A Welcome Return to the Barolo

We made our first trip to the Langhe in 2011 and while it has only been six months since our most recent visit, I felt a warm welcome back by friends made over the past two years.  We return again, this time to welcome Sobrero Francesco in the Barolo, and Fontanabianca in the Barbaresco as new members of our family of producers, and to sample new vintages.  Barolo and Barbaresco are two zones separated by only 10 kilometers, but when comparing wine characteristics, they may as well be on the other side of the country from each other.  Look for more on that later.

It’s early October, and it’s vendemmia, (harvest)!  The whites (Arneis) are already in and well into maceration.  The Dolcetto (little sweet one) and Barbera harvests have begun, but the “King”, Nebbiolo, continues to hang and will likely continue for one to two weeks longer.  The winemakers assure me that this is normal for Nebbiolo, and one must be patient.  This October is dropping some light rain on the vineyards, and as long as it doesn’t persist, no one seems concerned about muffa (mildew).

Barolo is referred to as both the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings. There are eleven communes that comprise the DOCG, but only five are included in the original communes from 1980 when the region was promoted to DOCG status—Barolo and La Morra in the Central Valley, and Monforte d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto, and Serralunga d’Alba in the Serralunga Valley. These are two adjacent vinicultural zones with significantly different soil types and microclimates that produce wines of significantly different characteristics.  The Helvetian soils in the Serralunga Valley with its relatively high composition of limestone produces wines that are concentrated, powerful, rich and full-bodied.  In contrast, the Tortonian soils in the Central Valley are a mix of clay and sand and produce wines that are aromatic, lighter bodied, and considered more approachable when young.  The wine characteristics between these five subzones, or communes can even be differentiated further, and if you want to dive deeper on your own, search Ratti’s 1979 sub region classification.  I recommend you research while enjoying your favorite glass of Nebbiolo.  Blending fruit from the five communes was common until the 1960’s when winemakers shifted to production of single vineyard crus.  Today you will find reference to forty different crus in Barolo, each known for its unique characteristics.

We met the family at Sobrero Francesco of Castiglione Falletto in March of 2013 and were immediately taken by their 2006 and 2007 Barolo Riserva from their “Pernanno” vineyard with their bold, generous fruit, velvety texture, and lasting complex finishes.  The winery was started in the 60’s by Francesco Sobrero and is now operated by his grandchildren Flavio (winemaker), Francesca and Federica.  Flavio does an excellent job of blending traditional Barolo methods with modern technologies.  And, you are not going to experience better views than at their agriturismo Casa Sobrero.

The hilltop village of Castiglione Falletto is as welcoming as it is historic.  We enjoyed exceptional regional cuisine by Angelo and Maria Cristina at Le Torri Ristorante and Andrea Valentina’s cucina at Locanda Del Centro.  We always enjoy a cafè or glass of wine and talking to the locals at the Bar La Terrazza “da Renza” and enjoying the view.

Drive minutes north from the Barolo on A33 and you are in the Barbaresco.  If Barolo is The King, then Barbaresco is the Queen. While both wines are 100% Nebbiolo, their similarities stop there. This is where Nebbiolo demonstrates its ability to produce wildly different characteristics based on soils and microclimates.  The Barbaresco is subject to slightly higher temperatures than its neighbor.  And indeed, the Nebbiolo in Barbaresco matures earlier, is harvested earlier, and delivers wines that are more aromatic, perfumed and delicate.

We first met Luisella Pola at Fontanabianca in Neive during our visit in March 2013 and were quickly won over by their flagship Barbaresco “Bordini”.  We returned again this trip to spend time with the two families who share a long history together producing fine Barbaresco wines.  Aldo Pola and Bruno Ferro, along with their wives, Luisella and Mariangela and daughter Stefania, carry on the traditions of their fathers Franco Pola and Ottavio Ferro who began making wine in 1969. Their Bordini cru in the heart of the DOCG, faces southwest, and directly faces the historic hill town of Neive.  It has consistently produced rich, elegant and beautifully complex Barbaresco.  The village of Neive is both inviting and enchanting.  Aldo and Bruno hosted us for an afternoon of dining at La Luna nel Pozzo where we were treated with pairings of fresh, local dishes and Fontanabianca Arneis, Barbera, and Barbaresco wines.  Magnifico!

Our favorites from Sobrero Francesco and Fontanabianca are on their way to Northern California.  Look for them on our website by mid October.

Don Chigazola