Two famous Piedmontese settlements are located on adjacent hills. Each village has its own approach to wine production. In one, they rely on the wisdom of their ancestors, in the other, they rely on technology
Barolo and Barbaresco chuckle at each other, but jealously watch who this year's capricious “nebbiolo” will love more.
A transparent elevator, attached to the wall of the medieval watchtower of Barbaresco, takes me to an open terrace. In one corner there are tables for tastings, in the other there is a telescope for studying the surroundings of Langhe, the famous wine region of Piedmont.
Impeccably marked vineyards turn the landscape into a topographic map, from edge to edge of which hilly ridges lie in large folds . The gentle slopes are great for growing grapes.
“The hills, and also the composition of the soil, rich in minerals and ammonites, fossil shells, are the legacy of the Miocene era. At that time, on the eve of the ice age, there was a sea in the place of Lange, whose waves crashed against the wall of the newly formed Alps. While I am reading this information on the information stand, a black cloud is approaching from the north, where you can see the snow-capped alpine peaks. The sky is darkening, but instead of thunder, I suddenly hear cannon blasts. The cannonade escalates, and, judging by the sounds, invisible guns are aimed directly at the tower. Just in case, I go down under the cover of the city walls.
“These are guns against hail clouds,” winemaker Jean Carlo explains to me. His voice echoes under the arches of the baroque church. We are standing inside the altar chapel, where the place of the iconostasis is occupied by wine cabinets, and the function of the throne is performed by an ordinary table with bottles and glasses.
Until recently, there were two churches in Barbaresco, where only 700 people live. With the development of the wine industry and tourism, the inhabitants decided that it was more expedient to leave one sanctuary for prayers. The second church, dedicated to St. Donato, the protector from hail and lightning, was adapted into a regional enoteca, the official center for the promotion of local wines. In this enoteca, whose doors were hospitably open, I took refuge from the weather.
Dressed in a sports sweatshirt, the talkative Jean Carlo looks like “his boyfriend”. First of all, he points to the shelf, where the wines of his cooperative, created at the end of the 19th century by nine winemakers, flaunt. Now it is 50 local families of hereditary farmers. “We are all like one big team,” says Jean Carlo. “You should know what kind of parties we have here. We put a long table on the square … “
The bottles are full of stickers with high marks from pretentious wine magazines and competitions. From the height of the church dome, this exhibition of achievements is overshadowed by the Holy Virgin Mary, painted as if her ascension to heaven took place in Piedmont exactly above the roofs of Barbaresco. St. Donato is seen next to Mary.
Cannons, according to Jean Carlo, appeared in Barbaresco after a devastating hailstorm on June 14 1999. “Hail is a common misfortune in Lange, but on that day, bad weather mowed down a huge number of vineyards. A real tragedy!”
The vintners' cooperative and the village administration decided that old methods like prayer did not meet modern realities, and allocated money to buy 15 cannons. Unusual structures resembling large gramophones appeared around the village. A metal box with a horn pointing to the sky generates a powerful sound wave, which should prevent the formation of ice in the cloud.
The cannons are connected to a computer. If you are connected to the system and know the special commands, then you can activate the guns from your mobile phone. “It is very comfortable. True, sometimes our guys are too zealous with shooting. Neighbors are mad. But it works! We're not as worried about the harvest as we used to be.”
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“Before they rang bells, now they fire from cannons. The effect is the same,” says Alberto Zaccarelli, manager of the Oddero family winery, which has been making barolo since the 19th century. Alberto shows me their best vineyard. Rows of neat vines, as if combed with a small comb, obediently follow the curves of the relief. The whole landscape looks ironed. Like the collar of Alberto's white shirt, effectively pulled out from under a black cashmere sweater.
“There is no hard evidence that cannons help against hail. It's a matter of faith,” says the steward as we pass the statue of the already familiar Saint Donato. The local protector from the rain perched in a small house-sanctuary on the side of the road that runs through the fields. The road leads to a small early Renaissance tower.
