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Italian Wines & Wineries Infused With Tradition

on 14/06/11 at 10:24 am


The central valley of Barolo has sandier soils, which produce more delicate nebbiolos that suffer under the weight of new French oak. Photograph by: Bill Zacharkiw, Special to the Gazette

Piedmont tour reveals interesting contrast between Barolo’s Batasiolo and Barbaresco’s Gaja.

This is the second of three articles inspired by a recent trip to Northern Italy, which was funded by a small group of wineries in three of Italy’s most historic wine regions – Piedmont, Veneto and Tuscany.

My three days in Piedmont were divided between two wineries with long-standing histories in their respective regions: Barolo’s Batasiolo and Barbaresco’s Gaja. They are an interesting contrast.

Batasiolo concentrates its efforts on producing relatively inexpensive, traditionally-made Barolo, while Gaja could not be more different. Gaja’s wines are the most expensive in Italy, and Angelo Gaja’s approach to making them is unique. But what they have in common is my adoration for what might be my favourite red grape varietal: nebbiolo.


Sitting on a hill near the outskirts of the northern Italian village of Serralunga d’Alba, I couldn’t help but be taken aback by how secluded I felt. Looking out to the horizon, there was valley after valley of vine-filled slopes, all framed by the Alps – still snowcovered even on a mid-May day with a temperature of more than 25C. This is Piedmont – truffles, hazelnuts and two of wine’s most prestigious appellations, Barolo and Barbaresco.

As one who appreciates more traditional wines, I have a special affection for Barolo. I wrote of a recent wine of the week, Silvio Grasso’s 2005, that “young Barolo challenges, older versions caress.” The common complaint with nebbiolo is that when young, it can have high acidity and lots of mouth-numbing tannin, which can take years in the bottle to soften up.

These are wines that fly in the face of what most modern winemaking is about: to make wines that are as easy to understand as possible, wines constructed for immediate consumption with creamy textures, high alcohol, super-ripe fruit and aged in new oak – all which bring an element of sweetness to the palate. With their relatively high acidity, firm tannins alongside classic aromas of tar, truffle, cherry and roses, Barolos have, for the most part, remained a bit of an anachronism.

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