins and quite high, let's say refreshing, acidity. Has been oaked for 6 months.
Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne - while in Langhe the best plots are dedicated to Nebbiolo and Barbera gets what's left, in Asti - Barbera is the top red variety. So the best sun exposure and soil mixture is offered to this variety. In our case, Vietti has a south facing vineyard on the slopes in Agliano Terme - known for its' hot springs, lots of minerals and power coming from the soil. Barbera gets lots of light and sun here. The vines on this vineyard are around 85 years old.
Barbera d'Asti spent 18 months in oak (barriques and botti) and steel tanks. It's full of cherry, sweet spices, herbs and well-integrated oak aromas. Barbera is poor in tannin, so it gets it from oak.
Nebbiolo Perbacco 2016 - this wine didn't make it to Barolo DOCG as some of the Nebbiolo comes from outside of the DOCG zone.
Each parcel is vinified and aged separately and the winemaker decides which of the tanks will become Perbacco and which are the ones that will keep ageing to become Barolo Castiglione (only the parcels that come from the DOCG zone).
Perbacco is their best-seller wine as it's intense and powerful when young and becomes elegant and complex with age. In a word, another less expensive alternative to Barolo wine.
In Italian Perbacco is kind of a positive type of swearing addressing the God of Wine, Bacchus. When they first made this wine, Lucia Vietti (Luca's mother) said 'Perbacco', meaning it's hell good.
A good choice for a dinner, as you can get 3 of it at a price of a Barolo wine. Nice for those who are learning Nebbiolo variety, educating their palate, for a course to show people what is Nebbiolo or if you just like drinking Barolo often, but the prices bite. It can age well in bottle for up to 15 years.
On the nose and palate - eucalyptus, menthol, spices along with fresh fruits.
Barolo Castiglione 2015 - this is the Barolo blend of Nebbiolo coming from 11 parcels of Vietti. It spends 2 years in oak, 1 year in bottle and goes to the market. Blending Barolo wine is a traditional way, single crus became a trend quite recently. 2015 was a hot summer, so the wine is very ripe. However, the characteristic to Nebbiolo acidity is there to freshen the fruits up. Tart cherry notes with oaky-smoaky aromas, with anise, lavender and rose hints. You should decant this young Barolo for 5 hours to fully experience the bouquet.
There are so many wineries to visit in Piedmont and Northern Italy. The list can be endless. Why not combine your Barolo winery tour with some Gavi or Moscato d'Asti visits nearby? Ask me anything about planning your Italian wine trip!