Alberto explains that it is specola, observatory. “This land, along with the tower, was bought by Luigi Oddero, the father of Maria and Giovanni, with whom I now work. Luigi loved to watch the people at work in the fields from the tower. He gave commands with a simple mouthpiece.”
Zaccarelli draws on gravel a map of the Barolo region, which includes 11 communes (villages), and shows in which communes the vineyards belonging to them are located.
“After two world wars, local winemaking was on the verge of collapse,” says Alberto. —Many residents went to nearby Alba to work at the Ferrero candy factory. Others left for Turin. The carmaker Fiat was gaining momentum there. It's been a solid career. Until the 1980s, no one could have imagined that Barolo would become world famous and be sold at auctions for hundreds of euros per bottle. You needed a strong character and faith in what you were doing in order to buy vineyards in those days and continue the family tradition, as Luigi did.”
Luigi Oddero specially chose plots in different communes. It is more difficult and expensive to cultivate scattered lands, but you know that the entire crop will not die from hail. “This approach is more reliable than any technology. We are traditionalists,” says Alberto.
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Tradition is a conditional concept. Until recently, in the middle of the 19th century, the traditional barolo was completely different. Local winemakers created wine the old fashioned way, in the style of the ancient Greeks and Romans, that is, semi-sweet and slightly carbonated. The Piedmontese aristocrats, who started the unification of Italy on the basis of the kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont, preferred dry, aged French wines.
The invention of the modern barolo is credited to the liberal and innovative Count Camillo Benso di Cavour. At the suggestion of Louis Oudar, an oenologist invited from France, he changed the approach to wine production, first in his own vineyards near Barolo, and then throughout the region. First, he started harvesting much later, giving the Nebbiolo time to reach its maximum ripeness. Secondly, he began to manage the fermentation process.
Before that, grape juice fermented on its own. Autumn frosts often stopped the process before the yeast had time to process all the sugar into alcohol. Therefore, the wine was semi-sweet, carbonated, low in alcohol.
Cavour suggested doing the fermentation at a controlled temperature above 30 °C. In such an environment, the yeast works more actively, as a result, the wine is dry and clearer in taste and aroma.
“Everything else we do, as we did centuries ago, ” says Alberto Zaccarelli. – We take care of the vine and harvest it by hand. And most importantly, we use only traditional Italian barrels for aging wine.” The steward shows the rows of colossal barrels in the cellar. Each holds 8500 liters. The larger the barrel, the less contact the wine has with the wood.
“We don’t need additional flavors in the wine spices, fruit, licorice, iodine explains Alberto, pouring a 2009 Barolo into a glass. Zaccarelli describes the wine slowly, as if getting acquainted with it for the first time. – There are so many fossil shells in the vineyard that when you dig up the earth, you hear a crunch. It is they who give the wine fresh iodine notes. Barolo should not be embellished.
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“98% success depends on the vine. And only two percent – from the efforts at the winery, the choice of barrels and other things, – says the Marquis Alberto di Gresi, a descendant of a noble family from the French region of Haute-Savoie and the owner of one of the most famous wineries in Barbaresco.
< p>It is located in a former hunting estate from the 19th century, built on a strategic height on top of a hill. Through the open doors and windows of the winery, a panoramic view of Martinenga, the pride of the di Gresi family, opens up. This is an impressive amphitheater with an area of 25 hectares. In tiny Barbaresco, where an ordinary winemaker owns a couple of hectares, which are also scattered over the surrounding hills, a monolithic vineyard of this size is considered royal luxury.
