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Barolo, The King of Wines

The Langhe is a very special area in Italian winemaking tradition. Situated on the north side of the Apennines as they turn west and reluctantly trudge towards France like some recalcitrant schoolboy, the Langhe looks north across the flat plain of the river Po towards Piedmont’s capital Turin, and beyond that to the Alps. Here the climate is very different from that further south; the autumn is characterised by cool, foggy mornings. The Italian word for fog is nebbia and it is this that has given the local grape variety its name, Nebbiolo. This is the grape that is used to make Barolo, the King of Wines. If you would like to know more of the history this celebrated wine have a look at the blog piece ‘Barolo - War and Peace’. I promise it is a lot shorter than its namesake!

Silvano Bolmida now enters our story. Vinnie and I met him at his new winery, a short distance outside the town of Monforte d’Alba. So new, in fact, is the winery that the area that will be the tasting room is not yet finished although he assured us that by next Easter all will be ready. The old winery (the family farmhouse where Silvano was born) is only about 300 metres away. He has 7.4 hectares of vines from which he produces around 30,000 bottles of wine per year, though with the new winery this should increase to 50,000. This will not be at the expense of quality but merely a consequence of the fact that in the past he was unable to vinify all his production himself. In fact, Silvano and his family are in a moment of transition as the enterprise grows and his two children, Francesco and Alessandra, both university educated oenologists, enter the business.


The new building sits at the centre of a natural amphitheatre in the famous area called Bussia and Silvano was happy to explain how he has different vines on different aspects, depending on the amount of sun available. The sunny southwest facing slopes are planted with Nebbiolo destined for Barolo whereas the Nebbiolo on the less favoured northwestern side will be used for the less prestigious Langhe Nebbiolo, an easy drinking style wine that can be released much earlier than Barolo.


Silvano’s practices are Certified Sustainable Agriculture and he eschews the use of chemicals, always looking for natural solutions to any problems that arise. A good example is the way he uses powdered stone calle zeolite against an influx of the brown marmorated stink bug that is plaguing northern Italy. Simply distributing the powder over the vines discourages the insects and they leave the vines alone. He also grows crops like beans amongst the vines to naturally fix nitrogen in the soil and has fruit trees as well to help sustain the insects needed to pollinate the vines.


All his red wines are fermented in steel with a minimum of seven days using pumping over or remontage to maximise extraction of tannins and polyphenols before being left for between 70 to 130 days on the skins. The wines then spend 12 to 24 months in barrels on the lees. Thereafter the wines are returned to stainless steel containers before being bottled unfiltered. They then remain for at least 12 months in the bottle before being released.


We sat in the old farmhouse and sampled some of the results of Silvano’s meticulous and innovative approach to winemaking. We started with a Barolo Bussia 2017 which has a deep garnet colour with a bouquet rich in vanilla, cherry, and roses. The palate is dense and layered with prunes, cloves, ripe cherries, and roasted coffee beans. The tannins were still strong and it had a good acidity and a lasting finish. As this wine has another 11 months in the bottle before release, it is fair to say that the tannins should be softer by then.


Next came Bussia Vigna dei Fantini 2016. Again, this was a deep garnet colour but with toasted hazelnuts, leather, cherries and a hint of mint on the nose. On the palate the tannins are now softer with blackberry, a subtle salinity, liquorice, and espresso.


The following Barolo was Le Coste Monforte 2016. This was a deep garnet colour tending towards ruby and the bouquet was mild vanilla with mocha and cherries. On the palate, there are cloves, cherries, and roasted coffee beans. The tannins are balanced with acidity and salinity to give a good structure - this is a wine to enjoy with a good steak.


For the finale we enjoyed a Bussia Riserva 2013. The colour is an intense ruby with hints of garnet and a complex nose of vanilla, leather, mushrooms, cinnamon, plums, and a hint of liquorice. On the palate there are layers of dried black cherries, chocolate, rum, raisins, and faint peppery notes. The tannins are still strong with good acidity, leaving an astringent finish. This is a remarkable wine with plenty of aging potential. This wine could be enjoyed with roast meat, grilled steak, or perhaps a well-matured cheese. However you pair it, be sure to savour this fine example of the ‘King of Wines’.

Leaving Silvano’s winery I had the very strong feeling that this winery will go from strength to strength guided by the driving force that is Silvano, but managed by Francesco and Alessandra in the future.

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