Mauro Cirilli on Barolo and Barbaresco

Mauro Cirilli of Perbacco hails from Padova, Italy, where he was introduced to the joys of wine at an early age, when he would visit his grandfather's vineyard in the Colli Euganei and join in the process of making wine for their friends and family. Mauro received his Sommelier Diploma from the prestigious Italian Association of Sommeliers in Firenze and worked as a sommelier at several renowned restaurants in Northern Italy. Shortly after moving to the United States in 2001, he worked as Lead Sommelier at Aqua. Eager to return to his Northern Italian roots, Mauro joined the opening team of Perbacco in October 2006.

I'll never forget the first time that I tasted an older bottle of Barolo. It left its mark in my memories--a balance of texture, elegance and complexity.

Barolo and Barbaresco are very distinctive wines. Both come from the land of Langhe in the heart of Piemonte region, in the northwest of Italy, a land of deep traditions and one of the world's major wine areas. They take their names from the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco. The grape they have in common is Nebbiolo, which by law cannot be blended with any other varieties. Documents from the 13th-century refer to this grape already well established in the Langhe.

Historically, Barolo was the wine served on the table of the noble family and since has been called "The Wine of the Kings and the King of the Wines". Barbaresco, however, comes from more humble beginnings and for many years was referred to as the little brother. Fortunately, things have changed and now both receive great respect.

Barolo is a masculine, full-bodied, complex and powerful red. Barbaresco tends to be more elegant, finer, less tannic and more approachable; however, some from the top vineyards can easily rival Barolo in power. The differences between the two stem from a number of reasons including the slight difference in temperature between the two towns, the soil components and the aging requirements (Barolo must age at least three years before release and Barbaresco, two years). The vineyard designations are extremely important for both wines, and thanks to the different microclimates, we can appreciate different characteristics.

The olfactory profile of these two wines is probably the most exciting and unique aspect. The aromas can vary from blackberry fruit, plum, and blackcurrant, to more floral like roses and violets, then dry herbs, tobacco, licorice and dark chocolate. With evolution, the wines show earthy and savory notes of truffle, mushrooms, and then tar and incense.

On the palate they have remarkable intensity and persistency, marked by the tannins, acidity and alcohol, which lends the wines a warm feeling. Especially in a younger Barolo, the astringent and aggressive tannins can jeopardize the wine's balance, which is a crucial factor of the wine's success. A Barolo from a top vineyard and good vintage can easily age for up to 40 years.

These two wines are difficult to understand for beginners, so I suggest having them while you are dining, as they are best suited to be enjoyed with food. They both call for robust and earthy flavored food, like the ones from the Langhe: white truffle risotto, Brasato al Barolo, and cheese.

I always suggest to decant both wines, even when they are young, and they should be served in large glasses with a fairly broad bowl that narrows at the top. Aeration is of fundamental importance to appreciate the qualities of Barolo and Barbaresco. I also suggest to my guests that they wait for a few minutes, and let the wine breathe so it can show all its beauty.