Though Michele Chiarlo didn’t start producing wines in his name until 1956, his pedigree set him up for greatness. Seven generations of winemakers before him handed down the traditions of Italian wine-making that Michele still holds onto today. However, Michele was determined to make Piedmont, a region almost unknown to the rest of the world, a force to be reckoned with. He knew that by making changes to the old-world traditions, he would stir up controversy. By the 1980s, he was convinced that in order to bring the tremendous wines of the Piedmont to the rest of the world, changes had to be made.
Previous to Michele and other proponents of the “modern style,” such as Gaja and Sandrone, the Nebbiolo-based wines of Barolo and Barbaresco took decades to mature, and when they did, they were often austere and acidic. Michele was the first to use new French oak barrels, limit vineyard yields, and introduce temperature controls during vinification. These components allowed for more fruit to show and gave the wines softer tannins, allowing for earlier consumption. Some argue that this was the Americanization of Barolo and Barbaresco, but Michele found a way to balance the traditional rustic, earthy characteristics of the terroir of the regions while highlighting the beauty of the Nebbiolo grape, keeping the wines classically Italian.
Not only did he help push the Piedmont region into the spotlight, but he is also a big believer in the levels of sophistication that can be found in what some may think of as a simple grape: Barbera. Through his innovation and attention to detail, the Chiarlo family name has become synonymous with high-scoring, sought-after wines, landing on Wine Spectators Top 100 numerous times.
Decades later, Michele has passed on his legacy to his sons Stefano, head winemaker, and Alberto, head of marketing and sales. I had the chance to taste through some of the Michele Chiarlo wines when Stefano stopped by the store last month. I found the wines to have tremendous balance and elegant beauty. Here are my reviews:
Michele Chiarlo Le Marne Gavi 2010 –
White flowers and citrus on the nose with racy acidity on the palate. Terrific for simple whitefish dinners or pasta with shellfish and light sauces. If you are a Sauvignon Blanc fan, this is a must try!
Michele Chiarlo Le Madri Roero Arneis 2010 –
Though the Chiarlo family name is best known for its red wines, the whites in this portfolio are stunning. This Arneis is floral on the nose with white peach, pear and apricot on the palate. The texture is silky, but the acidity is mouthwatering and leaves you wanting more. If you’ve been looking for an alternative to Pinot Grigio, this is a terrific place to start.
Michele Chiarlo Le Orme Barbera d’Asti Superior 2010 –
Tons of ripe berry fruits and black flowers on the nose with black plum, spice and soft tannins on the finish. Try this with white meats in red sauces.
Michele Chiarlo Reyna Barbaresco 2009 –
Garnet in color, with aromas of nutmeg, spice and red berries. Medium bodied with bright acidity, lovely integrated tannins and tobacco notes on the finish. Delicate and elegant, this wine would be great with mushroom risotto, wild-game bird, and hearty vegetable dishes like ratatouille or breaded eggplant.
Michele Chiarlo Tortoniano Barolo 2008 –
When poured into a glass, the rustic and woodsy aromas scream for pairing with all-day-long recipes like osso buco, braised lamb or flavorful roast. Complex and layered, this is Stefano’s pride. Using all of the standards that his father helped make law, this wine is aged for two years in barrel and then for another in bottle at strict temperature control. Medium bodied, with dried red fruits, spice box and leather, its barrel aging adds richness and helps integrate the tannins.
Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti –
Though Moscato is the #1 growth wine in the industry, Stefano was quick to point out that they have been making it for over 20 years now. It features ripe peach and white flowers on the nose with passion fruit and apricot on the palate. Stefano remarked that Moscato d’Asti is not supposed to be dessert but more of a palate cleanser like sorbet.
Blending tradition with innovation, the Chiarlo family has made it its goal to craft quality wines that highlight the rich terroir of Italy while capturing the varietals at their best.