In Barolo, 11 Distinct Villages Create the King of Wines

In Barolo, 11 Distinct Villages Create the King of Wines

Traditionally, Barolo has been made by blending Nebbiolo from different vineyards and from more than one of the 11 villages. While that approach is still the backbone of the denomination, many producers also make single-designation Barolos from the 170 officially delimited crus or vineyard sites (technically known as Additional Geographical Mentions or Definitions) spread out among the villages.

Of the 11 villages, only Barolo, Castiglione Falletto and Serralunga d’Alba lie entirely within the denomination. La Morra and Monforte d’Alba are also key towns. Together, these five communities make up Barolo’s core villages. Novello and Verduno are gaining in prestige, while Grinzane Cavour, Diano d’Alba, Cherasco and Roddi, with their small output, make up the lesser-known villages.

The recently released 2016 vintage produced some of the greatest Barolos ever, thanks to near-perfect conditions for fickle Nebbiolo.

Unlike 2015, which was extremely warm and dry, or the exceedingly cool, wet 2014, the 2016 season offered a classic, late-ripening vintage. These wines feature Barolo’s quintessential aromas of red berry, rose, underbrush and camphor. Most are fresh and delicious, as they showcase archetypal flavors of cherry, raspberry, baking spice and tobacco. The best combine structure, balance, finesse and great aging potential.

Although 2016 was generally outstanding throughout the denomination’s 11 villages, Serralunga d’Alba, Castiglione Falletto and Verduno performed particularly well. Variations among the various villages, while more evident in less fortunate vintages, play a decisive role in how well Nebbiolo matures. This is thanks to different soils, altitudes and exposures.

Barolo, Italy
Barolo / Shutterstock

Barolo

The picture-perfect village of Barolo, dominated by its medieval castle, is the birthplace and namesake of the denomination. Here, in the 1830s, the Marchesi di Barolo, Tancredi and Giulia Falletti, focused on making ageworthy red wine from Nebbiolo.

Positioned on a high plateau surrounded by vine-covered hills, soils in Barolo are principally grayish-blue marls that originate from the Tortonian age, known as Sant’Agata Fossili marls. They are a key element in the fragrance, elegance and depth found in the village’s wines.

Wines from Barolo age extremely well, but are generally approachable earlier than the more austere, tannic wines from Serralunga and Monforte. The latter, formed during the Serravallian age, have sandstone soils, which contain more limestone.

The Barolo village boasts one of the most famous vineyard sites in the denomination, Cannubi. Although use of this historic name has been expanded over the years to include adjacent areas, the heart of the legendary Cannubi hill has long been celebrated for the quality of its grapes.

Besides southeast exposure, the historic Cannubi site has unique soils where bluish gray marls merge with sand and sandstone to yield wines with exquisite perfumes, finesse and longevity. Other important vineyard areas in the town include Brunate, Cannubi Boschis and San Lorenzo.

The village is also home to some of the most storied and iconic cellars, including Cantina Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, Brezza and Marchesi di Barolo.

Wines to Try:

Sandrone 2016 Le Vigne; $155, 98 points. Fragrant, full bodied and boasting great finesse, this delicious Barolo hits all the right buttons. It opens with enticing aromas of woodland berry, rose, camphor, botanical herb and exotic spice while the elegantly structured palate doles out juicy red cherry, crushed raspberry, licorice and cinnamon. Firm, fine-grained tannins and fresh acidity keep it impeccably balanced. It’s already tempting but hold for even more complexity. Drink 2024–2046. Vintus LLC. Cellar Selection.

Brezza 2016 Cannubi; $67, 96 points. Aromas of rose petal, perfumed berry and menthol are front and center on this elegant, fragrant red. Loaded with finesse, the focused, full-bodied palate combines grace and structure, delivering succulent red cherry, raspberry compote, white pepper and star anise alongside bright acidity and youthfully taut, refined tannins. It’s radiant. Drink 2024–2036. Coeur Wine Co. Cellar Selection.

Italian village
Castiglione Falletto / Photo by Francesco Bergamaschi / Getty

Castiglione Falletto

Dominated by a 13th-century castle with unique, rounded towers, this small village is located in the very heart of the denomination. One of the three villages that’s entirely within the appellation, Castiglione Falletto is the smallest of Barolo’s core townships.

