White truffles fall like snowflakes on butter-drenched pappardelle, filling the Babbo dining room with their funky, head-spinning aromas. I ask you: What else are you gonna drink but Barolo? Okay, fine, Barbaresco. But anything else and you’re really missing something.
Alba, in southeastern Piedmont, is the epicenter of great Italian wine. Just outside of town to the northeast is the Barbaresco wine zone, while the Barolo zone is south and west. Here in these undulating hills the nebbiolo grape struggles mightily to ripen, but when it does, it is turned into Italy’s answer to great Burgundy: a heady combination of dried fruit aromas, earth, smoke, tar, leather…the wine geek descriptors go on and on.
Not only did the Barolo and Barbaresco zones enjoy an unprecedented run of great vintages from 1996 to 2001, but, after devastating hailstorms in 2002 and an overly hot year in 2003, 2004 is shaping up as another winner (though you’ll have to be patient, as you won’t see these wines in the market for a long time; the current-release vintage from Barolo is the vaunted 2000, soon to be 2001).
When you consider how small Barolo and Barbaresco are (Barolo has about 3,100 acres of vineyards, Barbaresco a mere 1,200), and how long the wines are held in barrel and bottle before release (Barolo 3 years, Barbaresco 2), it’s no wonder these wines typically carry a higher price tag. But when you consider how small Barolo and Barbaresco are in relation to Burgundy, and how favorably Barolos and Barbarescos compare to wines from Burgundy that cost twice as much, and the Italian greats are revealed for what they are – some of the true unsung values in the world of fine wine.
Okay, but even if $125 a bottle is a relative value, not everyone (including me!) can afford to throw that kind of money around for wine. So below, I list some of the many Barolos and Barbarescos on offer here at Babbo for less than $100. This is what you should be drinking now, especially if you decide to splurge on some truffles:
Barolo “Monvigliero,” G.B. Burlotto 1997 ($68)Penetrating, pinot noir-ish aromatics, a wonderfully bright expression of nebbiolo, Italy’s answer to pinot noir.
Barbaresco “Pora,” Produttori del Barbaresco 1997 ($75)Smoky, savory, powerful; an earthy accompaniment to mushrooms, braised meats, and of course truffles.
Barolo “Bricco Fiasco,” Azelia 1996 ($80) Silky, fragrant, floral, but with a spicy undertone. Great aromatic complexity.