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The Must-Know Guide to Barolo Wines

Piedmont produces some of the most valuable, age-worthy wines in the world

Vicki Denig By April 28, 2022
Village of La Morra and its vineyards in Piedmont, Italy with Barolo wines in forefront
Village of La Morra and its vineyards in the Langhe region of Piedmont, Italy. Illustration created by Pix. Photo by e55evu/iStock.

In the realm of collectible Italian red wines, Piedmont offers a world of opportunities ― and when it comes to the most age-worthy bottles of them all, Barolo is king. Home to countless talented winemakers and a wealth of hillside vineyards, this highly desirable region produces some of the world’s most coveted wines year in and year out.  

Yet, as with any region, understanding how to navigate the terrain is essential. Barolo superficially seems simple, as all its wines are produced from Nebbiolo. But the appellation’s subregions, producers, and respective styles complicates things.

Below is a simple path through this highly-regarded region, plus five important producers to know.

Quick Facts

Where is Barolo?

Barolo is a DOCG appellation located in Italy’s Piedmont region.

What kind of wine is made in Barolo?

Barolo produces robust red wines that are high in acid and tannins. This means the wines can be a bit gritty and austere in their youth but are very suitable for long-term aging.

What is the main grape variety of Barolo?

Nebbiolo. 

What are the subregions of Barolo?

Barolo is home to 11 communes, though the five most popular are Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, and Serralunga d’Alba. 

Who are the benchmark producers of Barolo? 

Despite being rather small, Barolo is home to countless benchmark producers. Long-standing collector favorites include Giacomo Conterno, Bruno Giacosa, Bartolo Mascarello, Giuseppe Rinaldi, and beyond. Widely recognized names include Fontanafredda, Pio Cesare, Paolo Scavino, and Vietti. Producers to look out for include — though are not limited to — Brovia, Cascina Fontana, G.D. Vajra, and beyond. 

5 producers to buy now:

Giacomo Conterno

Amongst a pantheon of talented Barolo producers, many collectors agree that Conterno sits a step above the rest. The first Conterno Barolo was made by Giacomo Conterno in 1920, post-World War I. Giacamo was eventually joined by his son, Giovanni who, prior to his death in 2004, spent nearly five decades pioneering age-worthy, Nebbiolo-based wines from his unique corner of the world. Today, the estate’s winemaking is spearheaded by the equally talented son of Giovanni, Roberto Conterno, who continues to uphold his family’s values and regional tradition. Conterno Barolo is known for its powerful and structured nature, as well as its ability to age for decades upon decades in the cellar. 

bottle of Giacomo Conterno Barolo Cascina Francia Red

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Francia 2017 (~$276)

Francia is arguably Conterno’s most important vineyard site, as its purchase by Giovanni in 1974 marked the end of the family’s grape purchasing from external sources. With this site, the family was — and still is — able to produce about 1,500 cases of Cascina Francia Barolo, as well as a good chunk of Barbera, planted on 12 acres of the site. Flavors of red fruits, cigar smoke, underbrush, and sweet spice dominate the wine’s balanced, beautiful palate.

bottle of Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino

Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino 2015 (~$1,258)

Shortly after creating his first Barolo wine, Giacomo Conterno began naming his cuvée Monfortino, after his beloved home of Monforte d’Alba. Today, Roberto ages all of the estate’s Barolo for approximately four years, save for Monfortino, which undergoes an impressive seven years of aging prior to bottling. The wine is muscular, powerful, and age-worthy. 

Vietti

Situated in the heart of Castiglione Falletto, Vietti was established by Carlo Vietti during the late 19th century. Over the years, the estate has purchased vineyards across numerous prized sites in Barolo, including Ravera, Brunate, and beyond. Their Rocche di Castiglione cuvée was one of the first Barolo crus to hit the market; equally important in Piedmont’s legacy, the estate is also credited with putting the white varietal Arneis on the map. As of 2016, Vietti was acquired by Krause Holdings, though Luca and Elena Vietti remain at the helm of the family brand. Farming at Vietti is done organically. Their Barolo style is known for being medium-bodied yet intense, powerful, and moderately weighty. 

 

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bottle of Vietti Barolo Brunate

Vietti Barolo Brunate 2017 (~$175)

Fruit for his wine comes from the famed Brunate cru in La Morra, located on the southern side of the viticultural area. Vines here average around 55 years in age and give way to concentrated, high-quality fruit. After 32 months of aging in large oak barrels, the wine is bottled unfiltered. Expect a powerhouse wine laden with flavors of plum, blood orange rind, red flowers, and ample spice.

bottle of Vietti Barolo Rocche di Castiglione 2017

Vietti Barolo Rocche di Castiglione 2017 (~$183)

Rocche di Castiglione is one of the most important growing sites in Castiglione Falletto — and the signature cuvée of Vietti. Vines average around 50 years in age, and fruit for this wine spends approximately one month macerating with its skins. On the palate, the wine is ripe, dark, and loaded with savory notes of red and black fruits, cracked pepper, dried herbs, and menthol-laced undertones. We’d wait at least 10 years before popping the cork on this one.

