The Life of Wine

 |  April 26, 2012

Having my own wine column is brilliant. Other than not being allowed to use swear words like quim, flaccid and discharge, or too obviously plagiarise people who actually know what they are talking about, I can pretty much say what I want. So this month I’m going to pleasure myself and bang on about my favourite red wine ever – Barolo.

Barolo is stunning, confusing and intriguing because it is made from an extremely fussy grape called Nebbiolo. Everyone tends to go on about what a difficult fruit Pinot Noir is to coax into producing the sublime drink Burgundy can be. But they obviously haven’t tried to woo Nebbiolo.

She really is a pain in the proverbial. And this is why she makes the best red on the planet. Grapes should not be easy to get into bed, and if they are then they are often not worth taking to bed in the first place. Cabernet Sauvignon will perform for practically anyone. And as I have proven to myself several times in the past, this hardly ever ends well. But Nebbiolo, well, to get her to perform you need to be an Italian; and an Italian with so much overwhelming charisma and charm all a Brit like me can do is bow down in terrified sexually conflicted awe at how these men from the north-west of their country manage to persuade Nebbiolo to even think about taking off her blouse.

And this is the point. The Nebbiolo grape really doesn’t put out for anyone except for those who grow her on certain slopes in the hills of Lange in the Piedmont region of bella Italia. She needs to be treated like a princess. Shrouded by the autumn fogs which drift over the hills she blossoms into the finest thing you could ever hope to squish, ferment and chuck into a barrel. Indeed most like to think that her name comes from nebbie, the Italian for those veil-like fogs.

If this darling grape doesn’t get just the right sun tan, she will sulk, horribly. If she isn’t at just the right altitude, forget it. One too many leaves on her vigorous canopy and she will become spoiled. This grape will give the ‘talk to the hand’ if the grower pisses her off in anyway, except for, like a supermodel, forcing her to work hard for her nutrients. Too much food and – flump, a flabby wine which will join the other rejects in the Europe’s Got Talent wine bin.

Luckily for wine drinkers the world over, the growers and wine makers in Piedmont are able to deliver the right amount of… hang on, I’ve got it – picture the women in a Fellini film, that’s Nebbiolo.

Stick your nose in her and you will get an intensely aromatic perfume of violets, roses, a child’s tear on the autumn breeze, wood smoke and tar, and possibly, getting back to Fellini, a dreamlike memory of an early sexual encounter with an older woman. There are very few grapes able to offer up the sheer range of smells and tastes that the Nebbiolo can, and this is perhaps why the wine is so often compared to the Pinots coming out of Burgundy – its only serious challenger in this respect.

Older style Barolos tend to develop a distinctive brick red colour. Titanically tannic wines in their youth they sometimes need to hide out in a dark cellar for decades before having their cork popped.

Problem is they are not cheap. But then neither is an Aston Martin or an Omega watch. But I can tell you that even James Bond would not be embarrassed to click his fingers, point at the bottle, wink and say ‘niiiice!’ if the waiter brought him a 1996 Gaja Conteisa.

Yet another great thing about Barolo is it is so easy to match with food. The rule is to ask yourself: has the food I’m eating got an obscene amount of truffles grated onto it? Should the food I’m eating have come with a bank-account-shattering amount of truffles grated onto it? Or is the thing I ordered still bleeding? This is a luxurious wine which demands to be drunk with luxurious food in luxurious company.

Barolo is not known as the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings (which sort of buggers my princess analogy) for nothing. So next time ‘La Dolce Vita’ is in the DVD player, you know what to do. And I’ve found some very nice princesses right at the back of Italasia on Chang Klan.