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Umberto Fracassi Barolo Ratti Mentone 1998
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.
With hundreds of red grape varieties to choose from, winemakers have the freedom to create a virtually endless assortment of blended wines. In many European regions, strict laws are in place determining the set of varieties that may be used, but in the New World experimentation is permitted and encouraged. Blending can be utilized to create complex wines with many different layers of flavors and aromas, or to create more balanced wines. For example, a variety that is soft and full-bodied may be combined with one that is lighter with naturally high acidity. Sometimes small amounts of a particular variety are added to boost color or aromatics. Blending can take place before or after fermentation, with the latter, more popular option giving more control to the winemaker over the final qualities of the wine.