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Michele Chiarlo Barbaresco 1999
At the production and vineyard level, where quality begins, Michele Chiarlo has for thirty years pursued an endless search for control over the finest vineyard sites in each of the zones from which he produces his wines. Perhaps the crown jewel among these is the vineyard of Fornace di Tassarolo in the Rovereto area of Gavi, a small parcel planted in 1910 which yields a brilliant and intense Gavi of exquisite refinement. He also has long-term agreements with the owners of two spectacular vineyards in the Castiglione Falleto and Serralunga crus of Barolo, from which he produces Barolo Riserva Rocche di Castiglione and Barolo Riserva Vigna Rionda di Serralunga. In addition to these contracts, he has also purchased the Antico Podere Averame in the Cerequio cru of Barolo, considered one of the zone's finest Nebbiolo vineyards; and an estate, also in Barolo in the cru of Cannubi, which due to its extremely sharp gradient had never been cultivated. With considerable capital investment, this vineyard has been terraced and brought into production, the first time such a project has ever been undertaken in Piedmont.
In 1995, Michele Chiarlo acquired the estate of Azienda Agricola Aluffi in Castelnuovo Calcea, considered to the most beautiful and prestigious property in the heart of the classic Barbera d'Asti zone. The estate is comprised of two separate vineyard holdings, La Court and Il Castello, with a total area of 62 acres of which 50 are planted in Barbera vines, quite extensive for this area. The principally southwest and easterly-exposed slopes support superb, calcium and mineral rich soils which are of ideal composition for the production of great Barbera d'Asti.
Michele Chiarlo directly manages or personally oversees every aspect in the production of his wines. Eminently qualified through the expertise acquired through his involvement with the company under his father, he also holds a degree from the prestigious School of Enology at Alba. His ceaseless innovation, both in production and in marketing, has gained him the respesct of his industry.
Often compared to Barolo but worthy of its own separate conversation, Barbaresco is home to the softer side of Nebbiolo. For a long time, consumers viewed Barbaresco as a more affordable alternative to the wines of neighboring Barolo, but advances in viticulture and resulting improvements in quality have allowed this region to build a superior reputation all its own. With a warmer, drier, and milder climate and compact, fertile soils, the wines here are powerful yet soft, fruit-forward, and elegantly perfumed. Barbaresco needs some time to mature before being ready to drink, but less so than Barolo, and the typical bottle is best enjoyed between five and 15 years from the harvest.
Barbaresco wines are highly aromatic and complexly flavored, with notes of rose petal, cherry, strawberry, violets, and spice. Bottle aging can add more savory characteristics of iron and tar, as well as dried orange peel. The modern style of Barbaresco relies on new oak to add flavor and soften the texture for early drinking, while more traditional versions aim to highlight the purity of the Nebbiolo grape by using large, neutral oak vessels.
Responsible for some of the most elegant and age-worthy wines in the world, Nebbiolo is the star variety of northern Italy’s Piedmont region. Grown throughout the area as well as in neighboring Valle d’Aosta and Valtellina, it is at its best in the Piedmontese villages of Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo is a finicky grape, and needs a very particular soil type in order to thrive. Outside of Italy, it often fails to show the captivating aromas for which it is so beloved, but some success has been achieved in parts of California.
In the Glass
Nebbiolo is an elegant variety with mouthwatering acidity and a compelling perfume of rose petals, violets, fresh tar, licorice, clay, and dried cherries. Light in color and body, Nebbiolo is a more powerful wine than one might expect, and its firm tannins typically need time to mellow. With age, it develops a velvety texture and a stunningly complex bouquet.
Nebbiolo’s love affair with food starts in Piedmont, which is home to the Slow Food movement and some of Italy’s best produce. The region is famous for its white truffles and wild boar ragu, both of which make for excellent pairings with Nebbiolo.
If you love Barolo and Barbaresco but can’t afford to drink them every night, you can try the more wallet-friendly, earlier-drinking Langhe Nebbiolo. But Piedmont’s best-kept secret is the northern part of the region, where outstanding earthy and rustic versions of the variety (known here as “Spanna”) are produced in Ghemme and Gattinara.