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.
Among the world’s great wine regions, the Piedmont in northwestern Italy, home of Barolo and Barbaresco, has lagged far behind in focused English language appraisals. Kerin O’Keefe’s “Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wine” (University of California Press, $39.95) goes a long way to fill the void. O’Keefe, an American wine critic who lives in Italy, offers a comprehensive look at the history, geography, geology and issues faced in the Piedmont, and opinionated profiles of the producers she feels are the best and most important.
O’Keefe, who wrote a similar guide to Brunello di Montalcino in 2012, is thorough and authoritative. She is a critic in the best sense of the word, not shy with her opinions, which she offers without polemics or bluster. This book is not for novices; readers are expected to have an understanding of how wine is farmed and produced. But for those who have delved into Barolo and Barbaresco and want to know more about where the wines are made, the people who make them and the differences in terroirs, this book is inspiring and essential.
No discussion of Barolo and Barbaresco would be complete without mention of Bruno Giacosa, one of Italy’s most esteemed producers. Paolo Tenti reports on “the genius of Neive.”
He’s the producer who inspired a generation of winemakers. A pioneer in introducing single-vineyard bottlings of Barolo and Barbaresco. And a man who’s not afraid to say no to a vintage if he thinks the grapes are not good enough.
Born into the family wine firm, Bruno Giacosa started his career at the tender age of 15 as a grape buyer, sourcing fruit for his father and grandfather, and then for many of Barolo’s large houses. In 1960, he started his own company and soon became famous for both his golden palate and his ability to recognize the best vineyards in the Langhe.
Thanks to his vast hands-on experience with growers – and his years spent seeking out the best grapes – he was among the first producers in the area to bottle single-vineyard wines. They included the now legendary Barolo Collina Rionda.
The stars of Italy’s Piedmont region are Barolo, Barbaresco and white truffles, but it’s possible to get an authentic taste of the region without taking out a second mortgage.
Every year, more tourists flock to Italy’s northwest in search of the latest Barolos and Barbarescos—two of the country’s most famous and expensive wines—and to enjoy the area’s upscale dining, especially in the fall when rare white truffles make an appearance.
Alba and the nearby Langhe hills are the undisputed epicenter of Piedmont’s fine wine and dining scene, boasting 12 Michelin-starred restaurants within a 10-mile radius.
And judging by the boom of recently opened luxury hotels, spas and golf resorts, the Langhe certainly seems to cater to an upscale clientele.
Fortunately, there’s another side to these hallowed hills. For visitors who don’t want to break the bank, the region also offers simple country hotels in the vineyards and informal restaurants that specialize in local cuisine.
Best of all for wine lovers, Piedmont’s famed Barolo and Barbaresco producers also make delicious, affordable wines that can be served with a variety of dishes and offer sheer drinkability—Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto.
These wines are growing in popularity, and with an increasing number of labels imported to the U.S., they offer a little taste of Piedmont here at home.
This year’s annual Nebbiolo Prima tastings in Alba showcased Barbaresco 2010, Barolo 2009, and the denominations’ Riservas – 2008 and 2007 respectively. A selection of Roero 2010 and Riserva 2009 were also displayed.
Clearly the media, representing the top publications from key international markets from around the world, were most interested in Barbaresco 2010, and – even more so – Barolo 2009.
The Barbarescos showed well overall, and 2010 – distinguished by a cool, wet summer followed by a warm, dry September that allowed nebbiolo a long ripening season – is living up to its reputation of being a classic vintage with the structure for laying down and mellowing.
The 2009 Barolos are a different story altogether. They represent a mixed bag of qualities and styles that depend not only the individual villages and vineyard areas, but also on the ability of the growers and winemakers to handle the difficult climatic conditions. Of all the recent vintages, 2009 is going to pose the most serious challenges for Barolo lovers – due to the irregular performance even among the usually most reliable estates.
Gaia Gaja oversees the day-to-day running of her family’s prestigious 154-year old estate in Piedmont.
Are you adjusting your winemaking practices because of climate change?
Absolutely. But more than in the cellar, the real changes are being made in the vineyards. If in the 1970s and 1980s, vineyard management was geared towards achieving better ripening and eliminating humidity from the vineyards, we’re now doing just the opposite. So, we no longer top off the leaf canopy to help the sun ripen the grapes.
Twenty years ago, we planted grass between the rows to absorb water, and we cut it constantly to stimulate new growth. Now, we leave the grass but never cut it. We let it die, then press it down so that it covers the soil to keep it cool and moist. Since 2003, we’ve also been identifying those clones on our estate that perform best in dry, hot vintages. It’s a long process but we’re starting to see interesting results that should help us in the future.
Who or what inspired you to make wine?
Both my grandfather and my father. My grandfather, because he believed wholeheartedly in Barbaresco at a time when almost no one else did, and my father because of his great courage to make daring changes that revolutionized vineyard management and winemaking.
Has your winemaking style changed over time? If so, how?
The style itself has not really changed, but each vintage is approached differently in order to make the best wines possible. Changes are subtle but include adapting maceration times and how long the wines age in oak, for example. Also, my father used to make all the decisions on his own, but now we have a team; together we make all the strategic decisions after careful tastings.
Refusing to be pigeonholed as either traditionalist or modernist, this historic Piedmontese winery is a staunch believer in blended wines, yet was one of the first to buy its own vineyards. Kerin O’Keefe pays a visit.