Would You Pay This Price for Barolo?
Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 3:00PM
truthinjuice in Barolo, Wine Deals

I was recently emailed by my friend Amy with the following question:

Would you pay this amount? Barolo - Parussi Falletto '07 (94 points)

When I asked Amy for some context regarding her question, (i.e. How much do you like Barolo? What’s the occasion? If it’s a gift, does the recipient like Barolo?), she responded:

"I want it for myself simply because I know I adore Barolo… but am usually too lazy to go searching for a good one.  I suppose there is no need to spend that much but I just wondered if I might find a really good one for less or if I should be happy with that price. I would likely not drink it on an average evening, but save it for a special night."

This question touches on a lot of interesting subjects - scores from critics, what's a good price to pay for a wine?, what constitutes a good deal for a wine, etc. While I don't endorse buying wines purely on the basis of scores from critics, I do find that they can be a good indication of whether a wine is well made. As for whether a high score means you'll enjoy the wine, that is another story. It's important to remember that critics score wines based on how the wine resonates with their palate. While you may like big, bold wines, it's entirely possible that the critic who assigned it a score of 94 points may have appreciated it for its delicacy and balance. Therefore, my advice when considering scores from critics is to know the critic's palate, and know if it lines up with your own. If it does, great! You've found another resource that can help you find wines that you will likely enjoy. If not, keep looking! There are a good number of wine critics out there, and chances are, one of them will share a similar taste preference to your own.

Now, to get to the subject of whether this wine is a good deal. A lot of it is personal preference. You can find some good Barolos for less money, but you can also spend a lot more. Barolo is a collector’s wine. It’s highly sought after, and it’s not an easy wine to produce. Nebbiolo is like Pinot Noir in that it is thin skinned, and can be difficult to grow. Also, DOC regulations require that Barolo be aged for at least 3 years prior to release (2 in cask), and this requirement is extended to five years for the wine to be labeled a riserva. What all this means, is that it’s not uncommon to see Barolo with a price tag in the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. In general, when you upgrade in price for Barolo, you’re either paying for the reputation of the producer, the reputation of the vineyard site, or the reputation of the vintage. Sometimes, it’s a combination of all three factors. 
The wine mentioned was a 2007, and 2007 was a fantastic vintage. I generally find that it is best to take the advice of critics when it comes to vintage ratings. While the numerical scores are still slightly arbitrary, when scoring vintages, wine critics are generally reviewing the growing conditions for a given region in a given year. Vintage ratings are not aggregations or averages of the scores given to wines from that vintage. They are merely a metric of how good (or bad) growing conditions were that year. With respect to the 2007 vintage in Barolo, Wine Advocate reviewer, Antonio Galloni had the following to say about it: 
“The 2007 Baroli are some of the most viscerally thrilling young wines I have ever tasted. The 2007s are similar to the 2004s, but with more substance. The wines are radiant, intensely perfumed and totally seductive, yet not at all heavy, in a style that offers the textural richness of a warm vintage with the aromatics of a cool year. In 2006 and 2007 readers will find the finest back to back Barolo vintages since 1989 and 1990.”

With that being said, Barolo has been on a run of really good vintages lately. The Wine Advocate rated the last 5 vintages as follows:
The 2001 vintage also received 96 points from The Wine Advocate. The only vintage to stay away from, as a rule, is 2002, which was an exceptionally cold, wet vintage that saw lots of hail. Many producers elected not to produce their top cuvees that year, as the quality of the harvest was not sufficient. However, even in bad vintages, great producers can produce tremendous wines. Antonio Galloni has described the 2002 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino one of the “greatest wines ever made,” noting that the fact that “it is the product of a vintage that was disastrous for nearly every other producer in Piedmont will only add to the shroud of mystique that has surrounded this wine since its birth.”
Some other great Barolo producers that are worth keeping an eye out for are Elio Grasso, Paolo Scavino, Bruno Giacosa, Angelo Gaja, F Ili Brovia, Vietti, and Giuseppe Mascarello, to name a few. These wines vary greatly in price, depending on vintage, and vineyard site, among other things. While it would take far too long to delve into an in-depth discussion of the various vineyard sites and sub-regions of Barolo, I would encourage you to taste as many Barolos as you can, and take note of the producers, sub-regions/communes (e.g., Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, Monforte d’Alba) and "cru" vineyard sites (e.g., Cannubi, Brunate, Rocche, Monprivato) that appeal to you. If you find that excessive Barolo consumption is becoming a little burdensome on your budget, I recently wrote an article about other Piedmontese wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. All Barolo wines are made from Nebbiolo, so exploring expressions of the grape from other regions can be another (less expensive!) means of satisfying your Barolo cravings. 
Article originally appeared on Truth In Juice: Wine Education & Commentary (http://www.truthinjuice.com/).
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