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Top Six Barolo Crus - Part 1: The Establishment

With the rise and rise of Barolo, we set our own Master of Wine, Ned Goodwin, the tough task of highlighting the Top Six Barolo Crus. With such a dynamic region, we’re splitting this report into two lists, focusing on the established and those crus on the rise. Read the Top Six Barolo Crus Part 2 – The Crus of the Future here
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Piedmont has risen to the crème of the world’s fine wine order over the last decade. While the region’s wines have been entrenched within that pantheon for far longer, at least in terms of their intrinsic qualities and capacity for cellaring, it has been the insatiable demand for Burgundy, the unassailable pricing for its top wines and the dearth of allocations to all but the world’s most established and fecund markets that have proven catalyst for collectors to search beyond its hegemony. This has birthed a new establishment, ironic given that Burgundy and Piedmont have long been compared due to their intricate weaves of single sites, complex geologies and spellbinding wines across the best crus. In essence, there is nothing particularly ‘new’ about the grandeur of Barolo (or Barbaresco, for that matter) at all.

 

‘ Let’s take a look at the top crus of Barolo ’

 

Let’s take a look at the top crus of Barolo, while understanding that the overarching moniker ‘Barolo’ refers to wines from 11 designated villages and their peripheral vineyards: Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d'Alba, Cherasco, Diano d'Alba, Grinzane Cavour, La Morra, Monforte d'Alba, Novello, Roddi and Verduno.

As a side note, the highest quality wines are found in Barolo, la Morra, Castiglione, Serralunga and Monforte, in no particular order of ascendency, albeit, with a clear progression from more froward fruit (La Morra), elegance (Barolo) and perfume (Castiglione), to sturdier, more age-worthy expressions (Serrlaunga and Monforte). In Serralunga and Monforte there are older Helvetian (aka Serravalian) geologies depositing greater amounts of calcareous soils. The richest of all are in Monforte. There are inflections of clay and sand across the region, too, depending on vineyard and plot within.

 

‘ La Morra’s reputation as a bastion of modernist winemaking ’

 

Conversely, the soils in la Morra and in much of Barolo itself are Tortonian. These are younger, grey-bluish sandier marls. Perhaps there is geological reasoning behind la Morra’s reputation as a bastion of modernist winemaking, pronounced throughout the late 90s to mid-00s but still palpable today. La Morra’s Tortonian soils, largely spread across the western ebb of the Barolo region, promote more forward and fruitier wines. These readily assimilate with smaller formats of new oak and the various techniques used to promote the sort of primary fruit upon which the style relies: shorter extractions, the use of roto-fermenters and the completion of primary and malolactic fermentations in smaller barrels. Of course, one can debate which came first, the chicken or the egg; the realisation that the style suited the terroir (for those who are drawn to wines like these and I am not in that camp), or whether the terroir suited the winemaking approach. The zeitgeist has swung elsewhere and la Morra, the largest sub-zone, is playing catch up as a result. This is why I have left its renowned cru Rocche dell’Annunziata out. As exciting and increasingly renowned are some of the crus of Novello (Ravera) and Verduno (Monvigliero), backed up by some super estates.

These crus, if among my list, are designated as Crus of the Future.
The more established historical crus I have called The Establishment:.

 

My list of top crus, highly personalised and far from comprehensive, are as follows:

Rocche di Castiglione (Castiglione Falletto/Monforte), Villero (Castiglione Falletto), Monprivato (Castiglione Falletto), Cerequio (Barolo/la Morra), Ravera (Novello rather than Monforte, which has a namesake), Francia (Serralunga), Brunate (Barolo/la Morra), Monvigliero (Verduno), Vigna Rionda (Serralunga), Bricco delle Viole (Barolo), Ravello and Ginestra (Monforte).

Some of these may seem contentious. Tendentious, even! Yet while it is easy to ape Renato Ratti’s attempt of the 1970s to map ‘prima’ categories, things have changed drastically since then: approaches to vinification and élévage, plantings and the emergence of producers that have put certain sites on the map, serendipitously complemented by climate change.

Climatic challenges are a bane for historical sites such as Cannubi (thus, its absence from my list), where a predominance of sand fares poorly due to lack of water retention; while rising temperatures benefit elevated sites (Bricco Delle Viola, for example) and those that are partly shaded, or facing partly north (Monvigliero) rather than ascribing to traditional mores deeming southern-facing vineyards superior.

So let’s break these crus down.

The Establishment

 

1. Rocche di Castiglione

 

A long, straight vineyard crowning the ‘rocche’, or the cliffs that drop to the Rio di Perno. Sandy and limestone rich, the soil is neither fertile nor particularly water-retaining, posing a challenge poorly as the climate shifts. This said, the vineyard’s repute for spellbinding fragrance and the chiffon-like lattice of tannin that define its better wines, demanded its listing.

 

2. Monprivato

 

Synonymous with the great estate of Guiseppe Mascarello which has planted much of its holdings with massal selected Michet clones, while the remainder of the vineyard is cultivated with the more pervasive Lampia, Monprivato faces south-west and is dominated by old, Serravallian soils, silty and heavy with active limestone. Altitude is circa 280 metres. The vines themselves average 55 years, adding to the spiced complexity and intensity of the site’s trademark red berry fruits. In Mascarello’s hands, this is among the region’s most expensive wines. For good reason.

 

3. Vigna Rionda

 

The quintessential expression of Serralunga defined by what eminent scribe Kerin O’Keefe rightly calls ‘heroic structure’. This, coupled with depth and concentration, sees extremely long-lived wines. Sited at 280-340 metres, the geological parameters are defined by the hill just in front, serving as a buttress against cold winds and wrists, as much by the bright white calcareous soils muddled with darker, oxidised ferrous elements. The warmer temperatures and attenuated growing season make for one of the finest expressions of all Baroli.

 

4. Brunate

 

Sharing a border with Barolo, the majority of the vineyard lies in la Morra. This said, it was Guiseppe Rinaldi, a staunch Barolo-based traditionalist, who imbued Brunate with particular acclaim although never as a straight articulation of site. He always blended it! Poised magnificently at 239-353 metres across a south to south-eastern exposure, Brunate is responsible for broad, meaty aromas and wines of solid tannins and richness. An aristocratic site.

 

5. Cerequio

 

Another vineyard sharing the la Morra/Barolo border, Cerequio is among Barolo’s warmest sites, facing south to south-east and equipping its wines with a darker fruit profile and firmer, more ferrous tannins, than its neighbouring Brunate with which it forms a broad, hill-side amphitheatre. This is the zone to shop in if you are not interested in going down the rabbit hole of up and coming vineyards but instead, simply want guarantees.

 

6. Francia

 

A contributor to Giacomo Conterno’s celebrated Barolo Cascina Francia and Monprivato (with Giuseppe Mascarello Monprivato, the region’s most collectible wine), Francia includes more than 10 hectares under vine, densely planted and facing south-west. These are wines furled by implacable tannins that begin to unravel after eight-years or more.

Our Barolo portfolio grows every year, driven by market demand for what are elite wines in a global context yet still remain relatively accessible. Shop our Barolo portfolio now.

 

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