Producer Spotlight: Piedmonte’s Fratelli Barale

Fratelli Barale, located in the Piedmonte region of Italy (or, more specifically, in the northern appellations where prestigious Barolo and Barbaresco are grown) is a small operation, producing only 70,000 bottles every year. Barale divides their production among a variety of single-vineyard bottlings, so their holdings may appear larger than they actually are—they produce the white Arneis; the reds Dolcetto and Barbera; single parcels of Barbaresco and Barolo; a sweet Moscato; and a Chinato made from Barolo.

These wines are restrained, by most standards. While they do have good color, they are hardly over-extracted. Winemaker Sergio Barale strives for Barolos and Barbarescos that offer aromatic definition and ethereal complexity as soon as they reach the market, as opposed to wines that require years and years of bottle aging. These wines are approachable because of the vinification process used, which, though traditional, is somewhat unique. Neutral oak tonneaux is used for all of the Nebbiolo for up to one year. Following this first year of aging, all of the Barolos and Barbarescos are racked into large Slavonian and French oak casks, while the Cru Barolos are racked into demi-johns, or massive glass jugs that range from 12 liters to 54 liters in capacity, where they will rest and age for an additional one to three years, depending on the winemaker’s approach to the vintage.

Until the 1950s and 60s, demi-johns were widespread in Barolo, but the technique has since disappeared. Barale is one of the few producers still using this technique, which allows the Cru Barolos to develop more complex secondary aromas and to arrive on the market with an approachability that is unusual for a young and traditional Barolo.

Beginning with the 2011 vintage, all of the Barale wines are now fermented with a pied-de-cuve (or starter culture) of native yeasts that have been selected by Eleonora Barale, who holds a graduate degree in biotechnology. These native yeasts are from the oldest Nebbiolo plants in the Castellero Cru, some of which are over 50-years-old. Partnering with the University of Turin, Eleonora has identified three native yeast strains of Saccharomyces Cervisiae out of over 200 found in the Castellero vineyard has now prepares a pied-de-cuve with those three yeasts every year to kick-start the fermentation of those wines, which take place in wooden vats.

Sergio Barale, vineyard manager and agronomist, secured proprietary rights to a selection of Nebbiolo from the Castellero and Bussia vineyards during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Therefore, any new Nebbiolo that is planted at Barale is now reproduced from their own proprietary massale clones.

After 55 vintages, the Cannubi vineyard was ripped out in 2008 and completely replanted. Barale will not produce and Cannubi for the next 10-15 years, until the vines reach an appropriate age to produce a fruit that is good enough for a proper Barolo. Accordingly, the past three vintages of Cannubi released by Barale—2005, 2006, and 2007, all of which are still available at the cellar—are extremely expensive.

The average age of the Barale Moscato vines is 35 years. The vineyard is located in Santo Stefano Belbo, a small village east of Barolo that happens to be the epicenter of the Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti production area. It is a delicate, lightly sweet wine that has its roots at the base of the Castellero foothills.

Perhaps one of the most unique and special products that the Barale house produces, however, is their Chinato. Following an old family recipe going back to the early 20th century, Sergio and Eleonora Barale make their Barolo Chinato using their Barolo “Castellero” as their base. The current release of the Barolo Chinato is 100% Barolo “Castellero” from the 2007 vintage. An herbal infusion of “China Calissaia” quinine tree bark, gentian root, and rhubarb root is prepared and mixed with cinnamon and spices and then blended into the Barolo base. The flavored Barolo is then fortified with alcohol up to 17% and then racked into 700 liter tonneaux French oak barrels, where it matures for a year and a half. The Chinato ages for another year in bottle prior to release.

What these wines have in common is that they are all performers at the table and are all extraordinary wines to pair with your varying dinner dishes.  As for the Barale Chinato, this digestif is an absolute steal at this price. This 750ml bottle comes in at a price that most chinatos cost for half the volume. As for quality, there’s no compromise—in fact, you’re getting perhaps the best chinato on the market, made from grapes that are incomparable. Pick up the Barale portfolio before it disappears. Here is what we currently have in stock here at Astor:

 

Langhe Arneis, Barale, 2013
An Arneis that’s a textbook example of this delightful Piedmontese varietal. This is a dry white wine that boasts aromas of almonds, herbs, yellow plums, citrus, and flint.

 

Barbera d’Alba, “Castellero,” Barale, 2012
A Barbera to highlight. Castellero is the Cru that lies on the other side of the narrow, long valley where the Cannubi Cru is located, at the foothills of the Barolo village. The fruit extraction is moderate with a ruby red hue that’s translucent. The mouth-feel is fresh, with aromas that veer towards orchard fruit, chocolate, and mint. There is no new oak on this bottling.

 

Dolcetto d’Alba, “Costa del Rose,” Barale, 2013
Costa del Rose is a parcel located between Barolo and Monforte. This is a fruity yet medium-bodied Dolcetto that’s not the over-extracted style that is prevalent on the market. Aromas of crushed black cherries, white pepper, and violets.

 

Barolo, Barale, 2010
If you’re just beginning your discovery of Barolo, look no further. If you enjoy Barolo regularly, consider this a house wine to enjoy. Full of finesse with delicate fruit more than simply brute Nebbiolo power.

 

Barbaresco, “Serraboella,” Barale, 2009
A show-stopping wine that rivals many top Langhe Nebbiolos on the market. Classic, elegant, and forward with fruit and a complexity that makes you crave a plate of your best antipasti. Fine quality from the Serraboella, 40-year old vineyards located in Neive.

 

Barolo “Canubi,” Barale, 2006
Classic Cannubi nose of super ripe black cherries, chocolate, and tobacco. The more “masculine” of the Barale Baroli wines, but by no means over the top in structure. Rather, the texture is rich with soft tannins. The old vineyard has been replanted recently, so it will be a good 10-15 years before another release is seen on the market.

 

Moscato d’Asti, Barale, 2013
Grown in the hilltop town of Asti in Piedmont, Italy, this dessert wine is well-recognized as a wine with bubbles that’s sweet but sophisticated at the same time. Drink chilled and enjoy as the Italians do, alongside lightly sweet panettone, or as New Yorkers do, alongside brunch.

 

Barolo Chinato, Barale
Our Barale Chinato is currently the best value available in the U.S. for this classic drink. Falling somewhere in between a vermouth and an amari, this style of chinato from Piemonte uses Barolo, the king of Italian wine, as its base with added herbs, spices, and botanicals. Excellent after dinner, in cocktails, and with chocolate.