Wine & spirits: Barolo
There was a time -- not much more than a generation ago -- when Barolo was considered a drink for men. Alcoholic, rich, complex, tannic and tough, and arguably Italy's most profound wine, Barolo was typically described in older wine books as "masculine," especially when compared with its "feminine" cousin, Barbaresco. Both wines are produced from Nebbiolo grapes grown on neighbouring hillsides of Piedmont in the northwest corner of the country. Yet, on a recent visit to the region, I encountered many women happily sipping Barolo, instead of spritzers, and keen to sing its praises. Had the wine changed or had the women now drinking it?
The annual Barolo Auction held at the Gianni Gagliardo winery attracts international restaurateurs, moneyed private collectors, glitterati, politicians, paparazzi and wine media. It provided the perfect opportunity for me to conduct a small survey last fall on the personal drinking habits of the women in attendance.
I asked Miriam Leone, the newly crowned Miss Italy 2008, what she thought about Barolo, the so-called man’s drink. "No! It's a people's drink; it’s not just for men," the 23-year-old stated very emphatically. She said women do more of the household wine shopping today, so they're more knowledgeable about what they buy, and as a result, they're drinking better wines. Leone ended up purchasing one lot of Barolo for €800.
"Women are involved in more of the things that were considered 'men's business' in the past," said Lorenza Vitali, an events manager who lives in Rome. "It's not a feminist thing; we've just discovered a passion within ourselves for the pleasures of good wine."
Other women concurred with these opinions, adding that given women's general knowledge about wine, and the fact that Barolo is such an important wine, everyone must try it sometime. The consensus? Barolo has changed very little, while women have changed a lot.
Limited-production bottlings from fine Barolo producers -- like Conterno, Rinaldi, Bruna Grimaldi, Renato Ratti, Marchesi di Barolo, Pio Cesare and Gianni Gagliardo -- pop up all the time in specialty liquor stores in Canada, although selection, availability and prices vary widely from province to province and from year to year. Current releases include Terredavino 2003 Barolo Essenze ($45), a rich, strong, supple and tasty wine blended from some of the top sites in the region. Red meat could not find a better partner. Another is Cabutto 2003 Barolo Tenuta La Volta ($56), with its tantalizing aromas of black cherry, plum, violets and spice; supple velvety texture; and a luscious, dry finish.
Barolos from the larger producers, Fontanafredda Barolo 2004 ($30) and Beni di Batasiolo Barolo 2004 ($32), are widely available, dependable and adequately reflect the regional grandeur. Special bottlings, such as Fontanafredda's elegant Vigna La Rosa 2000 ($69) and Beni di Batasiolo's full-bodied Vigneto Boscareto 2000 ($66), are available from time to time and at a good price. A quick search of your local liquor board's website should pinpoint stores that carry them. Alternatively, you can contact the wine's local agent.