The Marquises di Gresi have owned Martinenga since 1797. But for almost two hundred years, the di Gresi sold their entire crop to Piedmont wine corporations. In 1973, the Marquis Alberto, who was then 21 years old, decided to make his own wine. He bought the best equipment, hired an experienced oenologist from New Zealand, and was the first in the region to start experimenting with the planting of international grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
“The Nebbiolo variety is the most expressive. It conveys every nuance of the earth. Our task is to emphasize this feature of the berries, says Marquis Alberto. He says that usually local winemakers are divided into traditionalists and modernists. Traditionalists prefer long-term maceration, when grape juice stays in contact with the pulp (skin and seeds) for more than a week. They age the wine in large barrels made of Slavonian oak, which grows in the Balkans and whose wood has less effect on the aroma of the wine. The wine is born powerful, tannic, “masculine”.
< p>Modernists, on the contrary, reduce the maceration time, choose small French oak barrels. Such barrels help to quickly soften the strong tannins inherent in Nebbiolo.
“There are traditionalists and modernists in both Barbaresco and Barolo,” continues di Gresi. “We often use French barrels, but And let's not forget the Italian ones. We adapt the method depending on the quality of the harvest, on the nature of the vineyard.”
Barolo vs Barbaresco
Igor Serdyuk, wine expert:
“Climate and soil strongly influence the difference in wines. Barolo has slightly higher and steeper hills than Barbaresco. This means a cooler climate. In the soils of Barolo, there is more marl, limestone deposits predominate. Marl conducts moisture well, and most importantly, doses it to the vines.
A cooler climate and marl soils – these two parameters determine such a key moment as uniform ripening of grapes. This produces wines with velvety, silky tannins. In addition, wines with high acidity are born on limestone soils. Acidity for wine means freshness, elegance and longevity.
It turns out that Barolo wine is a more masculine style with rich aging potential. Barbaresco wine – more fruity, lighter. And already between these two styles there are many gradations.
This is a classic theory. If we return to modern realities, then we must remember about climate change on the planet. Precipitation became more abundant, spring frosts dangerous for winemaking became more frequent. All this eliminates the difference between historical vineyards. In addition, modern agronomy and oenology have reached such a level that, with knowledge and talent, a winemaker can make the wine sound in unison with the terroir and his own worldview. Therefore, today the difference between Barolo and Barbaresco is much less dramatic than half a century ago.”
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Alberto di Gresi invites you to come out onto the open terrace of the winery. The soft lines of the hills, the toy-like villages and the vineyards that go beyond the horizon set you up for contemplation. “It's a blessing to work with a vineyard like Martinenga, says the Marquis.
Barbaresco is located north of Barolo, but it is usually warmer here. The proximity of the Tanaro River affects. It also affects the composition of the soil: there is more sand. As a result, the “nebbiolo” in Barbaresco is less tannic. Wines from such grapes are obtained easier.
In Piedmontese restaurants, you rarely see a bottle of Barolo at the dinner table. This wine is chosen today for a celebration or a special dinner. But barbaresco is a popular choice for local noble beef tartare or agnolotti stuffed with veal with butter and sage sauce.
The French influence is felt in Piedmont on every level, from gastronomy and winemaking to culture and language. Piedmontese to this day speak a special dialect similar to the Franco-Provençal language of the Middle Ages. “From the very beginning, I wanted to make elegant, but accessible, understandable wines. Without snobbery and elitism,” says Alberto.
According to the law, the minimum exposure for barbaresco must be two years. Di Gresi lasts twice as long. “In eight years, this barbaresco will only get better,” says the Marquis Alberto.
According to Alberto, “nebbiolo” has such a sensitivity to the earth that it allows you to make dissimilar wines within the same vineyard. What can we say about another village or region. Even the change of owners of the winery can affect the taste of the wine. The diversity in nebbiolo styles reflects the variegation of Piedmont itself, where French charm meets German prudence and Swiss pedantry. Therefore, the images of “nebbiolo”, as well as the images of Piedmont, are not two, but many. At least as many as winemakers.
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“Have patience,” – in the voice of Davide Champignon, a representative of one of the oldest wineries in Barolo, condescension and slight irritation are barely discernible. Still, in violation of all norms of etiquette, I have to ask for a tasting of barolo from old stocks, bypassing young wines, the future qualities of which can only be recognized by an experienced sommelier.
