Traditional vs. Modern Barolo / Barbaresco

So why make such a fuss about your “philosophical question” being about producers not wines; about not trusting anyone who “would put a drop of Nebbiolo in small/new wood, let alone subject their grapes and juice to those other non-traditional methods of wine making and raising”?

Because as a consumer, I should be able to go into a wine shop and buy a bottle of Barolo or Babaresco without the risk of poisoning.

Call that other barrique-aged crap something else, so that simple consumers like me can safely buy a nice bottle of Barolo or Barbaresco.

Producers use the DOCG names Barolo and Barbaresco to trick unsuspecting consumers into buying their experimental short cuts.

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If we ever do a big Berserker convention, one of the sessions will be you on stage getting blinded on wines and reacting in real time while the person pouring slowly reveals what the wines are supposed to be.

My mind is not ready to process a deeper philosophical discussion at the moment, however I feel there are worse offences that can be made within the DOCG. Quite neutral (used) barrique aged with limited wood imprint but with terrific focus, energy and top quality juice is is a more neglectable crime in my book. Compare that to poorly farmed grapes, and/or many other abuses in the winemaking (not vessel related).

Why does a winemaker need ‘limited wood imprint’ to make a wine with energy and focus? They don’t!

I love wines with energy and focus. And I would add refreshing, as that is a wine’s first duty. In my opinion, of course.

Just omit the wood imprint and we mostly agree.

That was just an example to keep it less dogmatic (and no, it’s not a necessity of course!). Large botti full on traditional winemaking with dull and uninteresting juice due to poor farming - Which do you prefer? We call that game plague or cholera (in Sweden), though in this extreme case it is less of a painful choice, I’s say.

I hear you though Mark, and while I find more joy in the traditional direction I wouldn’t be surprised to if I come across a terrific barrique version (without the chocolate vanilla mess). On the otherhand, Accomasso had an interesting observation (from IDTT with Levi) which if I recall correctly was that older barriques can be problematic with nebbiolo.

Did they explain what might be problematic there? Basically the only think I can think of is how the oxidative power of a wood vessel is inversely correlated to its volume - meaning that aging in smaller barrels like barriques the wines might turn too oxidative.

I’ve understood some smaller producers use barriques just because their production is so small so if they want to make single-vineyard bottlings, they might have enough fruit for just one or two barriques. I really see no problem using barriques, demi-muids or tonneaux in situations like these, as long as the barrels are used and neutral enough so the wines taste like Nebbiolo and not toasty mocha oak.

I also strongly prefer limited wood. Don’t want splinters in my tongue. I also feel that there is a correlation with producers using small barriques and producers whose wine don’t age as well.

Limited wood imprint to me is synonymous to no toasty mocha oak.

Accomasso was very pragmatic and not judgmental in any way, the conclusion from the discussion in the interview was that his view was that traditional wines age better, and if one prefers to drink a barolo earlier than a modern rendition is better.

He mentioned that he’s understanding is that French oak (barrique in this case) has the character of leaving a larger wood imprint the older the barrel gets. He didn’t know/went in to any specifics.

Very speculative but what comes to my mind is that he has the wood tannins in mind, that in some wines can become more pronounced, and personally I find that a negative textural compared to wines with texture and tannins coming mainly from the grape/vines.

The interview is also interesting in general for barolo/barbaresco, as well as for those with thoughts about traditional versus modern. A lot of other interview with important winemakers/writers is nicely put together in the episode: #IDTT Wine 482: Lorenzo Accomasso and Barolo from the War Until Now.

Is there a char on barrique’s that imparts a flavor even if old?

That doesn’t make any sense. If that were true, all the wines aged in old, neutral barriques and similarly sized French oak barrels would be oaky as hell. And that definitely isn’t the case.

I wonder if he meant that a used French oak barrique can leave a larger wood imprint than a Slavonian oak botti of similar age? That would make sense.

I do agree with your point on wood tannins - I, too, find them often quite unpleasant when there is enough of them to become noticeable. However, that shouldn’t be a problem with older barrels as most wood tannins are leached by the first one or two wines, along with most of the wood flavors.

It’s of course all in the context of barrique versus botti (Slavonian), and with his experience from the region.

As mentioned, speculative and what I could imagine, so might as well be something else like you suggest (oxidative impact). On the otherhand with younger barrels he also suggested that modern wines are relatively better for early consumption. Hence I thought it must be something else on his mind than fast development when it came to the issues he saw with older barriques and the increased wood imprint (and imprint for me would suggest something different than oxidation related). Would be interesting to learn more about what Accomasso’s thoughts about it though!

@Pat_Burton Great and useful list

Worth checking:
Lodali - 18 day maceration and 26HL Slavonian oak for 18 months for their current Barolo Bricco Ambrogio
Rivetti Massimo - 30 day maceration and 25HL Slavonian oak for 24 months for the Barolo

Cautiously, though not cautiously enough, and not directed at Pat, I am going to interject that Traditional vs Modern is oversimplified. It is not a spectrum; there is not just a left and a right, but quite a few more dimensions. It is a great tool, and finding whether you like barrique aged or 50hl oak aged is really useful. BUT there is a bit more to a wine than the oak, the maceration time, and even rotofermenters.

When a customer asked for a recommendation on something we carry that is similar to the traditional 2018 PdB, I offered him the modern leaning 2016 Pelissero Nubiola and a few traditional options in a mixed case. He almost didn’t take the Pelissero, because it was modern, but I told him I thought it was the best match. After trying it, he then came back for a whole case. (note: the wine was for short term consumption) Besides vintage, which was a big part of the reason in this case, and when you plan to drink it, it is obviously also site specific, along with a handful of other important variables.

I think we should all use the guide, but not get too caught up in it. Wineries are also changing so frequently. Almost everyone modern is more traditional today than they were 20 years ago. Some are worth revisiting.

Thanks for the updates on producers. Oh, I agree that it is much more multidimensional than simply traditional or not. I developed this list as a starting point for those who wish to delve into nebbiolo.


And it is a fantastic list!

An update on this. I spoke with Francesca Vaira today about this and there is one a significant difference in elevage.

They ferment all their GD Vajra Barolos in stainless steel and then move them to botti.

But, for the Baudanas, they ferment in the traditional wood before moving to botti. They feel the Serralunga based Baudana and Ceretta crus take better to the wood at ferment than their higher elevation and lighter soil Barolo and Novello crus.

So, I think we can move Baudana to Traditional, while keeping Vajra in Lean Traditional.


I’m not sure I follow the distinction you’re making here. I thought botti (i.e. large Slovenian casks) were the “traditional wood”? Or were you trying to say they ferment in botti and then transfer to barrique for aging?

No. The botti is always for aging.

Wine gets fermented in big tanks that can be made of wood or stainless steel or other materials and are usually, but not always, open topped, not sealed like a barrel is. That’s how they do punchdowns or pumpovers. Or the soaks and all that. Then they rack before putting it into where it will age. At least this is my understanding.

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Was about to write the same thing.

Botti are mainly used for aging only. They do make them out of other wood than Slavonian oak as well, but I’d say Slavonian oak is by far the most common material and definitely what most people would immediately associate with “traditional wood”. However, a botti made from chestnut - although an option much less common - would be another example of “traditional wood” vessel.


OK, got it. So “traditional wood” just meant a neutral open top fermentation vessel made of wood, whereas the botti are sealed for aging. This is opposed to fermenting in stainless or concrete or something else. I get it.

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