On more than one occasion I’ve been asked, “What’s the difference between Barolo and Barbaresco?” Having just returned from four wonderful days exploring the Piedmont countryside I feel slightly more qualified to answer the question. I emphasize the slightly because after four days I feel as though I only scratched the surface of this fascinating little corner of Italy.
First the similarities, of which there are many. Both Barolo and Barbaresco are two legendary wines from Piedmont. They are both produced with 100% Nebbiolo, a thick-skinned grape variety that excels in the northerly hillside sites of Piemonte. The two are loaded with mouth-filling rich tannins and some of the most intoxicating aromas of tar, roses, licorice, truffles and underbrush.
The communes of Barolo and Barbaresco are less than 10 miles apart and yet despite the closeness there are distinct differences between the wines. How is this possible? Well it starts with that mysterious but very real concept of terroir.
Barbaresco, with just over 500 hectares under vine, is the smaller of the two zones. The terrain in Barbaresco is gentler, the hills being gradual slopes rather than precipitous inclines, the soil less varied; there is not as great a difference between communes in Barbaresco as there are in Barolo. The soil, though similar, is lighter in Barbaresco than in Barolo. The combination of lighter soil and gentler slopes gives, generally, a lighter wine in Barbaresco, and one with a lower level of alcohol (the minimum required by law is 12 while in Barolo it is 13). For this reason, the ageing requirements in the DOCG discipline differ. Barbaresco must be aged for two years (one in wood) before release, while Barolo has to spend three years (two in wood) in the cellar before it can be sold.
Spending four days in the rustic beauty of the Piedmont countryside surrounded by impressive views of the Alps with innumerable hills and castles was an unforgettable experience. I was able to taste a great number of Barolos and Barbarescos and can tell you with absolute certainty they are some of the greatest and most quintessentially Italian wines. The following is a short list of wines I would love to see on my dinner table tonight:
Paul Quaglini, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwinePaulQ