In the beginning of February over 200 producers from the Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG wine appellations in Piedmont, Italy, visited New York City to pour their incredible wines at a once in a lifetime tasting as well as to showcase single vineyard labels and the concept of MGA (a.k.a MeGA) zones that represent these single vineyard notations’ particular bottlings. It was a rare event where many came from all over the world. The areas of Barolo and Barbaresco have always been considered wine growing appellations like no other yet there has become an importance to bringing attention to the various nuances that each site expresses that is channeled through that difficult to grow yet utterly enticing grape variety, Nebbiolo.
Wine Producers Joining Forces
Family owner of Pio Cesare, Pio Boffa, could have never imagined that Barolo and Barbaresco producers would ever come together like what happened in New York City. “When I was a kid, a long time ago unfortunately, I used to go with my grandfather every night to the post office because we had to mail letters for the company and the post office was in the main road of Alba and it was around a ten minute walk” Pio said thinking back. He continued, “Everybody was saying hi to my grandfather and my grandfather was saying hi to everybody else but when he met his colleagues, other wine producers and wine growers, we were going straight without even saying hi. I’m talking about in the 1960s so it was not the Middle Ages” he said with a twinkle in his eyes “but thinking about the fact we all flew all the way from Italy just for an event in New York City is amazing to me.” But Pio remarked how vital it was for producers in the same area to come together today as there are wines from all over the globe that are competing in the same marketplaces and so the winemakers of Barolo and Barbaresco realize that they are stronger together.
In regards to the single vineyard wines that were the focus of the event, Pio Boffa wanted to emphasize that although he himself has invested in bottling their own single vineyards that have been codified in the MGA system (codified in 2007 for Barbaresco and 2010 for Barolo), he also honors making Barolo and Barbaresco from a blend of sites within each appellation as did his grandfather and great-grandfather.
MGA (MeGA): Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive
When it came to understanding the focus on these single vineyards or MGA zones within Barolo and Barbaresco, the consortium president of the wine growing area, Matteo Ascheri, owner of Ascheri Vineyards and Cellars, shed some light on the subject, “Traditionally in the area it was much more the philosophy to blend different plots and different areas in Barolo and Barbaresco because producers believed it gave a more complex and complete wine. But today we have another philosophy that is completely different in these single vineyard wines as we want to produce wines that are a clear expression of a specific place.” Matteo quickly noted that one philosophy was not better or worse than the other but it was just a different way of thinking.
At this auspicious tasting, the famed Italian cartographer and wine writer, Alessandro Masnaghetti, gave two seminars that tried to cover the 66 MGAs within Barbaresco and the 170 MGAs within Barolo (among 11 townships) that was virtually impossible to cover most of them let alone explain the nuances of the multitude of sites and hence for those who are interested in going deeper, his books on the subject are highly recommended. But there are a couple points that are worth pointing out from the seminars. Over decades, many producers have noticed that those soils that are younger tend to make more classic, pale, less structured wines and those coming from older soils seemingly producing more fruit, more structure and tougher tannins. The age of these soils are estimated by the carbon dating of fossils that are found in different sites. Despite Alessandro Masnaghetti being an advocate for these MGA classifications, as there are several distinctive terroirs within each appellation, he wanted to make clear that there are still some great vineyards that are well-known by the local producers that will never be added to the classification and so not all single vineyards that are not given MGA status should be disregarded.
One such vineyard, “Vigna La Rosa”, is considered a top site for the producer Fontanafredda although it is unclassified and they consider it the first unclassified single vineyard in Barolo, first bottled in 1964. But there are other producers that had also started bottling single vineyards during that same time such as Vietti’s Barolo single vineyard “Rocche di Castiglione” that was first bottled in 1961 and has become a famous MGA classified vineyard. Even one of the most traditional Barolo producers, Borgogno, started bottling separately three of their MGA vineyard sites such as their “Liste”, “Cannubi” and “Fossati” (all in the township of Barolo) starting in 2007 with Liste yet they have a total of six MGAs (recently adding a new MGA from La Morra) among their organically grown vineyards which will be certified for the 2019 vintage. But make no mistake that Borgogno is heavily rooted in its traditionalist past with the new owners, the Farinetti family, making sure the wine is still made and aged in a way that honors founder Cesare Borgogno and keeps the most important tradition of holding some bottles back for at least 20 years before they are released onto the market.
The Whole is Greater than the Sum of Its Parts
The traditional attitude of Barolo and Barbaresco wine producers is where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, and in some respects that is true and should be honored yet a balanced life is not one that is stubbornly rooted in absolutes. The individual parts can be just as enjoyable, just as great, because it is a more intense way to experience a particular place. Yes, the Barolo and Barbaresco wines from blended sites, when harmoniously combined, create a whole that can take on a greater complexity and completeness because no one site stands out, but just like there is importance in melding as a positive synergistic force as a society, there is also importance in each individual getting to tell her story that enhances that society to the next level. And that is where these single vineyard MGA cru wines come into play as they are not here to hold any greater importance then their blended counterparts, they are here to elevate those traditional blends by highlighting some of their extraordinary components that were always there but just never recognized.