One of the many perks of working in the wine business is the trade-only tastings. Recently, all us industry folk were at Acero in Maplewood, to visit with Empson Wine Importers who were in town showcasing their new vintage offerings of Brunello and Barolo from some of the top producers in their portfolio.
I'm sure at one time or another you've heard the mention of Brunello or Barolo. I imagine you may have been confused about what these words mean.
Many of the wines we're used to drinking—especially those that are made in California—are labeled by the dominant grape variety that's in the bottle. So we've come to expect to see the grape name on the bottle. But, once you get over to Italy, the labeling scheme doesn't play out the same way.
The Italians long-ago discovered that the place that the grapes are grown in dictates most loudly to the final quality and style of the wine. This sense of place is often referred to as terroir. Aside from the particular soil that the grapes are borne from, the historical wine making practices of that place and historical grape varieties used are also overwhelming constituents of the final wine.
So what do the words Brunello and Barolo refer to? Italian wine is named after the place that it comes from. Barolo is an area in the Piedmont–the northwest area at the top of the country. Brunello comes from the town of Montalcino, an area within Tuscany. Tuscany is about about two-fifths of the way south from the top of Italy. Barolo is made from the grape Nebbiolo. Brunello is made from the Sangiovese grape, the same that's used to make Chianti.
We have quite a few Barolos and Brunellos on the wine list here at Robust, and there are a few new ones that we're very excited about. A distributor who specializes in fine Italian wines recently had a firesale, and we're now offering a few Barolos at incredible discount.
The best Barolo offerings on our list are the 2003 Collina Serragrilli Barolo and the 2005 Paolo Scavino Barolo. The 2003 Collina is now showing beautifully because of the extra few years it has been aging in the bottle. The 2005 Paolo is still wound a little tight, but is presenting nicely after a bit of time in a decanter. They both show nice earthy tones and notes of herbs. The classic rich, sour cherry is ever-present, and they've got a lot of nuance.
In general, Barolos are big, tannic wines. They need time to age, and they need time in the glass to open up. If you love the flavor profile of Barolos but need something a little lighter, a Barbaresco is a great option for you. They come from the same highly acclaimed region in Piedmont, are made from the same grape, but spend less time in oak and are generally made to be able to drink earlier. The well-known adage goes something like: "The Italians drink their Barbarescos while they're waiting for their Barolos to come around."
My favorite Barbarescos on the list are the 2003 Collina Serragrilli Barbaresco and the 2005 Paitin Barbaresco. The Collina is at a price that's impossible to beat—$26 retail and $50—for wine of this quality and with this much age development.
So put down the Sauvignon Blanc—you know that you've already had your summer fill! Come in and try a bottle of Barolo or Barbaresco along with our Spring Rack of Lamb. And ask your server to decant the wine—it will give it the little bit of extra air that will make it shine.
My top four recommendations are:
2003 Collina Serragrilli Barbaresco - $26 retail / $50 list
2003 Collina Serragrilli Barolo – $34 retail / $68 list
2005 Paolo Scavino Barolo – $48 retail / $90 list
2005 Paitin Barbaresco – $49.5 retial / $95 list