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Making 'The King of Wines'

 Even the most republican Italians refer to Barolo as ‘The King of Wines’- and with good cause. This dark, rich and powerful wine, made from the Nebbiolo grape in Piedmonte, can stand its own against anything produced in the Old World or the New and commands a premium price on its home turf and in markets around the world.

The territory of Barolo is one of the most complex in the wine world. Every single hill provides a specific character to the Nebbiolo grapes and every single vintage is significantly different. Great wine has been produced here since the early 19th. century in a style that favoured long ageing in barrel and bottle. The vast majority of Barolos were blends of wines from different hills and villages. Barolo underwent something of a quiet revolution in the last three decades of the 20th. Century, with a new generation of family winemakers selecting wines from specific locations for vinification and ageing in barriques. This led to two distinct styles which still prevail and are called ‘traditionalist’ and ‘modernist.’

 

The Gagliardo family is happy to be numbered with the ‘modernists., although its approach is also traditional. Relatively new to a local wine trade dominated by dynasties, they have been making wine since the 1950s when Gianni Gagliardo, having married into a winemaking family, bought a small vineyard near the town of Alba. He built the business and handed its running to his two sons Stefano, who visited Dublin this month, and Alberto.

 

Stefano is the oenologist and winemaker while Alberto is the farmer and viticulturalist. ‘ I was brought up with wine’, says Stefano. ‘I worked with my father in the vineyards and the winery and started tasting at an early age. When asked what I would like for my 16th. birthday, I did not look for a moped or an electric guitar. I said that I would like a bottle of Robert Mondavi’s Opus One’.

 

Stefano studied viticulture and winemaking in Alba and at the University of Torino before formally joining the family business. There, the two brothers worked towards moving the making of Barolo one step further.

‘We set out to present the full character of terroir (that word again) in our wines’, he says. They began to vinify grapes from each vineyard separately in order to reach the pure expression of the different soils of the area, ‘Barolo covers an area of 17,000 ha with very significant differences between soils’, he says. ‘In the South where the sea has retreated, we have very old soils which produce muscular wines. In the North the soil is newer and it produces lighter, elegant Barolos. Blending is the key to a great Barolo, says Stefan. ‘We try to create the perfect marriage, generally blending wines from the three areas and using 100% Nebbiolo.’

 The wine then spends a minimum of two years in one to five year old barrels which are carefully selected for their particular type of oak, their age and the toast. ‘We begin by placing the wine in barriques and later we transfer to larger casks’, says Stefan.

 The family, which exports 80% of production and sells a further 10% in Piedmonte, makes wines under the ‘Gianni Gagliardo’ and ‘Gagliardo’ labels, the former comprising Barolo, Barbera and ‘Batie’ and the latter including local varietals which are, as yet, not on this market.

 Batiè, which we tasted,  is born from the assembling of wines from a few of the best vineyards of the Barolo and the Roero areas. The Langa soils confer complexity and elegance to the wines while those of the Roero are  more fragrant with mineral notes. After twelve months in wood and six in bottle, Batié’s colour is intense ruby red and the nose has a sweet spiceness. Above all, it is  smooth and velvety on the palate.

 Batiè is the dialect word for baptism and was  chosen to remind consumers of  the tradition of the locals to offer a bottle of wine as a gift on the occasion of a new birth. It is available on the Irish market at €320 per case from Classic Wines which also lists Gagliardo Barolo at €456 and Barbera at €155.

 Barolo fans can also bid for the very best wines from the region through the  Barolo Auction which the Gagliardo family organises every year for its own wines and those of other Barolo producers. The auction attracts buyers from many countries who gather in Alba to dine on its famous truffles- but it is also possible to bid on-line. Details are at www.gagliardo.it.

 

 

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