My enduring love for Barolo

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We caught up with Chris Pollington, self-confessed Italophile and Account Manager here at Berry Bros. & Rudd on his love for Barolo

Where did it all start for you?

Family visits to Italy as a child sparked my interest in that delightful country – its food, its people, its culture and, ultimately, its wine. My first Italian vinous love was Tuscany, with its wonderful Sangiovese wines that still retain a special place in my affections. Ultimately, though, Piedmont and its fantastically complex wines drew me in; I have never looked back.

While Dolcetto and Barbera (Italy’s favourite grape variety) make some delicious wines, Nebbiolo really is the king of Piedmont. I first started exploring its complexities around 25 years ago, when my Italian wife and I were making preparations for our wedding on the shoes of Lake Maggiore, close to the northern Piedmontese appellations of Ghemme and Gattinara. Nebbiolo is the main grape variety here, though it’s known as “Spanna” in the local dialect, and blended with other local varieties, it gives a great take on what the variety is capable of further south in the region.

When did you start suggesting these wines to your customers?

When I started my current role, around 15 years ago, as Private Account Manager, we were just beginning to explore Barolo and Barbaresco in more detail, establishing relationships with new producers and offering their wines directly to our customers. To me – and many of our customers and my colleagues – these were new wines with complex tastes and flavours never experienced before.

Back then, the wines were a tough sell to those accustomed to buying predominantly Claret and White Burgundy. But with time, customer tastings and dinners at No.3 St James’ Street, we began to see our customers flocking to these wines in droves. This experience seems to have been repeated across the fine wine world. Wines that were once around £25 per bottle now sell for hundreds of pounds. Thankfully, not all the wines have yet reached such heady heights; there is still plenty of value to be found.

What is the situation now?

Personally, I think there has never been a better time to get into the wines of Barolo: the quality is better than ever before. It’s a combination of know-how in the vineyard and improved cellar conditions coupled with the end of the whole traditionalist-versus-modernist battle. To be honest, most winemakers just take the best from both and create stunning wines.

No two wineries are the same, with endless permutations of vineyard soils, altitude and aspect – as well as what is done in the cellar – making for a never-ending array of different aromas and flavours in the wines.

How would you describe the wines?

At their best, wines from Barolo combine power with subtlety and complexity. Tar and roses are the common descriptors used to describe Barolo, but there is so much more: I have encountered aromas of strawberry, raspberry, coffee, tea, meat, mint, sage and redcurrants; and that was all from one wine in one sitting.

These are wines that are made for food, and Piedmont boasts some of the finest food in all of Italy. While Barolo will pair with many dishes, it is a delight with Piedmontese favourites such as tajarin con ragù and osso bucco di vitello.

Whether you have yet to begin your great Nebbiolo journey, or if you have already made your first tentative steps, I implore you to delve deep into the great wines of Piedmont; you will never regret it, and your future self will thank you for it.

Chris’ picks:

Trediberri’s Langhe Nebbiolo - juicy, zest, bright and delicious, my go-to Langhe Nebbiolo.
Davide Rosso’s Barolo Serra - cool elegance, coupled with Serralunga power, stunning, long-lived Barolo.
Fontana’s straight Barolo - open, amenable, rounded and a delight, like the man who makes it.