The wine cellars are located in the heart of Barolo. A small commune gives the impression of a significant geographical unit. First of all, thanks to the grandiose castle of the Marquis Faletti di Barolo. This is a real fortress, an impregnable rock towering over all buildings. The last representative of the family of the Marquise Julia was friends with Cavour and also took an active part in the creation of wines in the “modern” style.
The commune of Barolo, in comparison with Barbaresco, looks more closed and uncompromising. The same as a young wine, with which Davide, pretending not to hear my request, begins the tasting. The year of harvest is 2007 on the label. The wine spent four years in traditional large barrels and several years in the bottle. Such a term usually softens even the most zealous character. But the local “nebbiolo” did not seem to notice the past years. It attacks the receptors with assertive tannins. “We have to wait at least another five years,” Davide confirms my feelings.
It's all about the soil. Formally, all Lange vineyards are located on sedimentary rocks of the Miocene era. But there are older sections, there are younger ones. Most of the best Barolo vineyards are located on rocks formed about 13 million years ago. Which is a couple of million years older than the rest of the land in Lang.
The aged terroir gives such tannins that only the strong in spirit can drink young Barolo. “Our wines are a good investment. They are meant for special occasions,” says Champignone. He says that in 1861 their wine was the main drink at a festive dinner on the occasion of the signing of the pact for the unification of Italy. And in 1908 Nicholas II drank their barolo during an official visit to Piedmont.
“Barolo is often compared to Burgundy,” says Davide. “We have the same complex geography. And the same sensitive grape variety. Only in Burgundy they grow Pinot Noir, and here they grow Nebbiolo.” The wine geography is not only the communes and the vineyards that surround them.
Each major vineyard consists of specific historical allotments. In French tradition, they are sometimes called cru. One cru is better lit by the sun, the other is at a suitable height or has a unique soil composition. “There’s magnesium here underground, sand here, clayey limestone there,” says Davide. “You can feel the difference in the glass.”
Listening to a lecture on local geology, I look at a bottle worth more than 100 euros: ” Barolo 2000 in the Riserva category. This word on the label means that the wine is released to the market after at least five years of aging. In Borgogno have been waiting for six and a half years. Davide Champignon says that this wine is made according to the traditional formula, when the winemaker selects the best grapes from the best cru and makes a blend. He mixes “nebbiolo” in certain proportions, achieving harmony in aroma, taste and aftertaste.
In recent years it has become fashionable in Barolo to create drinks using grapes from only one cru. Given the ability of “nebbiolo” to convey the qualities of each hill and slope, this is an entertaining process for winemakers and wine lovers alike. “Yes, it is fashionable. But we prefer tradition. She never let us down,” says Davide.
Italy, Piedmont Region
Piedmont area 25,402 km² (2- (th place in Italy)
Population ~ 4,270,000 (4th)
Area of Italy 301,340 km² (71st in the world)
Population~ 58,854,000 (25th place)
Attractions:royal residences of the Savoy dynasty in Turin and its environs, Turin Cathedral (Turin Shroud), Sacri Monti (sacred mountains) – a complex of monuments and places of rest for pilgrims of the 16th-17th centuries.
Traditional dishes:vitello tonnato – beef with tuna sauce; taiyarin al tartufo bianco – pasta with butter and truffle sauce; brasato al barolo is beef marinated in wine, baked with vegetables.
Traditional drinks: vermouth, bicherin (coffee with hot chocolate and whipped cream).
Souvenirs: ceramics from Mondovi, cheeses with mold (tomino, robiola, castelmagno, toma piemontese), gianduia chocolate-nut paste.
DISTANCEfrom Moscow to Turin — 2400 km ( from 3 hours in flight)
TIMEbehind Moscow by 2 hours in winter, an hour in summer
CURRENCY < /strong>euro
Photo: GETTY IMAGES (6); Konstantin Kalishko (4)
The article was published in the magazine “Around the World” No. 3, April 2021, partially updated in April 2023