Barolo holds an exalted place in the pantheon of Italy’s winemaking tradition. The town and its surroundings, about an hour south of Torino in Piedmont, produce some of the most highly prized wines in the world. While luxury often comes with a cost, the town of Barolo itself has plenty of affordable options for wine aficionados, from inexpensive trattorias with extensive wine lists to tasting rooms with wines available for just a few Euros. Wine tasting in Barolo need not break the bank and it will prove informative and a diverting way to spend the day.
The town of Barolo is fairly compact, perched atop a hill and easily traversed on foot. Like other towns in Piedmont, the town features its own castle, the Castello Falletti, which dates back to the 10th Century. Walk along the castle walls until the buildings fall away and you are left with views of vineyards rolling far off into the distance. The Castello itself features the whimsical Wi-Mu Wine Museum devoted to the region’s winemaking history; unfortunately the exhibit is more marketing than history. Skip that and head for a local enoteca (tasting room). After all, if you’re in Barolo, you’ll be there to taste wines.
Wine Tasting in Barolo
Though it produces a diverse range of wines, Piedmont is best known for its reds, including Dolcetto, Barbera and, of course, Barolo, the King of Italian Wines, made from the Nebbiolo grape. Lesser known grapes from the area include Arneis, Cortese and Freisa, as well as Timorasso in the east near Liguria.
The Barolo DOCG consists of eleven villages, most notably Barolo, Monforte d’Alba, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga d’Alba. In general, La Morra is known for its finesse while Serralunga’s limestone imparts minerality to balance power and Monforte yields the biggest, most powerful wines. Each village has its own designated Barolo vineyards, some of which like Cannubi (Barolo), Brunate (La Morra), Francia (Serralunga), Rocche and Bricco Boschis (Castiglione) are considered to be premier sites. The vineyard designation of the wines is fairly new, dating back to only the last 30 – 40 years as previously Barolos were blends from various sites.
Barolos are traditionally big, powerful, tannic wines that are rarely drinkable before six to ten years, though more modern techniques are being used by some winemakers to make more approachable wines. Barolos start being released in January three years after the listed vintage. After dinner, enjoy a Barolo Chinato, an aromatic blend of Barolo, quinine (from cinchona tree bark) and herbs.
While Piedmont’s top wines can be pricey, you can still enjoy many in the region’s enotecas, where English speaking staff are on hand to explain grape varietals, terroir and more. Drop in to taste wines for just a few Euros and pick up bottles at a fraction of the price found back home.
Barolo’s regional enoteca is found in the cellar beneath the Castello Falletti. Here you can examine the topography of the surrounding areas on a relief map, taste three wines (€2 for one, €5 for three), and buy a bottle from the extensive inventory. The rotating selection of wines available is fairly limited but will provide a basic overview as a jumping off point to more extensive tastings elsewhere. Hours: 10am – 6pm Thursday – Monday, closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
For a more interesting wine selection, drop in to the town’s diverting Museo dei Cavatappi, the Corkscrew Museum (Piazza Castello 4, website). The museum itself occupies several rooms with more than 500 corkscrews from throughout human history, but the real attraction is the ability to taste more wines, including some older vintages from top producers. The museum’s shop rotates eight wines through two enomatic machines to preserve freshness, each available as a taste, half and full glass. Tastes start at just 2.50€. Hours: Open daily 10am – 1pm, 2pm – 6:30pm. Museum admission €4.
While many wineries in Piedmont are not open to the public, a few in Barolo will welcome visitors. Azienda Agricola Brezza (website) operates a restaurant, hotel and winery making organic wines. The Brezza family are warm and gracious hosts. Tastings and sales of their wide range of wines take place in the cellar beneath the restaurant. Don’t miss the single vineyard top of the line bottlings. Email for tasting reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The cantina of Bartolo Mascarello practices winemaking the old school way, using no chemicals or pesticides in the vineyards, picking by hand and not even using a tractor. Heck, all their labels were written by hand until 2008 and there is still no email. Today, Bartolo’s daughter Maria Teresa keeps the flame of tradition alive. The wines are lush with good fruit. Reservations strongly recommended for tastings. 15 Via Roma, Barolo, 0173/56125.
Marchesi di Barolo (Via Roma 1, Barolo) is a large winery in the center of town open daily for tours and tastings from 10:30am – 5:30pm. Reserve at +39 0173 56.44.91 or email@example.com.
A charming family owned wine shop in the center of town, Il Bacco (Via Roma 87, Barolo) always has several bottles of wines available to taste along with local food specialties like hazelnuts and sweets. Open daily except Wednesdays.
Eat & Drink
It is said that you cannot eat poorly in Piedmont. Regional specialties like vitello tonnato (veal with tuna sauce), insalata russa (a salad of potatoes, carrots, pickled vegetables and mayo), carne cruda (beef tartare minus the egg), ravioli del plin (meat ravioli) and tajarin (pasta made from egg yolks) tend to be found on every menu.
In the fall, white truffles are the draw in Piedmont. Alba has an annual white truffle festival from mid October to mid November – avoid this time as prices are inflated and the truffles aren’t at their peak. The best time for truffles is after the first frost in late November and December. Prices vary widely, dropping later in the season. Expect to pay anywhere from €25 – €45+ for a generous shaving over your dish.
Winebar Barolo Friends, Piazza Castello 3, Barolo
Next door to the Museo dei Cavatappi, this friendly spot serves eight wines from an enomatic machine, as well as a number of others by the glass. Pair your wines with a hearty pasta or a selection of regional cheeses and meats.
Ristorante La Cantinetta, Via Roma 33
Right on the main pedestrian street that runs through the center of town, La Cantinetta is a welcoming trattoria specializing in regional cuisine. If you’re interested in trying a number of these dishes, ask them to put together a sampler of appetizers.
Osteria La Cantinella, Via Acqua Gelata 4
Just down the hill from the main drag, La Cantinella occupies a vaulted brick-ceilinged room and features many of the rustic specialties Piedmont is known for. Dig into the homey pastas and don’t miss the delicious bonet, a rich chocolate dessert popular in Northern Italy.
Where to Stay
Winemaker Giovanni Canonica has a three room agriturismo called Il Quarto Stato (Via Roma 47, Barolo, website) in the center of Barolo. An organic winemaker, he only makes 7,000 bottles of wine a year. If you’re lucky, he will have some for you to taste. Double rooms are €55/60.
La Torricella (Localitá S. Anna 98, Monforte d’Alba, website) is a modern agriturismo in Monforte d’Alba just south of Barolo. The views of the Alps are spectacular and the amenities, everything from free Wi-Fi to a large pool, provide a welcome respite after a day of wine tasting. The on premise restaurant serves delicious rustic dishes that pair well with the house’s wines.
Brezza runs the Hotel Barolo and Ristorante Brezza (Via Lomondo 2, Barolo, website) in the center of Barolo. For room choices, you can opt for the Classico or Nuova (new) buildings. The Classico is slightly cheaper, doubles from €90 in low season (€100 in high), while the Nuova’s double rooms start at €110 in low season (€120 in high). Breakfast and internet are included.