It’s also among the most studied of the Barolo growing zones, thanks to the late Ferdinando Vignolo-Lutati, resident and former professor at the University of Turin. In 1929, he conducted an in-depth soil study that remains a benchmark today.

Castiglione Falletto has the most complex soils in the denomination, made up largely of deposits that originate from the Serravallian age. They consist of alternating layers of calcareous marls, sandstone and sand beds interspersed with marls.

Other areas have soils formed during the Tortonian age, namely the sandy deposits known as Arenarie di Diano d’Alba. According to a report on the Barolo territory published by the Piedmont Region in 2000, parts of Castiglione Falletto have the highest amount of sand in the denomination.

Given the complexity of the soils, top Barolos from Castiglione Falletto are among the most multifaceted in the denomination. They boast aroma, firm structure, elegance and serious longevity. The village’s 20 delimited crus comprise some of the most celebrated vineyards in Barolo, like Monprivato, Villero, Rocche di Castiglione, Fiasco and Bricco Boschis.

Owned almost entirely by the Cavallotto family, the Bricco Boschis hill combines soils that originate from both geological ages that divide the Langhe hills.

“The center of the Bricco Boschis cru falls along the border of the Serravallian and Tortonian substrates, and the cru shows an unusual mix of white, yellow and grey marls, punctuated by layers of sand,” says Alfio Cavallotto, who runs the family firm with his sister, Laura, and brother, Giuseppe, also an enologist. “This mix of soils gives the wine from Bricco Boschis very good structure, suitable for lengthy aging as well as fragrance and elegance.”

Wines to Try:

Brovia 2016 Villero; $106, 99 points.Fragrant, structured and loaded with finesse, this radiant red has enticing scents of pressed rose, woodland berry, moist earth and camphor. Full bodied but boasting a weightless elegance, the chiseled palate has depth, focus and tension, delivering juicy red cherry, strawberry compote, licorice and crushed mint. Firm refined tannins and vibrant acidity provide impeccable balance and an age-worthy structure. Drink 2026–2046. Rosenthal Wine Merchant. Cellar Selection.

Cavallotto 2016 Bricco Boschis; $95, 99 points. Aromas of woodland berry, underbrush, hazelnut and camphor form the nose along with a whiff of rose petal in this captivating, delicious wine. The full bodied, structured palate is still young and primary but already shows raspberry compote, ripe Marasca cherry, star anise, tobacco and the barest hint of game. Tightly knit, noble tannins and fresh acidity provide the firm frame and impart serious aging potential. Hold for even more complexity. Drink 2026–2056. Skurnik Wines, Inc. Cellar Selection.

Italian village
Serralunga d’Alba / Photo by Francesco Riccardo Iacomino / Getty

Serralunga d’Alba

The medieval village of Serralunga d’Alba, or “Serralunga” for short, is home to some of the most lauded and sought-out Barolos. Grapes from the village have always played a major role in the classic blended Barolos because they lend what can be an imposing tannic backbone.

Serralunga’s famous light, almost white soils hail from the Serravallian age, 13.8–11.6 million years ago. This smooth, calcareous marl consists of numerous compact layers of limestone, marl and sandy marl. Other villages have similar soils, but Serralunga’s vineyards contain the highest level of calcium carbonate, a main factor in wines with impressive structure.

The most prized vineyards in the village combine altitude and southern exposures, creating a prolonged growing season. These conditions yield some of the most austere, complex and ageworthy selections in the denomination.

Despite the area’s reputation for muscular Barolos, most producers seek a combination of firm structure and finesse. Producers work harder in the vineyards, with careful green harvests, the addition of grass between the rows as well as scrupulous canopy management to help grapes reach ideal ripening and generate more refined tannins. Today, the best Serralunga offerings feature an enviable fusion of complexity, structure, depth and elegance.

Of all the celebrated crus, Vigna Rionda stands apart and was initially made famous by pioneering producer Bruno Giacosa, who sourced grapes from what’s considered the best parcel in the cru. His Collina Rionda was the first single-vineyard bottling from this subzone.

