Mapping Barolo’s crus

When I first confronted Barolo and its intricate array of vineyards in the 1970s a movement was gathering momentum to recognize individual terrains and cite their names on labels—inspired by the French classifications of crus.

The fact was that the vineyards had been documented since 1883, when Lorenzo Fantini published a volume with hand-written descriptions of the vineyards not only of Barolo but of all the wines of the Province of Cuneo. But over time most Barolo came to be bottled by commercial wineries with little interest in stating the provenance of the grapes or the wines. Although the quality potential of individual vineyards was well known locally, the names were lost on labels.
The leader of the controversial cru movement was Renato Ratti, a Barolo producer and president of the Alba wine consortium, who encouraged producers to name vineyards on labels even if the term “cru” was officially reserved for the French and Italians had no precise equivalent. Ratti mapped the major vineyards of Barolo with three levels of subzones: “first category,” “particular quality” and “historic vocation.”

At that time, Barolo and Barbaresco and a few choice other wine zones of the Langhe were the only places in Italy where official recognition of a multitude of sites of historical value was conceivable. Progressive producers increasingly named vineyards on labels, encouraged by the advent of DOCG in 1980 and promises of the so-called pyramid classification that would eventually recognize individual vigne at the top.

In my Wine Atlas of Italy, published in 1990, the map of Barolo named most of the major vineyards and their approximate locations, but failed to show the outlines of vineyards in the detail they deserved. I had planned to improve the maps and give greater detail in the future, but, alas, the publishers decided against a new edition.In the meantime, the Italian wine laws evolved to the point that individual vineyards could be officially recognized as MGA for menzioni geografiche aggiuntive or “additional geographic mentions,” now the approved way of citing vineyards on labels. Barolo has become the zone where MGA takes on its greatest measure of authenticity.
Mapping the vineyards of Barolo—or any other important wine zone of Italy—is a major task. The challenge has been met in a monumental way by Alessandro Masnaghetti of Enogea with a series of maps of major Italian zones that continues to grow.

Masnaghetti’s masterpiece is the volume Barolo MGA, L’Enciclopedia delle Grandi Vigne del Barolo. The book, in Italian and English (as The Barolo Great Vineyards Encyclopedia), fills more than 400 pages with elaborate maps, including three-dimensional renditions, accompanied by intricate details.
Barolo MGA is his crowning achievement, but Masnaghetti’s series of charts taking in Barbaresco and other zones of Piedmont, Tuscany and Veneto have rightly been called “the finest maps of vineyards ever created.”

Burton Anderson