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The compact nature of Barolo, the complexity of its geology and the intensity of its viticulture makes the region a prime candidate for a system of vineyard classification. Except it doesn’t have one, at least not legally enshrined.

Once you are in Barolo, it is obvious that each twist and turn of the slopes changes each vineyard’s exposition, and that altitude of planting is just as important as the soil. The average vineyard holding is small – about two hectares per producer – so it is clear also that the vineyards must be very parcellated. Each vineyard has its own name, and there is an understanding of the best sites, so why is there no official ranking?

The answer is both historical and political. The names assigned to vineyards are long-established, but their boundaries are often vague, and can include land that extends from the valley to the top of the slope, as well as a variety of exposures. As any student of Burgundy can tell you, the prime land is almost always mid-slope. So a vineyard may have a reputation potentially established by only a section of the named site, although there are some prime sites where every wine produced under the vineyard’s name is potentially top drawer.

More recently the authorities and producers have been engaged in properly defining vineyards and their boundaries: there are now 181 sites officially identified as Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive (MGA, or additional geographic mention), but there is no ranking within them. The political element came into play when it was left to each village to agree how and where to define each vineyard designation. As to be expected, a vineyard holder in a less-favoured sector of a famous vineyard would be unlikely to support any plan to relinquish their right to the name.

Some of the smaller communes were more rigorous, but the most egregious was Monforte d’Alba, where swathes of relatively ordinary vineyards were swept into the catch-all of the nearest most renowned site, most famously the Bussia vineyard, which is almost equal in size to the whole of Castiglione Falletto. There are pockets of outstanding vineyards, but the more pedestrian can also be sold under the same name.

For these reasons it is difficult to be categoric about vineyard names to follow, or about their relative stature. Several have tried – notably the wine journalists Antonio Galloni and Luigi Veronelli, cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti and producer Renato Ratti – but, although founded on extensive research, these remain proposals and have not been adopted into local wine law.

Thus, until Barolo does achieve a formal system of classification (currently a distant hope), the best way for us to present our producers’ wines is to group them by the commune in which their wineries are based. The relative esteem and demand for their single-vineyard wines will be evident from the pricing.

But there remains one final twist: many producers own vineyards in more than one commune, the result of marriages and inheritance in such a small region.

Some, like Veglio (based in La Morra) with their Castelletto (Montforte d’Alba) or Paiagallo (Barolo) choose to retain their best vineyards’ individuality, whereas others, for example Sandrone, blend a premium wine across communes (see their Barolo Le Vigne for the components). Indeed, this cross-commune blending is still common and is traditional; until the rise of the single vineyard concept, it was how nearly all Barolo was produced and it was felt that each commune contributed a particular facet to the final blend. In fact, our Own Selection Barolo, made for us by Davide Rosso, is a traditional blend of wines from Serralunga, Barolo and Castiglione Falletto.

This is just one more enticing complexity to add to this fascinating region’s allure. Read on!