Located due south of Alba and the River Tanaro, Barolo is Piedmont’s most famous wine DOCG, renowned for producing Italy’s finest red wines from 100% Nebbiolo.
Its red wines were originally sweet but in 1840 the then Italian monarchy, the House of Savoy, ordered them to be changed to a dry style. This project was realised by French oenologist Louis Oudart whose experience with Pinot Noir had convinced him of Nebbiolo’s potential. The Barolo appellation was formalised in 1966 at around 1700 ha, only a tenth of the size of Burgundy but almost three times as big as neighbouring Barbaresco.
Upgraded to DOCG status in 1980, Barolo comprises two distinct soil types. The first is a Tortonian sandy marl that produces a more feminine style of wine and can be found in the villages of Barolo, La Morra, Cherasco, Verduno, Novello, Roddi and parts of Castiglione Falletto. The second is the older Helvetian sandstone clay that bestows the wines with a more muscular style. This can be found in Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba, Diano d’Alba, Grinzane Cavour and the other parts of Castiglione Falletto. Made today from the Nebbiolo clones Lampia, Michet & Rosé, Barolo has an exceptional terroir with almost every village perched on its own hill. The climate is continental, with an extended summer and autumn enabling the fickle Nebbiolo to achieve perfect ripeness.
Inspired by the success of modernists such as Elio Altare, there has been pressure in recent years to reduce the ageing requirements for Barolo. This has been mostly driven by new producers to the region, often with no Piedmontese viticultural heritage and armed with their roto-fermentors and French barriques, intent on making a `fruitier’, more modern style of wine.
This `modern’ style arguably appeals more to the important American market and its scribes, but the traditionalists continue to argue in favour of making Barolo in the classic way. They make the wine in a mix of epoxy-lined cement or stainless-steel cuves followed by extended ageing in large 25hl slavonian barrels (`botte’) to gently soften and integrate the tannins. However, even amongst the `traditionalists’ there has been a move since the mid-1990s towards using physiologically (rather than polyphenolically) riper fruit, aided by global warming.
Since the end of the nineteenth century the land of Collina Serragrilli has been farmed by four generations of the same family. From the days when grapes were sold in vats, and wine in bulk in barrels loaded onto ox-drawn carts, the business has been passed down from father to son. Today it is run with integrity and enterprise by the latest generation of the Lequio family with the help of their husbands and in-laws, whose background is also in wine. Grandfather and great-grandfather were noted local vignerons who left behind vineyards of the highest quality, and the winery remains at the forefront of winegrowing in the area.
All the vinification and storage procedures take place on the ground floor in order to facilitate operations. The winery is fitted out with the finest in winemaking equipment, and is fully temperature controlled. By choice, no use is ever made of concentration or reverse osmosis, which could affect the wines’ properties and taste. In the area given over to storage there are small and medium-sized barrels. The red wines mostly age in barriques (holding 225 litres), tonneaux (500 litres) and 1000-litre casks, all strictly made of French Allier oak. Larger 20 and 25-hectolitre casks made of Slavonian and Allier oak are used for the aging of the traditional-style Barbaresco, while the “Serragrilli” cru matures in barriques and tonneaux. Finally, there is the so-called “barricaia”, or barrique cellar, which is to be found underground where the Lequio family used to produce wine a century ago. Here the humidity and temperature are ideal not only for storing the wine, but also for preserving the wood of the barriques and tonneaux, ensuring that no gaps appear between the staves and result in the loss of wine. The barriques have a lifespan of only 4 years, after which they are replaced. This makes the ageing process extremely costly, but the results are truly exceptional.