Michele Chiarlo established his estate in 1956, during a period when most Italian wines were regarded as crude copies of their French cousins. Despite the fact that the first DOC laws regulating wine quality had yet to be enacted, Chiarlo set a high standard from the beginning. It could not have been easy, especially since most consumers considered straw basket Chianti to be the apex of Italian wine at the time.
Nearly a half-century later, the situation looks very different. The best Italian wines are in great demand around the world, and Michele Chiarlo has taken his rightful place as a small-production pioneer and champion of quality. The estate is completely family-owned, and his sons are now helping him run the business: Stefano is in charge of viticulture and winemaking, while Alberto is Director of Marketing and Sales.
The Chiarlo winery is Piemontese to its core. The family owns 150 acres of vineyards and controls the cultivation of another 125, all in the growing areas of Langhe, Monferrato and Gavi. Although he also makes Moscato, Gavi, Arneis, Barbera and Barbaresco, Chiarlo’s flagship wine is Barolo. When the transition from old-style Barolo began in the 1980s, he was at the forefront of the revolution, advocating for the reduction of yields, controlling the temperature of maceration and fermentation, and streamlining the process of barrel aging. The result is wine that is powerful and elegant at the same time.
Named for the geological period that created the region’s characteristic soil of sedimentary clay and marl, the 2007 Michele Chiarlo Barolo Tortoniano ($50) has a smoky nose with scents of tart plums, anise and damp earth. The wine is full-bodied in the mouth, ripe and fleshy, with gentle tannins framing a rich core of plum, rhubarb and red berry fruit. Good acidity amplifies the fruit through the mid palate and carries it onto the finish.
By contrast, his 2007 Barolo Cerequio ($85) has an assertive nose marked by aromas of black raspberry, pepper, anise and menthol. Powerful on entry, with slightly drying tannins, it displays wonderful minerality in the mid palate that highlights flavors of dark berries, black cherry and allspice. This is a meaty, complex wine with a lush texture and a long, resonant finish.
There’s no better time to drink these wines than during the winter, when they pair perfectly with roast pork, duck, rabbit and game birds of all sorts.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot). For more information, go to iconicspirits.net.