One of Italy’s greatest wines is finally getting the attention it deserves. We take you through the vintages, the communes and the bottles you need to buy.
Made with 100% native grape Nebbiolo, you’ve probably heard that Barbaresco is one of Italy’s greatest wines. Yet for many years, it’s also been Italy’s most famous unknown red: even though fine wine lovers had heard of it, until recently, many passed it up for Barolo, its larger, more renowned neighbor (also made entirely with Nebbiolo). But thanks to a new generation of winemakers embracing more natural farming methods that have led to even higher quality, and the denomination’s unique micro-climate that encourages freshness and balance even in the hottest vintages, wine lovers are discovering that Barbaresco is a world-class wine in its own right. And the recent, widespread fascination with Nebbiolo and Piedmont has further helped shine a light on the denomination.
Thanks to a string of outstanding vintages over the last two decades, Italy’s most celebrated wine regions are on a roll.
Even though years like 1964, 1971 and 1978 are legendary in Piedmont, and 1955, 1970 and 1975 evoke similar feelings in Tuscany, stellar vintages used to be few and far between. But toward the late 1990s, things began to change. Better vineyard management — better clones, lower yields and gentler/fewer chemical treatments — coupled with drier, warmer growing seasons throughout the peninsula have regularly produced wines that can age gracefully for decades.
Producers point out that until the mid-1990s, they used to have two, occasionally three, outstanding vintages every decade. The other years were mediocre, if not downright dismal. Now, it’s the opposite. Each of the last few decades have boasted seven or eight very good to outstanding vintages.
Here’s a summary of Italy’s most collectible wines, and some of the greatest vintages of the past two decades.
Kerin conosce molto bene il vino italiano, lo ha ampiamente dimostrato con precedenti pubblicazioni come “Franco Biondi Santi. Il Gentleman del Brunello” (Veronelli Editore, 2004) da lei tradotto l’anno successivo e per il quale ha ricevuto il “Gourmand Wine Books Award”, e “Brunello di Montalcino” (UC Press, 2012), ma soprattutto con i numerosissimi articoli dedicati alle aziende, ai vini, ai territori del Bel Paese su riviste prestigiose come The World Of Fine Wine e Decanter. Da maggio 2013 è Italian Editor della rivista Wine Enthusiast.
Barolo and Barbaresco è un gran bel volume, oltre 300 pagine, corredate di bellissime foto rigorosamente in bianco e nero a firma Paolo Tenti, che illustrano la storia e le caratteristiche dei territori dove nascono questi due grandi vini a base nebbiolo. Il cuore del libro, ovviamente, è rappresentato dall’incontro con i principali produttori delle due denominazioni, accompagnato dalle degustazioni di diverse annate dei loro vini.
O’Keefe is a Bostonian wine journalist and author (published books include Franco Biondi Santi: The Gentleman of Brunello and Brunello di Montalcino) residing in Lugano, Switzerland (and therefore within easy driving-distance of Alba) with her husband, Paolo Tenti. She is responsible for numerous articles in magazines like this one and Decanter and is presently working for the American publication Wine Enthusiast as well.
A number of her articles have been on the subject of Barolo and/or Barbaresco, and she has spent years tasting the stuff (a happy fate, you might think; but that would be to underestimate the palate-coating, tannin-accumulating effect of Nebbiolo, which can turn the prospect of a 100+ lineup of individually excellent Barolo samples into a living nightmare). So, she is eminently qualified for the authorship of such a tome…
…Indeed, it’s a very useful tome to have to hand: measured, informative and very readable. I thoroughly recommend it.
The best wine writers are willing to offend if it means telling the truth. That’s easier said than done. When a writer publishes an article or a book that is likely to offend the producers that he or she covers, that can make future work more difficult. Doors close. Phone calls or emails are not returned.
Fortunately for us, Kerin O’Keefe is willing to offend if she has to. That’s not her mission. As the Italian Editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, she has delineated her values. If producers don’t agree, she doesn’t allow that to alter her writing.
Her 2012 book Brunello di Montalcino staked out clear lines in the growing debate over a region’s sense of place. Her newest book, Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine, offers a similarly valuable perspective on a wine region’s evolution.
I would have welcomed O’Keefe’s profiles when I started my Barolo Odyssey.
Her accurate profiles of producers I know make me want to explore producers profiled that I have not encountered. The strength of this book is that it gives a detailed coherent account of the present and immediate past of Barolo and Barbaresco. This is a complicated story that O’Keefe has researched very effectively as a professional journalist. …This is a well-told, unique story of two of the greatest of wines anywhere.
Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine by Kerin O’Keefe (University of California Press, £25) had me reaching for words such as “definitive” and even “magisterial”. Don’t let those rather pompous words put you off – it’s a good read, too.
The University of California Press has just published Kerin O’Keefe’s Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wines (346 pp, maps, photos, index: $39.95). I’ve been wanting to announce this ever since, over a year ago, I read the manuscript for the Press and enthusiastically recommended publication: To my mind, this is the most important book on these two great wines yet published.
The great wines of Italy’s Piedmont have become important enough that it’s surprising a book like Kerin O’Keefe’s “Barolo and Barbaresco” (UC Press; 360 pages; $39.95) hasn’t appeared before.
But O’Keefe, Italian editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, delivers an essential resource, with an invaluable level of both narrative and detail.
O’Keefe covers most major producers and a good number of minor ones, and offers some long-needed organization of the Langhe’s geography — important, given that Barolo is an area due for serious scholarship on its terroir.
O’Keefe began writing about Italian wine full-time in 2002, writing some excellent articles in Decanter, a British wine magazine; she continued writing for Decanter until 2013. She also has written for The World of Fine Wine–the Rolls-Royce of all wine magazines. In April, 2013, Kerin accepted a new position as Wine Enthusiast magazine’s Italian Wine Editor.
Barolo and Barbaresco is Kerin O’Keefe’s third wine book. Her first book, Franco Biondi Santi: The Gentleman of Brunello, was published in 2005. Kerin followed that with Brunello: Understanding and Appreciating One of Italy’s Greatest Wines, in 2012. Both books were critically acclaimed.
O’Keefe’s Barolo and Barbaresco is written in three parts: Part One covers the history of both wines, and the origin of Nebbiolo. Part Two, the longest section, profiles 43 Barolo producers. Part Three covers 29 Barbaresco producers. In these two parts, producers are listed by the village in which their wineries are located. The Appendix is highlighted by a Vintage Guide to Barolo and Barbaresco, starting with1945, and going up to 2010–the current vintage of Barolo available as of 2014. O’Keefe employs a “star” rating–one to five stars–to rank the vintages.
O’Keefe’s book is a tour de force, a magnificent, comprehensive tome that required loads of research. I am happy that she possessed the ability and passion to take on this herculean undertaking. I think that every Barolo and Barbaresco wine lover will benefit from reading her Barolo and Barbaresco.