Today, this same hallowed parcel has been divided among heirs of the Canale family, which includes Sergio Germano, owner/winemaker of Ettore Germano.

“Vigna Rionda is full south and is protected by the ridge of Serralunga from the cold eastern winds, allowing Vigna Rionda’s grapes to reach ideal maturation every year,” says Germano, who releases his famed cru one year later. “Besides having Serralunga’s typical calcareous soil, there’s also a small percentage of sand that lends fragrance and finesse.”

Wines to Try:

Giovanni Rosso 2016 Ester Canale Rosso Poderi dell’Antica Vigna Rionda; $450, 100 points. Fragrant, full bodied and boasting great finesse, this delicious Barolo hits all the right buttons. It opens with enticing aromas of woodland berry, rose, camphor, botanical herb and exotic spice while the elegantly structured palate doles out juicy red cherry, crushed raspberry, licorice and cinnamon. Firm, fine-grained tannins and fresh acidity keep it impeccably balanced. It’s already tempting but hold for even more complexity. Drink 2024–2046. Vias Imports. Cellar Selection.

Ettore Germano 2015 Vigna Rionda; $154, 97 points. Aromas of underbrush, camphor, fragrant pipe tobacco and a whiff of scorched earth form the nose on this captivating red. Firmly structured and boasting finesse, the youthful palate already shows great depth and precision, delivering raspberry compote, juicy black cherry, licorice and a hint of hazelnut set against firm fine-grained tannins and fresh acidity. Give it time to fully develop. Drink 2025–2040. Sussex Wine Merchants. Cellar Selection.

italian village
La Morra / Photo by Asent PKS Media Inc. / Getty

La Morra

Located above the village of Barolo, La Morra has the largest surface area of registered Barolo vines. It also has the greatest variation in altitudes, from 656 to 1,640 feet above sea level. The town’s summit offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the Langhe hills below.

La Morra produces what are generally considered the most graceful Barolos in the denomination, renowned for alluring perfumes. The township’s grapes are key in the denomination’s blends for their intense, floral aromas. Barolos here tend to be more accessible earlier than those from other areas, but they also continue to evolve and improve with age and maintain for at least another 15–20 years after harvest, depending on the vintage.

To beef up their more refined wines, many producers adopted assertive winemaking methods. This includes short, tumultuous fermentation in rotary fermenters to extract more color, and new barriques to add structure and complexity.

However, the evident oak sensations from new barriques can overwhelm Nebbiolo. Thankfully, most producers here, as in other villages, now use less new oak and prefer a mix of barrel sizes and ages to make Barolos that combine body, finesse, fragrance and depth.

Although altitude and the fresh microclimate are crucial, many producers say soil is the main factor behind La Morra’s poised Barolos. Consisting mainly of the bluish-gray Sant’Agata Fossili marls from the Tortonian age, La Morra has the highest amount of clay and the least amount of sand, sandstone and limestone in the denomination.

The higher clay content means that the soils retain more moisture and can create water reserves that keep vines fresh. This means that La Morra tends to perform better in dry years. In extremely wet vintages, grapes can suffer because the ground retains too much water, which makes it difficult for Nebbiolo to reach ideal maturation.

La Morra has 39 delimited crus, among them are hallowed names like Annunziata, Brunate, Arborina, Cerequio, La Serra and Rocche dell’Annunziata. The latter, La Morra’s most historic, is one of the best sites in the denomination.

“If La Morra is considered the elegant style of Barolo, then Rocche dell’Annunziata is the quintessence of elegance,” says Pietro Ratti, owner/winemaker of Renato Ratti.” The vineyard area is located at around 985 feet above sea level with a southwest exposure. Here, La Morra’s typical blue marl soil also has some layers of sand. This imparts incredible finesse, and an intense, persistent fragrance.”

Wines to Try:

Renato Ratti 2016 Rocche dell’Annunziata; $125, 97 points. Glossy, elegant and full bodied, this beauty opens with aromas of dark berry, menthol, wild rose and exotic spice. The delicious, finessed palate doles out mouthfuls of juicy red cherry, raspberry compote, vanilla and licorice framed in taut, fine-grained tannins. Vibrant acidity keeps it focused and lends youthful tension. Drink 2024–2046. LUX Wines. Cellar Selection.

