Is this a Barolo?

“It isn’t,” I responded, “it was made in the town of Barolo and it says ‘Barolo’ at the bottom of the label, but it’s not a Barolo DOCG. It’s a Dolcetto D’Alba DOC.” A Barolo DOCG has to be made with these Nebbiolo grapes.

My friend rolled his eyes, and I understand why. Italian wine labels can be maddeningly confusing. Sometimes a wine is named for the place it is made, sometimes for the grape variety, and sometimes something else altogether. I had to get over my desire for things in Italy to be rational and linear. They just aren’t. But that’s part of the beauty and the fun of it.

If you pick a region, a few towns and a few grape varieties, you’ll catch on quickly. So let’s start with Piemonte (Piedmont) and Barolo. The tiny town of Barolo is in the northern Italian region of Piemonte (read more)—which bounded by the Alpine regions of Switzerland and France to the north and west, the Appenines and the coastal region of Liguria to the south, and the plains of Lombardia to the east.

And let’s start with three important Piemonte varieties: Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo. (All are native grape varieties as opposed to international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.)

The wine at the top of this post, Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto D’Alba DOC, comes from the winery of Bartolo Mascarello, which is now owned and operated by his daughter Maria Teresa. It is made in Barolo, but wine made from Dolcetto grapes can never be called “Barolo”. That classification, Barolo DOCG, is reserved only for wines made with the Nebbiolo grape. (See WineCountry.IT map)

The Barolo DOCG classification includes the town of Barolo and 11 others with the major ones being: La Morra, Monforte D’Alba, Serralunga D’Alba, and Castiglione Falletto. This Bruno Giacosa Barolo DOCG 2004 is from Castiglione Falletto.

Barbera is labeled in the way that Dolcetto is with the grape variety and then, the name of the town (Alba, Asti, Montferrato…). For example: Dolcetto D’Alba DOC, Dolcetto D’Asti DOC, Dolcetto d”Ovada DOC and Barbera D’Alba DOC, Barbera D’Asti DOC, Barbera del Montferrato DOC. As you begin tasting the wines, you notice that even with the same grape variety, the wine tastes slightly different because of the terroir.

The same is true for the difference between Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG. Both are made with the same Nebbiolo grape but the Barolo area is south of the Tanaro River where there is clay soil and Barbaresco is north where the soil tends to be sandier.

To learn more about Italian wine classifications, check out Classifications on the data base or click on a region or variety.

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