Even though Barolo nowadays is known as ‘The King of Wine,‘ it was not always like this. Fifty years ago, this iconic wine from Northern Italy was not regarded as more than a standard wine from Italy, and very few knew about the grape Nebbiolo. After the 1970s, this situation suddenly transformed with Barolo.
Before the 1970s, winemakers in Barolo could not even make a living out of this industry. In fact, they had to keep additional chickens or cows to survive, and their children would hunt birds in the forests to satisfy their needs to eat meat.
As Silvia Etare remarks, “Being a farmer back then meant your life was arduous; many were embarrassed to have the title of a winemaker, to the point it was almost challenging to find a wife!” Silvia’s father, Elio Atare, was one of the pioneering Barolo Boys. Elio took his first trip to Burgundy two years after inheriting the winery from his dad. Back then, the grapes were macerated for an extended period of time to add tannins and color to the wine, and the wine itself would be practically undrinkable upon its release.
It is where the ‘Barolo Boys‘ came into the picture. It was initiated when some youngsters destined to inherit their parents’ life’s work started to travel to France. During their frequent visit and extended stays in France and especially Burgundy, the Barolo Boys learned that with shorter maceration, yield control in the vineyards, and aging the wine in new French Barriques, the final wine would be the final wine be more drinkable when released.
The result of this innovation in Italy was a huge conflict known as Traditionalists vs. Modernists. One of the main points in this conflict was the question about Botti vs. Barrique. The traditionalists were proud of their old Botti’s that were utilized by their parents and maybe even grandparents. Therefore, they would insist on to keep utilizing their traditional methods.
Causing some modernists to destroy their family’s old casks to make room for new ones. Consequently, some families had split apart, and the modernists were cut out of the testament. One of these modernists was Elio Atare, who was compelled to buy land from his siblings to grow wine after throwing away his father’s old casks.
When Barolo was Approved?
How did this revolutionary trend end? The answer lies in the bottle. Still, many producers insist on making traditional Barolo, while others produce a more modern style of Barolo. When Barolo was approved in July 1980 as one of the original four DOCGs in Italy by a presidential decree, things started to turn around. Consequently, several international wine magazines started exhibiting their love for this new wine style, and vast amounts of money were invested in the region.
Due to the mutual cooperation of regional winemakers, the quality of the new wine quickly started to improve. Before the 1970s, the producers would consider each other as competitors and not as colleagues. However, sharing their winemaking experiences and giving feedback on each other’s wines helped them improve their quality.
Modern Winemaking Technology
Generally, the wines of Barolo have transformed drastically after the 1970s. The wine’s quality, complexity, and intensity are much higher, and they have been gradually improved with every vintage. This process is both caused by modern winemaking technology as well as by experience and more focus on the vines. Now you don’t need to wait 30-50 years to drink your Barolo, but you can actually drink it right after it has been released.
Well, that still depends on producers, but a majority of the wines are suitable for drinking after release. Most of these wines still have the oxidized character you could find during the 1970s, but it is much better balanced now. So what are you waiting for? Get yourself a bottle of Barolo and when you smell & taste the wine, contemplate whether it is produced in the traditional style, modern style, or a great mix between the two. Enjoy!
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