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The ‘king of wines and the wine of kings’

I recently wrote that many consider brunello Italy's finest red wine and now I feel a little guilty, as this was rather like trying to decide whether burgundy or bordeaux is the finest that France has to offer.

Barolo, made from the nebbiolo grape, grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy, has been known for many years as the “king of wines and the wine of kings”.

If you only have bordeaux and burgundy glasses at home then use the bordeaux (cabernet sauvignon, merlot) one for brunello and its sangiovese grape, and your balloon-shaped burgundy glass (pinot noir) for barolo.

During our last visit to Piedmont, we stayed at the most beautiful hilltop castle that had been converted to a small hotel by its chef-owner from San Francisco.

I remember looking at the four dinner tables and noticing that none of the barolo glasses seemed to match. I thought that they just had leftovers from different sets and felt a bit sorry for them that they could not afford to update.

I tactfully asked the owner, who was preparing wonderful dishes for us all. This was her reply: “Well, you are having wines from different wineries and different vintages. I match the best glass for the age and style of the barolo that I serve.”

That put me in my place! What perfection.

Please remember that the glass makes a huge difference to what the wine offers you.

La Spinetta is a winery where owner and winemaker Giorgio Rivetti has become one of the leading forces in Piedmont.

Wine Spectator writes: “He's making exciting ripe, fruit-forward nebbiolos that would give many highly rated new world wines a run for their money. He is in tune with today's consumer for wines that are more approachable on release.”

La Spinetta Barolo Vigneto Garretti 2016 rates 94/100 from Robert Parker who writes, “From the Garretti cru in Grinzane Cavour, in the commune where La Spinetta has its ultra-modern winery. The 2016 Barolo Vigneto Garretti offers a generous and accessible personality that makes this wine optimal for near or medium-term drinking. The bouquet is layered and rich with dark fruit, liquorice, tar and toasted aniseed. The tannins are nicely managed in this vintage, showing both power and elegance.” $69.90 (Stock #9262).

Saying the name Luigi Einaudi to an Italian is a little like saying George Washington to a citizen of the USA, as he was the first president of modern Italy. Add the name Cannubi to the label and many Italians would say that this is the most famous vineyard in their country. Over the years it has expanded from 37 to 84 acres.

Luigi Einaudi Barolo Cannubi 2014 is a wine of great class that expresses the elegance of the territory with an exuberance of fragrant fruit and spice. Its final taste is velvety and long. Decanter wrote: “Already showing complexity on the nose, it has aromas of raspberries, sour cherries, mint and roses, although it is still reticent and ethereal. The freshness is admirable on the concentrated palate, displaying a fine weight of fruit and caressing texture. Drink 2019 to 2032.” $79.40 (Stock #9014).

Marcarini Barolo La Serra 2013 has a delicate, fresh, elegant and very persistent nose with hints of violets, roses, liquorice and sweet spice and although the owner considers the wines of this vineyard feminine, it is long and intense on flavour.

Here is what Wine Enthusiast thinks: “Rose, iris, red-berry and cake-spice aromas set the tone on this graceful red. It's linear, bright and loaded with finesse, evoking red cherry, crushed strawberry, star anise and pink peppercorn alongside taut, polished tannins and bright acidity. 93/100.” $67.90 (Stock #8740).

Pio Cesare winery has been producing wines for 135 years and today the founder's grandson, Pio Boffa, runs the show. I know that I often refer to “friends” in the trade but Pio truly is, as he has visited us here and we have stayed in his home overlooking the vineyards.

When he refers to an ancient cellar he means it, as he pointed out one wall that was estimated to have been built by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago.

Pio makes a standard barolo and we have the 2014 for $84.95 but, I will end by going to the very top of his production. This wine is from the 35 acres that the family owns in the Ornato vineyard (that is overlooked by his house).

Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2015 flirts with perfection and James Suckling feels that it is worth 98/100 as he writes: “The aromas are so complex yet subtle, with wet earth, mushrooms and dark fruits. Dried flowers as well. Full body, chewy tannins that are ultrafine and powerful, yet there is a finesse and beauty to them as I said from barrel. Classic, great nebbiolo. Try in 2023.” $116.80 (Stock #9158).

Wine Enthusiast writes: “Balsamic aromas of eucalyptus mingle with enticing scents of wild berry, rose, espresso and tobacco. On the full-bodied, elegant palate, smooth, fine-grained tannins lithely support Marasca cherry, cranberry, star anise and exotic spice while fresh acidity keeps it balanced. One of the best showings I've had of Ornato so far. Drink 2021 to 2030.”

Jeb Dunnuck awards it 95/100 and comments: “Gorgeous all the way, the 2015 Barolo Ornato is flawlessly balanced and elegant, with medium to full-bodied aromas and flavours of caramelised cherries, toasted spices, dried flowers, and liquorice.

“As with many 2015s, it has lots of upfront appeal with its sweet nebbiolo fruit, but this has the depth, balance, and length to evolve for 20 to 25 years or more. It's beautifully done and well worth seeking out.”

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit

Flirting with perfection: Michael Robinson recommends Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato 2015, which is sold at Burrows Lightbourn. Distinguished wine critic James Suckling, above, describes it as a “classic, great nebbiolo”

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Published October 09, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated October 10, 2020 at 9:56 am)

The ‘king of wines and the wine of kings’

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