Marcarini 2016 La Serra; $96, 95 points. All about finesse, this ethereally elegant red opens with scents of rose, crushed mint, red berry and hints of new leather. The polished, precise palate features strawberry compote, spiced cranberry, star anise and a dash of white pepper. It’s well balanced, with fresh acidity and taut, refined tannins. Drink 2024–2036. Empson USA Ltd.

Italian village
Monforte d’Alba / Photo by Andrea Federici / Getty

Monforte d’Alba

Another one of Barolo’s principal villages, known simply as Monforte, makes a wide range of Barolo styles, from perfumed and complex to full-bodied with gripping tannins.

Monforte takes its name from the Latin Mon Fortis, a medieval castle once perched on the town’s high hill and surrounded by fortified walls. The large municipality is the second-largest commune in terms of Barolo output, after La Morra.

The town’s soil, composed primarily of sandstone, clay and calcareous marls, is often compared to those of Serralunga. However, parts of Monforte have the same sandstone found in Castiglione Falletto, known as Arenarie di Diano d’Alba.

Monforte has 11 delimited crus, one of which is among the most recognized names in the denomination: Bussia. This historic vineyard area is famous for its extraordinary Barolos that boast a great depth of flavor, ageworthy structure, finesse and balance.

However, the town has been criticized by local winemakers and wine lovers for its lack of effort to map borders for the official crus. Rather than protect small vineyards, it consolidated them into greatly enlarged vineyard areas, including Bussia, now enormous in comparison to its original boundaries.

Other great vineyards include Ravera di Monforte, Ginestra and Gramolere.

Wines to Try:

Principiano Ferdinando 2016 Ravera di Monforte; $90, 98 points. Menthol, new leather, pressed rose and forest berry aromas shape the enticing nose on this knockout red. Thoroughly delicious, the captivating, focused palate doles out succulent Marasca cherry, raspberry compote, truffle and tobacco while a minty note lingers on the long finish. Firm, fine-grained tannins and bright acidity provide beautiful balance and ageworthy structure. Drink 2024–2041. Porto Vino Italiano. Cellar Selection.

Prunotto 2016 Bussia; $70, 95 points.  Woodland berry, rose, camphor and a whiff of tobacco shape the fragrant nose. It’s focused and elegantly structured, presenting juicy Marasca cherry, orange zest, licorice and clove set against bright acidity and taut, refined tannins. Drink 2024–2036.Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Cellar Selection.

Italian village
Novello / Photo by Andrea Pistolesi / Getty

Novello

Bordering on the town of Barolo, Novello has several good vineyards and one of the denomination’s premier vineyard sites, Ravera. Before the 1990s, some producers sourced grapes from here for their blended Barolos, but the village remained little known.

The late producer Elvio Cogno changed this with his Barolo Ravera 1991, the village’s first single-vineyard bottling.

“Our Ravera combines body and finesse, thanks to the cru’s breezy microclimate that generates marked day and night temperature variations, predominantly limestone soil and 50–75 year old vines,” says Valter Fissore, winemaker and co-owner of Elvio Cogno with his wife, Nadia Cogno.

Wines to Try:

Elvio Cogno 2016 Ravera; $112, 99 points. From the estate that proved the extraordinary quality of the Ravera subzone, this compelling wine opens with heady scents of rose, iris, perfumed berry, new leather and camphor. Focused and full bodied, the precise palate is delicious and firmly structured, featuring ripe red cherry, crushed raspberry, licorice and tobacco framed in tightly knit fine-grained tannins. Fresh acidity keeps it beautifully balanced and lends youthful tension. Drink 2024–2056. Wilson Daniels Ltd. Cellar Selection.

G.D. Vajra 2016 Ravera; $90, 96 points. Focused and vibrant, this chiseled red has enticing scents of small red berry, rose, menthol and culinary spice. On the taut, youthfully austere palate, a backbone of firm, fine-grained tannins supports juicy red cherry, strawberry and licorice while fresh acidity keeps it balanced. Give it time to unwind and come together. Drink 2026–2041. Winebow. Cellar Selection.

