No, it wasn’t a Frenchman who invented Barolo (and other reasons why Langhe wines are great)

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asili martinenga barbaresco rabajaIt’s funny how the rhythms of the internets work: this week, as I was doing research for a post intended to debunk the often repeated and wholly erroneous Oudart myth, whereby a Frenchman invented modern Barolo, my Italian counterpart Alessandro Morichetti was hard at work on a post in which he offers three fundamental reasons behind the success of Barolo and Barbaresco (in Italian).

I wish I had time to translate Alessandro’s post in its entirety.

I don’t, unfortunately, because it’s one of Ale’s most inspired pieces on the popular Intravino wine blog. But his three main points are as follow…

Unified Italy’s first prime minister Count Camillo Cavour (1810-1861), he writes, was a pillar of historic Italian liberalism and progressivism, not to mention one of the first grape growers in Italy’s modern era to recognize the immense potential of Nebbiolo.

Cavour’s Grinzane estate in the Barolo appellation is still an icon and a cultural epicenter for the wine and for the UNESCO-designated Langhe Hills (where Barolo and Barbaresco are grown and produced).

The Royal School of Enology in Alba, which was founded by King Umberto I (1844-1900), was one of Italy’s first academies for professional grape growers and winemakers and it has forged and shaped generations of Piedmontese wine professionals.

There’s a unique camaraderie and “self-awareness” in the Piedmontese winemaking community, notes Alessandro. They are owed in part to the fact that the school is something that nearly everyone there has in common.

Lastly, he writes, the Ferrero chocolate dynasty brought extreme prosperity to the region and that helped to create the infrastructure and economy needed to build a world-class wine industry.

Michele Ferrero, who died last year at age 89, also inspired a generation of Langa entrepreneurs.

When you ask most outsiders what Langa is famous for, they will say Alba truffles, Nebbiolo, and then possibly, as an afterthought, chocolate (read: Nutella).

But “signor Michele,” as he was known to locals, was Italy’s wealthiest man. Did you know that he invented Tic Tacs? Who knew?

One person that you will not find mentioned in Alessandro’s piece is Louis Oudart, the French grape broker who many erroneously believe was the “inventor” of modern Barolo.

In fact, he wasn’t.

Today, I posted a note on Oudart and recent research that indicates that he wasn’t the person behind Barolo’s modern era .

Check it out here on the Tenuta Carretta blog (my client).

And so I’m sorry to break the news: it wasn’t a Frenchman who made it Barolo and Barbaresco great. It was the Langhetti themselves.

Thanks for reading…

5 thoughts on “No, it wasn’t a Frenchman who invented Barolo (and other reasons why Langhe wines are great)

  1. Jeremy, I’m curious about the assumption that you are making regarding the French and Barolo/Barbaresco. The story, as I understood it, is that there was a persistent issue with stuck fermentation in the region’s wines. Among the collective measures that were taken was the establishment of the enology school at Alba, which brought together experts on various aspects of Langhe viticulture and vinification, as well as an enology professor, who was French, to address the issue of the stuck fermentation. Up until that point, the story might go, a good number of Barolo wines were semi-sweet, a character that wasn’t necessarily a problem on the market – wines with some RS being far more in vogue then than they are today – though certainly a problem when it came to refermentation in bottle. Furthermore, t wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume, too, that the not yet codified system of cru designations in Burgundy could have been influential in development of the cru system in the Langhe (though I have no evidence one way or other on this point). The “French” connection to Piedmont is not exactly foreign, especially given the long rule and influence of the House of Savoy, which also controlled parts of eastern France. Anyway, that is how I understood the local French connection. Perhaps I am mistaken.

    Regardless, even if the above is true, it wouldn’t follow that it was the French who ‘invented’ Barolo, any more so, than say, it was the Italians who first colonized the Americas at the end of the 15th century, Columbus or no Columbus.

    Frankly, I don’t understand the proprietorship that would instigate the conversation (though i more than enjoy the opportunity to consider historical issues). Langhe is closer to France than it is to Rome, and historically, it shared a lot more with its neighbors to the west than those to the south. But, what of it? Turin was an early capital of the modern Italian state, and the Northern League notwithstanding, Piedmont has been a vital part of Italy for a century and a half. More to the point, Barolo/Barbaresco is made from a local grape, grown in local soil, under local climatic conditions, and historically consumed by locals who developed their own local tastes (formed through a pastiche of influences from within and without). Why anyone would worry about those who want to give credit to a bunch of frogs is beyond me.

  2. In Kerin O’Keefe’s recent book, Barolo and Barbaresco, she thoroughly covers the topic of the origin of these wines, including much of what you mentioned in your blog, Jeremy. Kerin agrees with you that Oudert has erroneously been given too much credit for the wines’ origins.

  3. Good point Ed. The whole subject is covered in several pages of Kerin O’Keefe’s book “Barolo and Barbaresco”. Also Walter Speller touched on the subject in his article “Debunking Barolo myths”, crediting O’Keefe’s book, here is the link for those who subscribe to
    O’Keefe clearly demonstrates based on several sources, that Oudart is definetely not the founding father of the dry version of Barolo, and emphasize the fundamental role played by Gen. Paolo Francesco Staglieno instead.

  4. Jamal, there is definitely French influence in Piedmont, for many reasons as you point out.

    My point is that we need to dispel the myth that Oudart had any role in it.

    Ed, I read Kerin’s notes on Oudart and she’s right on. The research she is referring to is Candiani’s. And it’s to Candiani that we owe the definitive answer.

    Mich, look at this post I did for the Carretta blog:

    That’s where you’ll find Candiani’s research and my own as well (she and I were on the same path but she got there first and credit is due to her).

    P.T., we are all in agreement. But again, it’s Candiani not Kerin (whom I like and respect immensely as well) who did the heavy lifting here.

    Thanks for being here!

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