In the past, Barolos, often very rich in tannins, could take up to 10 years for the wine to soften up and become ready for drinking. Back then, the fermenting wine sat on the grape skins for at least three weeks, extracting huge amounts of tannins and was then aged in large wooden casks for years. However, in order to appeal to more modern international tastes, which preferred fruitier, earlier drinking wine styles, several producers began to cut fermentation times to a maximum of 10 days and age the wine in new French barriques (small oak barrels).
Barolos tend to be rich, deeply concentrated, full-bodied wines with pronounced tannins and acidity. The wines are almost always lightly colored, ranging from ruby to garnet in their youth to more brick and orange hues as they age. Like Pinot Noir, Barolos are never opaque. Barolos have the potential for a wide range of complex and exotic aromas with tar and rose being common notes. Other aromas associated with Barolos include camphor, chocolate, dried fruit, eucalyptus, leather, licorice, mint, mulberries, plum, spice, strawberries, tobacco, white truffles as well as dried and fresh herbs. The tannins of the wine add texture and tend to balance Barolo's moderate-to-high alcohol levels, which must be a minimum of 13% but almost always exceeds 15% alcohol by volume (ABV).
Barolo is produced in the Piemonte region in the area of Langhe, just east of the town of Alba. The wine is often compared with Barbaresco, another Nebbiolo-based wine from the Piemonte, and, though both wines do share some similarities, there are some distinct differences between them. Despite being made from the same grape and produced in neighboring areas less than 10 miles from one another, the wines of Barbaresco and Barolo do have some distinct differences. The Barbaresco zone, located south of the river Tanaro, receives a slight maritime influence which allows Nebbiolo to ripen there a little earlier than it does in the Barolo zone and allows the grape to get to fermentation earlier with a shorter maceration time. The early tannins in a young Barbaresco are not quite as harsh as those of Barolo and, under Italian law, it is allowed to age for a year less than Barolo. The most pronounced difference between the two wines is that the tannins of Barbaresco tend to soften more quickly, which can make the wines more approachable to drink at an earlier age but won't allow it to age for as long as the traditionally-made Barolo could.
Big, powerful tannic wines need to be matched with foods of similar weight. In Piemonte, Barolos are often paired with meat dishes, heavy pastas and rich risottos with porcini mushrooms. Other dishes would include lamb, veal, rabbit, wild boar and venison; pastas with heavy tomato or truffle sauce; and such poultry as pheasant, duck breast and foie gras. Barolos do not pair well with light or mild means, seafood and most chicken and pork dishes.
Cheeses that go well with Barolo include old strong (crumble) cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Vecchio; old Goudas and Cheddars; blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola and Danish Blue; and cheeses with rich flavors like Fontina Val d'Aosta and Taleggio.