Barolo Wines: Traditionalists vs Modernists

A battle is raging in the Barolo region between the traditionalists and modernists on the best way to make Barolo wine. This is a battle well known to us winos in Spain as it is also fiercely contested in Toro and Jumilla, or I presume any region of the wine making world where very thick skinned red wine grape varieties are cultivated.

The basic problem is this: these grape varieties (Nebbiolo, Tinto de Toro, Monastrell) are known for producing red wines equally high in alcohol, tannins and acidity. It’s the fault of those seriously thick grape skins. Too much of any of these three elements makes a red wine incredibly difficult and unpleasant to drink (think bitter, sour and astringent). So the question is how best balance these elements to make a truly great wine.

The traditionalist view is that you age the wine in oak barrels and then in the bottle. In fact to successfully age a wine you need high tannins, acidity and alcohol or the wine would go off. Ageing reduces the severity of the tannins and acid, adds body and introduces flavours from the oak. Most of the truly great red wines are aged, but they are also some of the most expensive.

Modernists on the other hand are experimenting with other more economic ways to reduce the tannins and acidity to produce lighter, easier to drink and more affordable wines. This includes blending with thinner skinned grapes or removing the juice from contact with the grape skins much sooner. The former can produce some great wines but is often against the region’s regulations so the wine would be demoted from a DO to a Vino de Tierra. The latter produces some very drinkable wines, but which lack the body and depth of the aged wines.

My personal opinion is experiment away guys. Variety always wins out for me. I have enjoyed both traditional and modern made wines in all three regions, and long may I continue to do so.

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