Red hot classification of Barolo crus

Barolo, the region where Nebbiolo arguably finds its greatest expression, is about to be shaken to its foundations. In his just-released e-book Barolo 2001-2008 Assagi e Classificazione, Alessandro Masnaghetti (pictured) proposes a radical classification based on the recent official listing of the region’s vineyards.
This official listing, the so-called Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntivi Ufficiali, has taken years to agree on and is no more than a list; it doesn’t actually classify the vineyards. However, it is in itself hugely controversial, as the decision to include which vineyards and under which name, was left to the individual comunes, or villages that make up the region. Some of them, notably Serralunga d’Alba, remained faithful to the historic names and dimensions of its vineyards. Others, especially Monforte d’Alba, chose the path of destructive simplification, annihilating historic vineyard names by absorbing them into a much larger area which they have chosen to anoint with the famous name Bussia – rather as the Germans did with their disastrous move to establish Grosslagen.(See The Grosslagen of Barolo.)

It is clear that this capitalisation on famous names does nothing for either wine lovers or professionals. Worse, it obliterates the local knowledge of each patch of earth and its characteristics, something that has been handed down from one generation to the next over many centuries, and which determines the wines. The forthcoming seventh edition of The World Atlas of Wine (to be published in September 2013) has tried to partially compensate for this immense loss of relevant detail by not taking over the new official list of crus in its entirety, but Masnaghetti goes much further. He has thrown down the gauntlet by publishing his ‘Unofficial Classification of Crus’. With a knowledge of Italy’s vineyards second to none, his classification is something many have been eagerly awaiting.

Classifying vineyards according to a five-star system, he presents a list that comes as a shock. For example, Cannubi, that hallowed vineyard of the village of Barolo and itself topic of ongoing disputes over its exact boundaries, gets no more than three stars. Bussia gets three stars only, the logical consequence of its unacceptable, but official enlargement, which Masnaghetti has adhered to, and consequently the reason he has ‘declassified’ it. However, Masnaghetti counteracts the brutal loss of detail in this as well as other areas by indicating the vineyards that have cru status, by separately listing and awarding stars to outstanding ‘lieu-dits’ within it, and which were once individual vineyards on their own.

The unofficial classification is defended in a separate chapter of the book and substantiated by tasting notes spanning a period of more than nine years, all included in the work. While the main body of the book is in Italian (Masnaghetti is a one-man band after all, with all the limitations that come with it), the section on the classification comes with a complete English translation. The work could well elevate Masnaghetti’s status to being ‘Italy’s Robert Parker’.

Masnaghetti’s new work will come as a slap in the face to many, but it will be difficult not to take it seriously. While risking becoming the region’s persona non grata, Masnaghetti’s valuable contribution is the acknowledgment of the greatness of Barolo’s exceptional terroir. Its demarcation cannot be left to officials who, in too many cases, have taken commercial priorities, rather than terroir, to heart. It is significant that Masnaghetti lives in Emilia-Romagna; this sort of acute classification could only be undertaken by an outsider.

Below the maps is a section of the Unofficial Classification courtesy of Alessandro Masnaghetti, showing his five-star category, split into two, while the two maps show how Monforte d’Alba brutally annexed Bussia, in a ‘before and after’ fashion. The upper map shows how it once was, with Bussia only being one of many vineyards. The lower one shows the entire commune of Monforte, demonstrating that what used to be many different vineyards have now disappeared in a huge single vineyard called Bussia. The tiny section in red on the lower map shows the part of the new, extended Bussia that Masnaghetti believes warrants superior five-star status.


Masnaghetti’s e-book can be found here.

First rank:
Brunate (La Morra / Barolo)
Cerequio (La Morra / Barolo)
Rocche di Castiglione (Castiglione Falletto / Monforte)
Vignarionda (Serralunga d’Alba)
Second rank:
Francia (Serralunga d’Alba)
Monprivato (Castiglione Falletto)
Ornato (Serralunga d’Alba)
Rocche dell’Annunziata (La Morra)
Villero (Castiglione Falletto)
30 Oct 2012 09:41