Expansion of Barolo, Barbaresco and Alta Langa DOCGs

Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I haven’t seen anyone comment on this Wine-Searcher story, Piedmont DOCGs Set to Grow.

I buries the lede, which is that the powers that be in Barolo want to expand the zone by 22 ha or 1% of the surface area every year, though limiting that to areas already planted to nebbiolo, if I read this right. Barbaresco would add 7 ha per year, with preference going to vineyards that already qualify as Langhe Nebbiolo. (Barbaresco is only 677 ha to Barolo’s nearly 2,000, so the percentage increase is about the same.)

As producer-friendly changes to appellation rules go, these are pretty minor – nothing like the 58% increase in the Alta Langhe zone, from 377 ha to 597 ha. But it’s interesting nonetheless


I expected to see more justification that particular areas would be appropriate for Barolo/Barbaresco based on particular soil types, groundwater, or changes in heat/exposure/etc. because of climate change. Instead the main justifications are market driven. They expanded before, nobody seemed to care, and sales increased. Why not do it again? The market wants more B/B, so let’s give it to them. It’s a wonder they only are increasing by 1% a year.

But I’m not complaining. These lines are arbitrary, and we will taste our way to determining if new vineyards are worthy.

Thanks for sharing John!

Would been more exiting if the expansion happened with quality in mind, rather than pure commercial/demand reason.

It would be interesting to read the consorzios’ full justifications. The WS story is a bit incoherent. It sounds like the producers may be making the case that there are Langhe Nebbiolo vineyards adjacent to the DOCGs with mature vines that are high quality enough to warrant inclusion. As we see more warm vintages, it’s also not hard to imagine high-elevation sites or slopes not facing south, SW or SE that might be worthy.

I think you are right. I will try to find out what I can when I return in March. I, for one, am curious to start trying more wines from historically less ideal plots (not facing S, SW, or SE). With the warming trend in the Langhe, I am growing increasingly concerned about the alcohol levels in Barolo.

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I either read or heard somewhere this is one reason why were are seeing more non-traditional varieties, like Riesling and Pinot Nero, coming out of the region. Producers are expanding into areas that don’t get warm enough for Nebbiolo to fully ripen, so they plant cooler varieties, but they expect these vineyards to allow Nebbiolo plantings with climate change.

Vajra’s first riesling plantings were in the Fossetti vineyard on the La Morra/Barolo border at the outer edge of the Barolo DOCG at a fairly high altitude. A fair deal of Fossetti was devoted to barbera, according to the Slow Food Langhe atlas. Later, Vajra planted riesling in Sinio, a bit east of Serralunga, just outside the Barolo DOCG.

By contrast, Sergio Germano, who makes very good riesling, grows his in Cigliè, in the hills south of Dogliani, where the altitude is 500+ meters. That’s a 45 minute drive south of Barolo.

I saw recently that another good Barolo producer was growing riesling, but I can’t remember who that was.

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Massolino is making a riesling.

Thanks. That’s who I was thinking of!

It is grown in Monforte, but at 530 meters elevation, so I assume it’s outside the DOCG. I don’t think there are any Barolo vineyards above ~450 meters.

Has anyone had it? I’ve had several vintages of both the Vajra and Germano rieslings (Vajra back to 2009 or so, Germano since 2014 or 2015), and am a big fan.

I’d love to try the Massolino, but the only East Coast source I see on Wine Searcher is the state store in Harrisburg. :grimacing:

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The only Italian Riesling I have had was from Giacomo Borgogno, and it was fantastic. This is from the Madonna di Como vineyard in Alba grown at 500 meters above sea level.

This is surprising from an economics point of view. The only reason I can think of for why this expansion would be allowed is if the owners of land already in B/B also own the neighboring land that stands to enter the DOCGs.

I tried Massolino’s Riesling at their cantina. I am not the best source re the quality of Riesling as I am not a big fan of it. But, having had a few German and Austrian Rieslings, I have found Massolino’s (and Vajra’s) Riesling lacking that intense lemony minerality. More of a simple summer quaffer. But, for me, Alta Langa spumate better scratches that itch.

Why surprising? Seems like demand and pricing is sufficiently high that they can add supply without affecting the market. Since the value of Barolo/Barbaresco is so much higher than other products they can produce on the newly minded AOC lands it makes sense to add it.

Which many of them do. And 1% expansion a year isn’t likely to undercut prices much.

There are usually complex local politics when boundaries are redrawn. In Barolo, the official vineyard boundaries mostly seem to have been drawn pretty sensibly and narrowly, based on tradition and a consensus about the quality of sites, but there were exceptions: Bussia’s boundaries were drawn to capture a large swath of Monforte, and owners in Cannubi San Lorenzo, Cannubi Boschi etc. were allowed to label their wines as the more prestigious plain Cannubi.

And appellation expansion is quite common. Cote Rotie was vastly enlarged ~40 years ago to include the plateau above the classic slopes. Go figure. As I recall, the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG zone was also greatly expanded at some point in the 70s or 80s to include a lot of area to the northwest that isn’t particularly good.

By contrast, the folks in the Langhe seem to have shown a lot more concern about the integrity of their appellations.

In five years, we will see complaints that producers of Barolo and Barbaresco cannot sell all their wines and that we should buy more to help out the poor producers who are hurting (like we did a year or two ago with Champagne, another region that expanded their acreage). Guess what production will be going unsold - the new stuff where the price will be doubling.

I don’t see demand for Barolo and Barbaresco declining. Champagne has suffered from competition from other sparkling wines and a drop in British consumption and (I believe) Chinese imports.

And did the Champagne expansion actually take place? From what I can see, it had been on hold since 2008.

Moreover, the economic structure of Champagne is very different, with production dominated by a few large Champagne houses, including LVMH (Krug, Moet, Dom Perignon, Chandon, Veuve Clicquot). I believe they drove the move for expansion because they were gaining overseas sales at the time, more than a decade ago.

The question isn’t whether demand for Barolo and Barbaresco will decline. The question is whether people will be willing to pay Barolo and Barbaresco prices for production that has traditionally only been good enough to qualify as Nebbiolo d’Alba. Doubt there will be any new vineyards of the quality of Monfortino that will be added. Remember, the purpose of this is to double the prices for wines from land that traditionally has not been considered good enough to qualify as Barolo or Barbaresco.

I can’t think of any examples where an organization of firms welcomed more competition because they were doing well enough. It would be like if taxi drivers in NYC said demand is sufficiently high so it’s fine with them to auction off a bunch more medallions. Maybe the wine industry is different though.

I’m sure there are lots of politics involved, but presumably the politics of B/B are controlled largely by the people who own land in B/B rather than by outsiders who want to join.

Anyway, without knowing anything about ownership in B/B, I’m just speculating that the current owners of B/B probably also own the outside land that they’re hoping to have included in the DOCG.

If done thoughtfully, a moderate increase in the size of the Barolo DOCG doesn’t seem necessarily bad to me. The question is the criteria and thoughtfulness of how the new areas are picked. There, based on the little I know, I wouldn’t be so confident the Italians will be thoughtful. The areas where it is ideal to plant Nebbiolo have clearly changed somewhat over time as the climate has warmed. It’s possible there are areas outside of the traditional Barolo area that are now more ideal for nebbiolo than some areas within the traditional zone.

As a very cherry picked example, part of the property Conterno acquired in Arione is technically outside of the Barolo area, and while I haven’t tasted the wine, my understanding is the wine made from that area in 2015 & 2019 is very much barolo level in quality, if not superior.

Kurt you’re probably right about the land ownership.