Roagna

The Roagna family began crafting high-quality wine from Nebbiolo in Barbaresco during the mid-19th century. Over a century later, Alfredo and Luca Roagna were finally able to purchase two prized vineyards in Barolo’s Castiglione Falletto regions, La Pira and Le Rocche. Over the following years, the family was able to acquire all of the land on the La Pira hill, rendering their vineyard site a full monopole as of 2012. The Roagnas describe their winemaking style as traditional yet innovative, as current generation Luca meshes modern studies with classic family practices. All farming is done organically, vines are not trimmed back, and biodynamic principles are often incorporated. 

 

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bottle of Roagna Barolo Comune di Barolo

Roagna Barolo di Barolo 2016 (~$171)

This limited cuvée from Roagna is produced from fruit grown within the Barolo commune of its eponymous region. This wine was first added to Roagna’s lineup about ten years ago, and since then, only around 1,000 bottles are produced each year. This bright and balanced wine shows a fresher side to Barolo Nebbiolo. For a restrained, acid-laden expression of the region’s wines, this cuvée is the answer.

bottle of Roagna Barolo La Pira

Roagna Barolo La Pira 2016 (~$161)

La Pira is Roagna’s monopole vineyard site. Home to six distinct parcels of various soil types, this age-worthy wine is a solid addition to reputable cellars everywhere. Expect a high-toned wine marked by profound aromatics and laden with flavors of red fruits, clove, old leather, and tobacco leaf on the palate. Although the wine will continue to get better with time, this bottle is currently drinking beautifully. 

Paolo Scavino

Lorenzo Scavino founded this eponymous estate with his son, Paolo, back in 1921. Today, the winery is operated by Enrico Scavino in the heart of Castiglione Falletto. The estate vinifies a variety of single-vineyard wines, and uniquely, uses barriques over casks for aging. Now joined by his daughters Enrica and Elisa, Scavino wines continue to highlight the uniqueness of their specific micro-terroirs, ranging from Cannubi to Rocche dell’Annunziata and beyond. The Scavino Barolo style is known for being polished, fruit-driven, and smooth, marked by ripe concentration and solid structure. 

 

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bottle of Paolo Scavino Barolo Ravera

Paolo Scavino Barolo Ravera 2017 (~$72)

Scavino first began working with their Ravera vineyard in 2015. Here, soaring altitudes help keep acidity high and freshness in check, as well as create a long ripening cycle in the vines — which in turn, leads to flavor complexity and optimal phenolic ripeness in fruit. Wines from Ravera are generally marked by expressive aromatics, solid structure, and linear, vivacious acidity; this cuvée from Scavino is no exception. 

bottle of Paolo Scavino Barolo Cannubi

Paolo Scavino Barolo Cannubi 2017 (~$92)

Cannubi is one of the most historic and renowned crus in all of Barolo. Scavino has worked with their Cannubi-based vines since 1985, though one of the sites was originally planted in 1946. Here, low yields of fruit lead to small amounts of high-quality grapes laden with concentration. Scavino’s final wine is pure, harmonious, and laden with flavors of cherry, cola, and used leather, marked by dusty tannins and bright, palate-cleansing acidity. 

G.D. Vajra 

Although the Vajra family’s winemaking roots are rather young compared to neighboring estates, these wines are absolutely not to be missed. The family founded their estate in 1972 in the village of Vergne, the highest town in the Barolo commune. Because of the vines’ extreme elevation, fruit ripens slower and maintains high levels of natural acidity. Today, the family farms nearly 100 acres of vines in Piedmont, 10 of which are dedicated to Nebbiolo for Barolo. Vajra Barolo are known for their pronounced aromatics, elegance, and vibrant, zesty nature. For those who prefer their Barolo on the more restrained side of the spectrum, these wines are not to be missed. 

bottle of G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe

G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2017 (~$41)

This budget-friendly Barolo from G.D. Vajra may just be the best quality-to-price ratio wine coming out of the region today. Fruit comes from vines rooted in three of the region’s well-reputed sites: Fossati, Costa di Vergne, and Le Volte. On the palate, the wine is lifted, bright, and loaded with flavors of crushed red fruits, cinnamon, red flowers, blood orange rind, and sweet spice. Buy enough to have some to drink now, later, and in the long term. 

bottle of G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole

G.D. Vajra Bricco delle Viole Barolo 2017 (~$82)

Bricco delle Viole is one of Vajra’s top-tier cuvées. This single-vineyard bottle comes from a high-altitude site that boasts beautiful views of the region. On the palate, the wine is medium-bodied, ripe, and full of texture. Flavors of cherry, red fruits, cigar box, cedar, and potting soil are balanced by energetic acid and chewy, well-integrated tannins.