Enthusiasts call Barolo “the king of wines and the wine of kings.” This tart, complex Italian wine is so high in quality that it’s often compared to grand cru Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Like exceptional Burgundy, top-rated Barolo is acidic and bracing in its youth, but develops multilayered flavors of earth, dark dried fruit, and alluring floral aromatics as it ages. Great Barolo is worth waiting for.
To start a collection of this regal Italian wine, seek out Barolo wines from the communes, producers, and vintages that consistently receive the highest scores from professional critics and experienced collectors.
What Is Barolo, and Why Is It So Valuable?
Barolo is a tannic, acidic red wine made from 100 percent Nebbiolo grapes grown in Piedmont, Italy, specifically, in the northwestern area called Langhe. Barolo wine is made in the subregion of Barolo located in the heart of Langhe.
This subregion is ideal for growing Nebbiolo, because it has a cool climate, which increases acidity in the grapes and gives Barolo wine great aging potential. Top-rated Barolo usually ages for 20 or more years and the best vintages can age for a century. As Barolo matures, it develops complex flavors of black tar, dried fruit, and aromatic rose—a beguiling combination. This aging potential is a boon for collectors, who may choose to keep their best Barolo bottles in storage for many decades and resell them for a high return on investment or enjoy these spellbinding wines themselves after the wine reaches peak maturity.
Top-rated Barolo wines from excellent producers like Giacomo Conterno often steadily increase in price every year.
Those who decide to resell their high-quality Barolo wines on the secondary market could earn hundreds of dollars per bottle in profit. For example, 2000 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Speciale Monfortino is nearly 20 years old and is slowly approaching maturity. It has greater finesse and softer tannins than it did upon release, and, for this reason, the wine is now worth much more on the secondary market. In 2017, the vintage was worth about $770 per bottle, on average. Today, the vintage is worth an average of $1,000 per bottle, which is a $230 increase in price over a two-year period. Top-rated Barolo wines from excellent producers like Giacomo Conterno often steadily increase in price every year, especially during the first 15 or 20 years when the wine is still evolving in flavor.
One reason why top-rated Barolo is so valuable is that it’s a difficult and time-consuming wine to make. The best producers of Barolo typically only make a small amount of this wine every year, as yields are often low and the winemaking process is slow. For example, after harvest and fermentation are complete, Barolo is aged in oak for at least two years and aged in the bottle for an additional year or more. Riserva Barolo (the most valuable type) ages for even longer periods of time—three years in oak and two in the bottle. Nebbiolo is also a notoriously finicky grape that requires perfect environmental conditions to ripen fully. Only the best producers from the highest quality terroirs can make Barolo of consistent quality year after year. As a result, if you’re looking to collect the very best Barolo wines, it’s important to focus on the specific communes where Nebbiolo grapes reach their peak potential.
The Communes That Make Top-Rated Barolo Wines
Terroir makes a huge difference in the quality of Barolo. Nebbiolo grapes bud earlier than other varieties grown in this Italian wine region and also require much more time on the vine to ripen. For this reason, the best communes for Barolo are those that stay relatively cool throughout the year, as this ensures that the fruit retains its natural acidity as it grows. If conditions are too hot, the grapes will ripen too quickly and the resulting Barolo may not be as long-lived or as balanced in flavor.
Within the subregion of Barolo, 11 different communes produce Barolo wine. They are:
Of these 11 communes, the ones that consistently produce the top-rated Barolo wines are Barolo, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba, and Castiglione Falletto. As you can see in the map above, these five communes are located relatively close to one another near the center of the Barolo subregion. However, despite their close proximity, there are significant differences in flavor between the wines made in each commune.
For example, the three easternmost communes (Monforte d’Alba, Serralunga d’Alba, and Castiglione Falletto) are part of the Serralunga Valley of Langhe. The soil here consists mainly of limestone and sand. This type of soil drains water quickly, which prevents the vines from absorbing too much moisture. Because of this, the grapes aren’t diluted and have high natural acidity. Barolo made here is often longer-lived and more austere in its youth than wine made in other communes.
If you’re looking for the very longest-lived Barolo and you don’t mind waiting for acidity and tannin to soften, then consider investing in wines from Serralunga Valley producers.
The La Morra and Barolo communes are located west of the Serralunga Valley in an area called the Central Valley. Here, the soil contains more clay and manganese. The denser clay retains much more water than sand and limestone do, and as a result, the fruit here isn’t as concentrated in flavor or as high in acidity as that grown in the Serralunga Valley. However, wines from the Barolo and La Morra communes are still acidic enough to age for long periods of time. They’re also incredibly velvety in their youth, with delicate fruit flavors that many Italian wine enthusiasts enjoy.
