Italy's Killer B's
-By Diana Maiola
“In Vino Veritas” is a Latin phrase that when translated to English means “In wine there is truth”. In other words, this phrase suggests that a person is more at ease to verbalize their secrets, hidden thoughts and true desires when alcohol has taken over.
As we approach the heart of the Fall Season, in many places in the world where wine is produced, the harvest of grapes will be happening. In Italy, the period dedicated to the collection of grapes is called “La Vendemmia”. As a lover of fine wine, I can not proclaim to be an expert, however, I know what I like and I know what I like to share with friends and family. If a moment or two of “In Vino Veritas” ensues, it is embraced.
From the north to the south and on the islands, wine is produced in all 20 regions of Italy. For this article, I will be focusing on the three “Killer B’s” of Italy. Starting in the northern Piedmont region we find two of the three “Killer B’s”, Barolo and Barbaresco. Barolo is considered the “King” of wines and wine of kings and these wines are known to resist the test of time. In fact, before a Barolo wine can be brought to market it must have aged for at least 3 years (2 years in a wooden barrel and 1 year in the bottle). For a Riserva the expectation is 5 years (3 years in a wooden barrel and 2 years in a bottle). It is accepted to drink a Barolo that is 5 years old, but it is better to wait to drink a bottle when it is about 10 years old. At this point in the life of the wine, the heavy tannins are softer due to age and thus the wine is more-smooth. It is not uncommon for a good Barolo to self-preserve for 25 or even 30 years!!
For me, Barbaresco, is like the younger brother or the close cousin of Barolo. Both wines are produced in the prestigious region of Piedmont and boast superb structure and strength. Both begin with a “B” and end with an “O” and both are made with the Nebbiolo grape. So, if these wines have so much in common, what makes them so different? Barolo came first and was a favorite of the Savoy Empire long before Barbaresco entered the scene. In fact, the Nebbiolo grape is documented as far back as 1266. In 1830, Barolo was officially named and in 1894, Nebbiolo was named. The grapes for each wine are grown about 10 miles apart but influenced by different weather patterns and soil conditions. The Barbaresco zone is closet to the Tanaro river and to the Ligurian Sea. Grown in somewhat lower altitudes causes the grapes to ripen at a more rapid pace and thus fermentation happens earlier than the grapes dedicated to Barolo. The result is a wine that is a bit more approachable, a little silkier and so, so easy to drink and share.
The next wine I am going to talk about is Brunello di Montalcino. Brunello is known as the “Queen of Italian Reds” and honestly, it is my favorite. Produced in the southern area of the region of Tuscany, Brunello is made with the Sangiovese Grosso grape. Again, a Brunello does not go to market unless it is at least 5 years old and like the Barolo, this wine can self-preserve for 25-30 years. A perfect time to drink a Brunello is when it is about 7-8 years old. Interestingly, in the northern section of Tuscany, Chianti is produced. Chianti is made with the simpler Sangiovese grape, a cousin to the Sangiovese Grosso. One may ask, what is the difference? The soil in which the Sangiovese Grosso are grown is very rocky and mineral rich. The sun is intense and the vines sometimes are starved for water. Furthermore, the skin of the grape is incredibly resilient producing a wine that stands up to the test of time. The wine yield is lower compared to its northern cousin, Chianti. To be more-clear, about 330,000 cases of Brunello are made each year compared to 8 million cases of Chianti. That is a ratio of 24,242 bottles of Chianti produced for each bottle of Brunello that is made.
Being able to experience and share a bottle of any of these “Killer B’s” is an honor and each should be decanted before drinking. By decanting these precious wines, you will bring out the distinct flavors of each and at the same time break down the strong tannins. The result is silky-smoother and it will indeed caress your pallet! From here, it can be paired with an amazing meal or sipped while exchanging memorable conversation with friends and loved ones. Again, if “In Vino Veritas” is a result of the conversation, then let it be until the next time you have the privilege to experience these wonderful “Killer B’s."