Italian vineyard
Verduno / Photo by Andrea Pistolesi / Getty

Verduno

Situated above La Morra, Verduno’s luminous vineyards mark the northern edge of the denomination. Due to a relatively small output and because until recently most growers sold their grapes to larger producers that didn’t list Verduno or their crus on their labels, this village remains little known to all but the most passionate Barolo lovers.

Over the last decade, a number of famed producers have joined a handful of historic Verduno counterparts to make fantastic, refined Barolos with floral and spicy sensations.

Verduno has 12 official crus that include Monvigliero, one of the best sites in the denomination. With silty, calcareous clay soils and full southern exposure, the Tanaro River just below generates cool evening breezes. Monvigliero Barolos possess aromatic intensity, complexity, finesse and longevity. Other great vineyards from Verduno include Massera, Breri and Pisapola.

Wines to Try:

Comm. G.B. Burlotto 2016 Monvigliero; $100, 99 points. Aromas of rose, red berry, dark spice, smoke and wild herb shape the nose on this structured red. Intense and loaded with finesse, the radiant, focused palate doles out ripe red cherry, cranberry, licorice, tobacco and menthol. Vibrant acidity and a mineral vein create youthful tension while firm polished tannins lend seamless support. Drink 2024–2046. Bacchanal Wine Imports. Cellar Selection.

Fratelli Alessandria 2016 Monvigliero; $90, 97 points.  Aromas of ripe forest berry, camphor and fragrant purple flower come together in this full-bodied red, along with whiffs of new leather and underbrush. Concentrated and enveloping, the palate boasts an almost weightless finesse, delivering juicy Morello cherry, cranberry compote and licorice while velvety tannins lend seamless support. Drink 2024–2036. North Berkeley Imports. Cellar Selection.

Italian vineyard
Grinzane / Photo by Tutela Vini Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe e Dogliani

Grinzane Cavour, Roddi, Cherasco and Diano d’Alba

These four villages have the least amount of vineyards dedicated to Barolo production. They possess fewer good and very good crus in comparison to other villages.

Grinzane Cavour is best known for its eponymous castle that, in the 19th century, belonged to the family of Count Camillo Benso of Cavour, the first prime minister of unified Italy. Cavour was behind the country’s revolutionary agricultural reforms and was a trailblazer in Barolo production. Today, the village has eight delimited crus, including Castello, the most historic.

Located on the northeastern edge of the denomination, the medieval hamlet of Roddi has just 57 acres of vines devoted to Barolo production. Boasting an austere 11th-century castle, Roddi was long seen as one of Barolo’s forgotten towns. However, that changed when celebrated producer Enrico Scavino acquired land in the Bricco Ambrogio vineyard area. Today, this is Roddi’s sole delimited cru, capable of supple Barolos with charming, floral aromatics.

Ranking 10th in terms of volume, Diano d’Alba has only 35 acres of Barolo vines. More noted for its Dolcetto production, the town sits between Grinzane Cavour and Serralunga d’Alba, and it has three geographic mentions, the most notable being Sorano. Most of this cru lies in Serralunga, where it’s known as a top site.

Only a sliver of Cherasco is dedicated to Barolo production. Accounting for less than five acres and 0.13% of total output, the town has one delimited subzone, Mantoetto, which is owned by a single producer.

Wines to Try:

Paolo Scavino 2016 Bricco Ambrogio; $62, 94 points. Fragrant blue flower, exotic spice, toasted notes and menthol aromas mingle with scents of fruitcake. Full bodied and concentrated, the palate doles out fleshy black cherry, steeped prune, and chocolate-covered coconut alongside enveloping, velvety tannins before a drying, almost salty close. Skurnik Wines, Inc.

Bruna Grimaldi 2016 Bricco Ambrogio; $80, 92 points. Mature dark-skinned berry, eucalyptus and rose aromas lead the nose on this full-bodied, enveloping red. On the densely concentrated velvety palate, close-grained tannins surround fleshy black cherry, baked plum and licorice alongside the warmth of alcohol before a clenching finish. Drink 2024–2031. Massanois Imports.




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