Recently, I was invited to the Barolo en primeur at Il Gattopardo (with a Zoom simulcast from Grinzane Cavor Castle in Piedmont, Italy). The event was also viewed in Germany, Switzerland, and the UK, in association with the Langhe Monferrato Roero Tourist Board. En Primeur is a popular purchase system in Bordeaux where the wines are sold and purchased while they are still being aged in barrels and delivered to the buyer at the ending of the process (this method of sale has not been popular outside the Gironde).
The event offered wine collectors an unprecedented opportunity to participate in a philanthropic initiative that would benefit charities as well as wine collectors. The highest bidders of the barriques of Barolo (2020 vintage) from a specific parcel within a historic vineyard got the wine and the associated bragging rights.
Another objective was to highlight the complexity of the diverse elements making up the historical Gustava Vineyard (until now the wine has not been bottled as an independent varietal). The highest bidders won a barrique of wine made from Barolo Nebbiolo grapes, harvested in 2020, in the historic cascina Gustava Vineyard, Frinzane. When the wine completes its ageing process (2024) each barrique will yield approximately 300 bottles, which will be bottled and marked with a label specifically created by the artist Giuseppe Penone. The target market for the auction? High-end wine connoisseurs, including wine collectors, buyers, and sellers.
Barolo. The Wine
Nebbiolo was grown in the Piedmont as early as the 14th century. The grape is late to ripen and easily damaged by adverse weather; however, since it makes a highly aromatic and powerful red wine, it is highly regarded. Barolos must be aged a minimum of three years, at least two in wood, producing a wine that is tannic and robust and usually needs at least five years to soften into a complex, earthy wine.
Barolo is considered one of Italy’s finest wine appellations and many experts consider it to be the best of Italian winemaking. Some oeniphiles refer to Barolo as the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings for, until the mid-19th century, Piedmont was owned by the noble House of Savoy, the historic rulers of northwestern Italy. The Savoys favored Nebbiolo and the Barolo DOCG includes 11 communes, including the town of Barolo.
There are 4200 vineyard acres in the appellation and since the late 19th century, growers have tried to identify their best vineyards. The Barolo COCG requires that wines be 100 percent Nebbiolo, a grape thought of as the Pinot Noir of Italy.
It is interesting to note Grinzane does not have a track record for producing distinctive single vineyard Barolos and most of the fruit has been used in blended Barolos. Experts find that Nebbiolo has the ability to transmit essence of place and have excellent potential to stand alone. All the wines in the auction were vinified in barrique, spending 10-15 days on the skins with manual pump overs and punch downs. The malolactic fermentations took place in the barrels. Aging is projected to be approximately 24 months in wood and will vary based on the individual wine.
Antonio Galloni (wine critic and CEO of Vineous) orchestrated the program in New York and created NFTs (non-fungible tokens) for each of the 15 barriques, a form of digital certificate guaranteed by blockchain. Born in Venezuela, Galloni was introduced to wine at a very early age as his parents were Italian wine retailers and his grandfather loved wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone. Galloni wrote his first stories on Burgundy and Bordeaux for his high school French class.
Galloni was awarded an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. In 2003 he started a newsletter focusing on the wines of Piedmont, bringing a lifetime of total immersion in Italian wine to fruition. Barolo so impressed him that he started the Piedont Report (2004), and it has become the premier guide for the wines of the region. Galloni became an Italian wine critic for Robert Parker in 2006 and in 2013 started Vinous.
In Italy, the event was hosted by philanthropist, Evelina Christillin, President of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities Foundation (Turin), and former President of ENIT (The Italian Government Tourist Board). She was joined by auction presenter, Valeria Ciardiello, an Italian journalist and Cristiano De Lorenzo, Director of Christie’s Italia, who handled the live auction.
The auction was directed by Christie’s auction house, in Italy…in an unusual step, they did not accept their usual commissions in order to benefit the charities.
Each barrique drew a minimum bid of 30,000 Euros, producing approximately 300 numbered Barolo bottles with a label designed by noted Italian artist and sculptor, Giuseppe Penone known for his large-scale sculptures of trees that recognize the link between man and the natural world.
The Scientific Steering Committee was chaired by Matteo Ascheri, President of the Consortium for the Protection of Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe Dogliani, with the participation of Vincenzo Gerbi, Professor Emeritus of the University of Turin and Vladimiro Rambaldi, Sole Director of Agenzia di Pollenzo, S.p. A, and the collaboration of researcher Anna Schneider (National Research Council- Institute for the Sustainable Protection of Plants).
Winner(s) of Barolo Barriques
Only one American bidder was successful; most of the barriques were bought by collectors in Europe. In total, the auction raised over 600,000 Euros with the individual lots fetching approximately 30,000 to 50,000 Euros each.
The highest bid of 140,000 Euros secured the only tonneau in the program, a large wine barrique equivalent to approximately 600 bottles of the Barolo de Commune di Grinzane Cavour 2020 which was unexpectedly added at the end of the auction by vice president of the Cassa di Risparmio di Cuneo Foundation, Ezio Raviola.
A 50,000 Euro bid on the Barolo No. 10 barrique benefited the Adas Foundation (a non-profit that provides pain management, psychological support and palliative care at home). According to critic Galloni, it was “one of the most interesting wines in this auction…”
Auction beneficiaries also included the Alta Langa Cultural Park for their cultural/tourism programs; the Augusto Rancilio Foundation for the study/research in architecture, supporting young people and their entrance into the world of work and the restoration of a 17th century villa, as well as a Hong Kong based charity which supports orphans and pregnant adolescents.
Event organizers suggest that the first Barolo En Primeur (known as “edition zero”) will become a template for the future, and perhaps, other Barolo producers will contribute their wines to other similar events.
© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.