Andy Mossack explores why supermarket-bought Barolo may not be all it seems.
We’ve all been there. A rack of impressive Italian wine under a special offer notice – still more than you would usually spend but perhaps too good to miss. So, on impulse, we dive in. It may turn out to be an enjoyable quaff or a bit of a let-down for the price compared to our usual go-to. So how can we really know if the wine we’re buying is worthy of the famous name on the bottle?
A week or so ago, Waitrose had an offer on Barolo for £19.99, reduced from £24. Barolo, a fine red wine known as the “king of wines,” comes from Piedmont in north-west Italy in a small area officially marked Barolo DOCG and made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. It is an exceedingly difficult grape to cultivate demanding the right soil, weather and ageing and even then, production is strictly controlled and only produced in a small number of qualifying villages in the region.
The wine must age for months in the barrel and spend much longer ageing in the bottle to achieve its best potential. Some say at least 7 years for top quality Barolo.
All this effort is rewarded with a beautifully sophisticated wine bursting with an array of aromas and a long finish that’s worth the wait. But all the effort obviously comes at a price and that price will reflect where it originated from and the quality of the harvest year (vintage). For example, 2010, 2015 and 2016 are considered great vintages whilst 2002, 2003 and 2017 not so good.
Most supermarket wines tend to come from farmer cooperatives who combine to produce enough bottles to satisfy demand at a fair price point. In the case of Barolo for example, the cooperative grape harvest is capped to produce 7,000 bottles per hectare and might typically sell for £16-£20. A single family’s vineyard harvest on the other hand, is capped lower and limited to a few thousand bottles a year and therefore a lot more expensive; anything from £30-£50 up to over £200 for top quality connoisseur grade.
So that impulse purchase now perhaps seems a touch hasty given all the factors that need to be considered.
Alternatively, why not let someone else do the worrying to lighten your burden?
Last October I reviewed a wonderful Piedmont Arneis known locally as the white Barolo distributed by Independent Wine, a specialist in high-quality Italian wines. Naturally, it was worth asking people who are so familiar with Piedmont to find a trusted Barolo that ticks all the boxes, and they came up with Demarie Barolo DOCG 2015.
Paolo Demarie’s family vineyard is made up of 50-year-old vines located in La Morra, one of the top five villages in Barolo and responsible for nearly a third of all Barolo wine. But it’s in his cellar after harvesting that the magic happens. After fermenting he leaves the skins in contact with the wine for another twenty days to extract more tannins to bolster the flavour. It’s then lovingly aged in Slavonian second-use oak barrels for twenty-four months and, once bottled, the wine stays in the cellar for a further two years to help it reach its potential.
The result is an outstanding example of a quality heritage Barolo that scored 92 points in Falstaff – Austria’s most prestigious wine guide.
I decanted it a good two-three hours before drinking and was rewarded with the characteristic brick colour hue and fabulous aromas of plum, liquorice and vanilla and a lovely dark chocolatey taste in my mouth.
The perfect partner for my roasted beef fillet dinner.
How did it compare to my £19.99 Waitrose Barolo? I can honestly say the Waitrose Barolo was a perfectly acceptable drink but there were just as drinkable other wines available in-store for half that amount. The Demarie Barolo DOCG 2015 was a world apart and for me, a perfect example of a Barolo that justifies its noble standing from a trusted family producer, and at just £33.54 it’s the next best thing to being there.
Perhaps that special offer rack is not so special after all.
My thanks to Independent for their insight into producing Barolo.
Tell me more about Demarie Barolo DOCG 2015
Demarie Barolo DOCG 2015, £33.54 available in the UK from Independent Wine
T: 0333 577 14 17 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Independent Wine is offering free gift wrapping to customers who want to send wines as a Christmas gift. You can browse examples of the gift wrapping here: https://www.independent.wine/2020/10/15/wine-gifts-the-essential-guide/.
This festive season they are also offering free UK delivery on all orders starting from just one bottle. This means that someone can order 10 bottles for 10 friends without extra costs. Perfect for a Zoom wine tasting party! With traditional wine merchants charging £7-£10 per delivery, sending the wine out to everyone would amount to an extra £70-£100.