The celebrated region of Barolo received UNESCO World Heritage status since 2014, a year before the vineyards of Burgundy did in 2015. And it is not illogical to draw comparisons between these two equally geologically complex regions. Whilst Burgundy has long cultivated the recognition of differences among communes and vineyards, Barolo only started to legally incorporate the inclusion of cru (equivalent to Grand Cru and Premier Cru of Burgundy) and vineyard (equivalent to lieux-dit of Burgundy) labelling in year 2007 and 2009 respectively.
It might come across a daunting task navigating the intricate web of Barolo communes, crus and vineyards (well, just remembering and understanding those of Burgundy might take several lifetimes!), there is indeed a simpler way to get a quick sense of the style of Barolo. The region of Barolo boasts a mosaic of soil compositions but it largely features two major soil types: Helvetian and Tortonian.
“The first soil type, calcareous marls of the Tortonian epoch which are relatively compact, fresher and more fertile… characterizes the vineyards of the townships of La Morra and Barolo and produce softer, fruitier, aromatic wines which age relatively rapidly for a Barolo.” – Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine
Tortonian soil is mainly found in the communes of Barolo and La Morra. The soil age reaches 7.2 to 11.6 million years old. This bluish tint soil is rich in magnesium and manganese. It comprises mostly clay, mixed with some sand and limestone. This gives more fragrant, elegant and more approachable Barolos with a delicate, charming bouquet. These elegant Barolos come around earlier than those thrive on Helvetian soil.
Helvetian (or Serravallian) soil
“The second soil type, from the Helvetian epoch, with a higher proportion of compressed sandstone, is less compact, poorer and less fertile, with the result that the townships of Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba yield more intense, structured wines that mature more slowly.” – Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine
Helvetian, equally known as Serravallian, soil is mainly found in the communes of Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba. The soil age reaches 11.6 to 13.8 million years old. This chalky beige colour soil is iron-rich and composed chiefly of sandstone and sand. Poorer, less compact and less fertile than Tortonian soil. This results in a more powerful style with depth, and a robust and structured body. It can take 12 to 15 years for the wines to come around and show their best.