Barolo refinement and consistency

Jenny and Marco Marengo

An unusually comprehensive vertical tasting of a top Barolo explained. A version of this article is published by the Financial Times. See also Marengo Brunate 1997–2019.

Because we have such a hard-working Italian specialist in the form of Walter Speller, I don’t have an excuse to get to Italy or taste Italian wine nearly as often as I’d like.

But the other day I benefited from the fact that the best collection of vintages from the finest part of one of the greatest crus in Barolo is not in Italy but is actually in Britain. So while Walter was stuck in Italy, I was in the tiny basement of The 10 Cases wine bar in Covent Garden wallowing in 22 vintages of M Marengo Brunate, from Piemonte’s most famous wine region.

It is widely acknowledged that Marco Marengo and his wife Eugenia (Jenny) own some of the finest vineyard within the Brunate cru in the commune of La Morra. Insiders, those who love the Nebbiolo grape in its finest form with its freshness, increasingly complex aroma and teasing combination of chew and pallor, admire in Marengo Brunate what UK importers Justerini & Brooks describe as ‘the quintessential La Morra style Barolo with its ethereal perfume and finesse tinged with a complex earthiness and refined but powerful tannins’.

The Marengos have owned land in Brunate since 1903 and now have two plots in the middle of this famous south-facing cru on silty limestone. The lower one was last planted in 1942, a year when Italians must have had many other preoccupations. The upper, younger vineyard was planted in 1955 meaning that their Brunate vines now average about 70 years old. ‘We have a total of 1.2 ha [3 acres] out of the Brunate total of 28 ha’, Jenny told me proudly, adding, ‘it’s now impossible to buy land where we are’.

Indeed there has been a dramatic influx of outside interest in Barolo now that it has become a focus of international speculation in the wines, with Barolo the most Burgundian of Italian wine regions in terms of its complex of vineyards with a range of different owners and reputations. Land prices have risen extraordinarily and many growers, as Walter frequently points out, are pulling out varieties such as the local Dolcetto and Barbera in the Barolo region to replace them with more fashionable Nebbiolo, even in sites unsuited to this fickle, late-ripening grape. See Langhe’s disappearing bargain.

The Marengos own a total of 6 ha of vineyard including some in the cru Bricco Delle Viole in the next-door commune of Barolo, Nebbiolo vines for a regular Barolo and a Nebbiolo d’Alba as well as some Dolcetto d’Alba and Barbera d’Alba. They had never before tasted such an array of vintages – 1997 to 2019 – of their Brunate at any one time.

Marengos and David Brown

The wines were donated by David Brown, pictured above with them. He arrived halfway through the tasting straight from his work, at wine software company Bevica, saying he’d been planning this tasting for 20 years. He’d joined Justerinis in 2002, starting out in sales and ending up launching their current online sales system. He explained how his first professional wine trip had been to Piemonte in 2003, with Marc de Grazia of Tenuta delle Terre Nere in Sicily, who was then advising Justerinis on Italian wine.

The visit that made the strongest impression on him had been to Marco Marengo’s mother’s house in La Morra. (The Marengo winery was built only in 2011; they still don’t have a website.) Trying the 2001 Brunate from barrel, he underwent an emotional epiphany. ‘It made me realise that in my work I was in the right place at the right time’, he explained.

He’d just married and bought a house, and decided then and there to buy Marengo Brunate for himself. He began by acquiring odd bottles and storing them at home but very soon became a faithful customer of the wine, buying a case of every vintage en primeur and having it stored professionally. ‘I’ve got double magnums of each of my children’s vintages, so I can serve the 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015 on each of their 18th birthdays’, he told me proudly, adding slightly doubtfully, ‘though maybe 2007 and 2010 would be even more interesting’.

As it happens, there was a query about the 2013. According to some assessments, 2013 was the best vintage since 2010 but the first bottle opened (Brown was generous enough to supply a spare of each) suffered from a tainted cork and the second was not as expressive as the other vintages – though certainly wasn’t disastrous.

What was extraordinary about the line-up was how uniformly fine they were, with many of the hallmarks of a fine Barolo – heady aromas, flavours of autumn undergrowth and something mineral akin to tarriness, with tannins present but not aggressive – but always with finesse. The point about Barolo is that it is not meant to be big and brawny. It’s an elegant expression of a hilly, subalpine terrain that’s a mosaic of different soil types, exposures and elevations. Sheer mass is not necessarily an asset.

The 2018, for instance, has been viewed in some quarters as irredeemably light, but the 2018 Marengo Brunate is majestically energetic. The youngest vintage in the tasting, 2019, was the only wine shown that I would not happily sit down and drink tonight – though I would very happily squirrel it away in my cellar. The 2001, Marco’s first solo vintage, was stunning.

I had initially approached this tasting thinking that it would provide a useful guide to the quality and character of each of these vintages in the Langhe hills where Barolo and its neighbour Barbaresco are located. But quality and character were so consistent that I’m not sure my tasting notes would serve for generalisations. Even the 1997 and 1999 offered unalloyed pleasure. The only vintages that were even remotely disappointing, apart from the 2013, were our bottle of the 1998, in which the tannins were just a bit too insistent (for tasting it without food anyway – bring on the pasta with tartufi d’Alba), and the 2003, which happened to be the only magnum and which seemed the most obviously ripe, overblown and least characteristic of Barolo.

Also in the tasting, at the end, were three Riservas with their distinctive black labels, 2010, 2013 and 2016. (The ‘regular’ bottles of Marengo Brunate have orange labels, and from 2014 the name Marengo has dominated them.) The Riserva is made from a couple of barrels from their older, lower plot of vines.

Marengo wines are not as internationally lauded as the likes of Giacomo Conterno and Gaja and prices seem fair value given the quality and consistency – although to judge from some of the retailers below, the wine is moving into the investment class.

But, as in so many other fine-wine regions, Barolo is suffering from our changing climate. Drought is an increasing problem. Ski resorts are an obvious casualty of lack of alpine snow.

But spare a thought for the thirsty vines at lower elevations. We need to keep them in the ground producing such glorious wine.

Some stupendous vintages

All M Marengo, Brunate Barolo, with UK sources where available.




2005 £545 per case of 12 ib MRM Wines

2007 £560 per case of 12 ib Justerini & Brooks

2009 £95 per magnum ib Justerini & Brooks

2010 £125 per magnum ib Appellations, £250 per double magnum ib Goedhuis & Co

2011 Riserva is £320 per case of 6 ib Justerini & Brooks

2012 Riserva is £320 per case of 6 ib Justerini & Brooks

2015 £50.68 Lay & Wheeler, £500 per case of 12 ib Justerinis & Brooks

2016 £48 dpd ex VAT Focus Wines

2018 £435 per case of 12 ib Asset Wines, £500 per case of 12 ib Justerini & Brooks


Tasting notes, scores and suggested drink dates in Marengo Brunate 1997–2019. Some international stockists on