If you’re looking for the very longest-lived Barolo and you don’t mind waiting for acidity and tannin to soften, then consider investing in wines from Serralunga Valley producers. If you prefer fruit-forward wines that are approachable even in their youth, then Central Valley Barolo producers may be more appealing. Or, try wine from all five of these communes to find the style that best suits your palate.
The Best Barolo Producers
Regardless of which communes you decide to focus on, to find the top-rated Barolo, you’ll need to seek out wines from the best producers in each area. To help you find them, we’ve created a list of the most reputable producers from the Barolo subregion, listed by commune (many of the producers below own vineyards in more than one commune):
- Aldo e Riccardo Seghesio
- Alfredo Prunotto
- Bartolo Mascarello
- G.D. Vajra
- Giuseppe Rinaldi
- Luciano Sandrone
- Luigi Einaudi
- Michele Chiarlo
- Cordero di Montezemolo
- Figli Luigi Oddero
- Fratelli Oddero
- Fratelli Revello
- Mauro Molino
- Renato Ratti
- Roberto Voerzio
- Aldo Conterno
- Cascina Chicco
- Conterno Fantino
- Domenico Clerico
- Elio Grasso
- Giacomo Fenocchio
- Giovanni Manzone
This area is home to many marvelous winemakers, and the list above represents just some of the top Italian producers to consider when you start a Barolo collection. The best way to find out which of these producers you enjoy most is simply to taste wines from as many estates as possible. Ideally, you’ll want to try wines from top-quality older vintages. The taste of Barolo varies from year to year and changes significantly over time, so it’s important to try these wines at or near peak maturity before you make a final decision. For example, 2004 Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra was quite dry and had extremely prominent tannins when it was first released. Now, this wine has become far more balanced and its tannins are much finer, giving it greater elegance. It can be difficult to judge Barolo fairly in its youth; older vintages give you a sneak peek into how younger wines from the same producer and label may mature in the future.
Ranking the Top-Rated Barolo Vintages
To find top-rated Barolo wines that have long aging potential and powerful, complex flavors, seek out bottles from the best vintages in the region’s history. According to the Wine Advocate vintage chart, these are the best Barolo vintages (each vintage received a score of at least 96 points):
Wine Advocate also gave each of these older vintages a score of 96 points or more:
These aren’t the only vintages worth investing in, but they are the ones that are most likely to age well as the decades wear on. Top-rated Barolo wines from older vintages like 1978 and 1982 are still drinking well in many cases.
When you shop for Barolo, keep in mind that climate change has impacted the character of these wines, particularly in recent years. Vintages like 2010 and 2006 are generally more approachable in their youth because Barolo’s climate is slightly warmer and drier than it was two decades ago. These warmer conditions are producing riper grapes with slightly lower acidity than Barolo of the past. This means that you may be able to open these bottles earlier than expected. To keep track of the ideal drinking window for each of your bottles, upload your collection to a wine management app that notifies you when your wine is approaching peak maturity.
How to Make the Most of Your Barolo Collection
One common misconception about top-rated Barolo wines is that you must wait for a special occasion to enjoy them. These wines take many years to mature, which is why collectors often lay down young wines in anticipation of a special anniversary or birthday celebration. This is a fine option if you’re willing to wait ten or 15 years to drink your wine, but if you want to enjoy your collection right now, consider buying a mix of young and old wines. This will let you dip into your collection of well-aged Barolo while you wait for your younger wines to develop greater complexity. Also keep in mind that some younger vintages are already worth drinking. You can find a number of 2010 Barolo bottles that taste elegant and well-balanced already, such as 2010 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata Riserva and 2010 Vietti Barolo Castiglione.
Barolo’s subtle floral aromatics and earthiness come forward particularly well when it is paired with traditional Piedmontese cuisine.
If you decide to drink your Barolo now, these wines pair well with a wide range of foods. The high acidity in the wine lifts hearty and fatty dishes like beef stew. Barolo’s subtle floral aromatics and earthiness come forward particularly well when it is paired with traditional Piedmontese cuisine. Piedmont hard cheeses (Bra Duro and Castelmagno are good options) or simple white truffle dishes (a local delicacy) bring out the best in these wines. While you sip your Barolo, you might even begin to imagine you’re sitting in a cozy Piedmont café overlooking the misty Langhe hills in the distance.
Barolo’s bracing acidity, captivating aromas, and muscular fruit flavors have made it one of the most desirable wines in the world. Top-rated Barolo is also worth hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars per bottle on the secondary market, making it in-demand among investment-focused collectors. No matter what you plan on doing with your collection—reselling your bottles or drinking them yourself—you’ll have the greatest success when you buy a broad range of Barolo wines. Diversifying your collection reveals how versatile and multidimensional Barolo can be and enables you to appreciate the fine craftsmanship that goes into every single drop.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.