There are some who call barolo Italy's red burgundy. And while wine comparisons are often fatuous, in this instance the similarity's too strong to be ignored. Both reds rely on the climate of the northern vineyards where they grow –and both have exquisite scents and subtle flavours.
There are reasons why 'the wine of kings and king of wines', as it is known, isn't to everyone's taste, though. Firstly it's pricey, secondly its taste can take some acquiring and, thirdly, demand for the best of it exceeds supply. It took me a visit to Alba in Piedmont (during white truffle season, natch) to appreciate the magical aromas and flavours of barolo made from the nebbiolo grape of the Langhe Hills.
With its trademark tannins and high acidity, nebbiolo can be quite demanding. Yet it's precisely these qualities that bing together the grape's haunting floral aromas and intriguing flavours.
There are more reasons than ever for wanting barolo, and its neighbour, barbaresco, in light of the excellent recent vintages (notably 2010, the current release). Also, with bordeaux offering poor value in its recent vintages, lovers of barolo, and anyone else with an enquiring palate and deepish pocket, should take a punt on a great wine that's still made for drinking, rather than speculating on.
I was lucky enough to get along to a tasting organised by Joss Fowler of Fine and Rare Wines (frw.co.uk) and I was impressed by many of the wines on show. Names to look out for include Aldo Conterno, E Pira, GD Vajra, Gramolere, Ceretto, Chiarlo, Paolo Conterno, L Oberto, Damilano and Roberto Voerzio. Fine & Rare import Oberto and Damilano themselves, too. Many of the others can be found, as they arrive over the coming months, on wine-searcher.com.
While waiting for these gems to arrive and mature, you might try Pierri Busso's superb 2007 Barbaresco Borgese, £31.86, Lay & Wheeler, all spicy cherry and rose with silky-textured tannins. On the high street, M&S has the fresh, perfumed and easy-drinking 2009 Barolo Albe, GD Vajra, £36 and there's also the super-fragrant nebbiolo, to be found in the elegant 2009 Oddero Barolo, £23.99, Waitrose, a delightful red rich with floral scents and savoury freshness.
You dont need to have bottomless pockets to enjoy nebbiolo. Just plump for the affordable versions made from the barolo grape of the Langhe Hills, such as the 2012 Langhe Nebbiolo, GD Vajra, around £21.50 at Philglas & Swiggot, Hanging Ditch, Grape & Grind. Similiarly, you can get 'mini barbaresco', too: the 2010 Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Barbaresco, £7.50, down from £10, offers aromatic, fresh, cherryish fruit with a typical, lively nip of acidity.