A toast to Barolo wine

I vividly remember my first Barolo.

Tasked with selecting a wine for dinner whilst out shopping with my mum, I instinctively went for the most expensive bottle I could find. After all, I wasn't paying.

My disappointment later that evening was profound: my 16-year-old palate was not ready for the acid-tannic core of a supermarket Barolo that's been less than well made!

That evening spelt the end of my Barolo drinking until I started to take wine seriously in my mid-thirties. Now I can't get enough of it!

Barolo has an interesting and regal history.

Before the mid-1800s, Barolo wines were supposedly finished sweet. This style didn't please the Marquise of Barolo, Giulia Falletti, so she asked the Count of Cavour to come up with a way of producing Barolo in the dry style we are more familiar with today.

The Marquise introduced these dryer style wines to the aristocratic circles of Torino, and they soon attracted the attention of the Savoyard royal family. The wines became so prized that they became liquid ambassadors for the House of Savoy among the royal courts of Europe - quite a boon for the Marquise as she was producing these dryer style wines at her Barolo estate!

This "traditional" method of making Barolo involved one or two months of maceration and four or more years of maturation in large, neutral old Slavonian oak or chestnut casks. Long maturation in wood was necessary to soften the harsh tannins extracted through the prolonged maceration. The resulting wines were austere and tannic when young and were approachable only after considerable bottle ageing - sometimes decades.

During the 1980s, changes in winemaking practices created more "modern" Barolos. These wines were fruit-driven and approachable upon release with softer tannins, more concentration and noticeable more oak.

Today, many producers are making Barolos that fall somewhere between the traditional and modern with more judicious use of oak. The aim is to enhance the character of the Nebbiolo grape whilst managing its tannic and acidic nature.

Are you a fan of Barolo? Which producers have you tried? Let us know in the comments below.