A Room with a Barolo View

During the Middle Ages, the hilltop towns of La Morra and Barolo fiercely disputed who controlled the prime vineyard lands of Cerequio, one of the most prestigious of Barolo’s crus, or most important parcels of land. Today there is no doubt. Michele Chiarlo, along with his sons Stefano and Alberto, farm almost two-thirds of the nebbiolo vines planted in Cerequio’s calcareous Sant’ Agata marl – vines that yield Barolo wines of particular elegance and finesse with concentrated aromatics that lace ripe berries with dark chocolate and pleasing hints of eucalyptus.

A few short years ago, the Chiarlo family opened Palas Cerequio, a boutique hotel in the center of its eponymous vineyards. The hotel is a sanctuary for those who aspire to understand the wines of Barolo thoroughly. Consistent with the local architecture, from a distance it looks like a small cluster of houses. In the lobby are stones from each of region’s grand cru sites.

The rooms mirror the Chiarlo’s winemaking philosophy: balancing tradition and modernity, preserving the time-honored characteristics of Barolo while embracing practices that render the wines more sumptuous, less austere. Thus the whimsical Baroque style of the four suites in the historic manor nod to the past, while the remaining five suites, compositions in stone and oak with massive picture windows, look to the future. All are equipped with private spas, stacks of books and musical selections specifically chosen to prime guests for an expansive sensory experience once the wine is opened.

Which brings us to the Caveau of Cerequio, the hotel’s cellar where guests can sample the entire Chiarlo portfolio alongside Barolo from other regional luminaries such as Gaja, Boroli and Vietti. It is an ideal tasting environment: temperature controlled with a long table set above a floor lit to ensure a true reading of each wine’s hue.

The hotel will also arrange truffle hunts, castle tours and reservations at authentic Piedmontese restaurants such as the Michelin starred Antica Corona Reale and San Marco Ristorante. Short of renting a staffed villa, Palas Cerequio is perhaps the most exquisite way to experience what is like to live among Barolo’s vineyards.

Michele Chiarlo Barolo Cerequio is the perfect accompaniment to roasted or braised meats, such as this recipe for braised veal shanks.

The Wines of Boroli

Italy’s Piedmont region not only borders France and Switzerland, its food and wine embody many of the finest qualities of the three nations. “Piedmont” means foothills, specifically the lush green slopes beneath the Alps, where pastures yield world-class cheeses and veal so tender, crudo is a local staple. It is an epicure’s heaven: the fish is caught fresh in nearby Liguria, the roots of oak trees are a favorite hiding place for truffles, butter is used as liberally as olive oil, and the most important local grape variety, nebbiolo, is the foundation for Barolo, one of the most collectible wines in the world.

Nebbiolo is a thin-skinned red grape that, with enough time on the vine, develops ripe cherry flavors anchored by a bouquet of roses, violets, tar and forest floor. What sets the variety apart is its texture, the penetrating dry tannins accompanied by high acidity. It is the reason Barolo ages gracefully for decades, and why Barolo traditionally takes a good ten years to become approachable.

In the past, Barolo producers looking to quicken the process made wines in the “international style,” a shorthand for ample use of new oak barrels and intensely concentrated fruit. These Barolos were easy drinking in their youth but an anathema to purists, since flavors of toast and vanilla along with a perception of sweetness masked nebbiolo’s bewitching aromatics.

Today, a more modern approach to making accessible Barolo has taken hold. Wineries like Boroli are using contemporary fermentation techniques to soften tannins, while crafting wines with fresh fruit, clarity and precision. These wines, while not the classics, open a beautiful window into Barolo for nebbiolo lovers keen to enjoy a bottle upon release, pronto!

The Boroli Barolo 2008 is a particularly good value. The cool wet vintage meant fewer single-vineyard bottlings and more top lots of nebbiolo in the blended bottling. It goes beautifully with braised veal or wild mushroom risotto.