Barolo Wine: Italy Tackles the Traditional vs Modern Production Debate

The smaller size of the barrels allows the wines to mature faster while more of the fruit is still fresh and vibrant. Finally, the level of toast in the barrels adds to the wines color and vibrancy. Eventually the modernists also discovered that by shortening the time allowed for fermentation and maceration, the amount of bitter tannins could be reduced without sacrificing flavor or color. This created wines that are accessible at a younger age.Many of even the long time producers of Barolo adopted more modernist techniques.

Of course, it is not all or nothing. There is some middle ground. And while all this talk of traditional versus modern Barolos involved the winery, let us not forget that during this same period advances in the vineyard were being made worldwide. Clonal selections, new definitions of ripeness, green harvesting, and control of yields all came to be better understood in the last 20 years. In the hands of these masters, traditional or modern, the quality of the raw material had greatly increased. It is expected that the wines produced are also better.

But as I said, we are lucky in Barolo. There are great wines being made on both sides of the aisle. I like them both. An interesting quality too is that the older these wines get (and don’t forget these wines can easily age for 20 years and some for 40 or more), the more similar the wines become.

There are many good and great producers still making traditional Barolos. Perhaps the best producer in all of the Piemonte is Bruno Giacosa. His Barolos are very expensive and well worth it. Other good traditional producers include Giacomo Conterno, Marcarini, Bartolo Mascarello, Aldo Conterno, and Cavallotto.

Some of the producers making very good wines in the modernist style include Domenico Clerico, Mauro Veglio, Silvio Grasso, Luciano Sandrone, Eraldo Viberti, Roberto Voerzio, and Elio Altare. In addition Angelo Gaja, whose Sperss wine is no longer labeled as a Barolo (instead using the Langhe designation) is still pushing the envelope.

I hope you all go out and try a bottle or two and let me know what you think.

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Loren Sonkin is an Featured Contributor and the Founder/Winemaker at Sonkin Cellars.


For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.