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Michele Chiarlo Barolo 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.
Home to the world’s most powerful wines made from the Nebbiolo grape, the Barolo village of Piedmont has long been known as “the wine of kings, the king of wines.” There are two predominant soil types here, which distinguish Barolo from neighboring Barbaresco as well as from the lesser surrounding areas. Compact and fertile Tortonian sandy marls define the vineyards to the west, typically resulting in fresher, fruitier, and softer wines that are approachable relatively early on in their evolution. This is sometimes referred to as the “feminine” side of Barolo and is closer in style to Barbaresco with its elegant perfume. On the eastern side of the region, Helvetian sandstone clay soils are chalkier and less fertile, producing age-worthy wines with full body and structured tannins—the more “masculine” style. The best Barolo wines need 10-15 years before they are ready to drink, and can further age for several decades.
Barolo is one of the world’s most distinctive red wines, and experienced tasters typically have no trouble picking it out of a lineup. In addition to Nebbiolo’s signature “tar and roses” aroma, one can expect to find complex notes of strawberries, cherries, leather, white truffles, anise, fresh and dried herbs, tobacco, violets, plum, and much more. Despite its deceptively light garnet color, Barolo has a full presence on the palate and plenty of tannin and acidity. The traditional style of Barolo relies on the use of neutral large wooden vats for aging, which do not impart flavor to the wine and preserve the natural character of the Nebbiolo grape. Meanwhile, a more modern, “international” style of Barolo utilizes small French oak barrels to add spicy, woody flavors and a softer texture resulting in earlier drinkability.
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.