Since the 1920s, Champagne has been the most popular holiday wine in America, but I like a very different drink around this time of year. I like to give, receive, and drink Barolo.
Holiday Barolo tells an old story. After World War II, Piemonte's economy was effectively decimated. Most high-end winemakers were desperate--they didn't have a market, and they didn't have the funds to keep making wine without a profit. Yet the Piemontese are deeply bound to their traditions, and even widespread poverty couldn't stop people from saving up their lire all year. They wanted to buy at least one beautiful Christmas present for their friends or family, and that present was a bottle of Barolo. As December 25 neared, the Piemontese held onto this Barolo tradition, and even after enduring years of oppressive recession, these families and friends would open a bottle of Barolo and drink it together.
In many ways, this holiday practice saved some of Barolo's most established houses from going under; this one windfall gave them enough support to continue through a difficult year. Major companies, like Fiat and Pirelli in Barolo's neighboring city, Torino, took up the practice, buying Barolo and handing it out to employees, clients, and friends. And still other companies, like Nutella, in nearby Alba, employed farmers during the off-season, allowing them to remain near their land and support their families. The combination of these forces kept alive an important wine--and an important part of culture--that would likely have otherwise disappeared.
This tradition and its legacy explain why I still buy Barolo for the holidays. I like to honor the tradition that secured the future for Bruno Giacosa, for Domenico Clerico, for Renzo Seghesio, and others. And I also like to give and get something that can be enjoyed by both enthusiasts, who might want to drink it right away, and collectors, who can keep it in the cellar for decades. Below you'll find five beautiful Baroli. One is a recent release from Bruno Giacosa, the estate's 2012 Barolo Falletto, and it's a collector icon. The other five are affordable wines from some makers you know and love, and from others you should come to know and love--these wines are all under $100, and they're perfect holiday gifts.
Finally, there's one beautiful bottle of rosé Champagne, in case you want to do holidays the American way!