Barolo v.s. Barbaresco: What is the Difference?

Photo: Whit

It’s no secret that the nebbiolo grape is the king of northern Italy serving as the grape used in the production of Barolo and Barbaresco, the two most renown reds of Piedmont. At one time both were sweet reds and were vinified in this manner up until the middle of the 19th century, but today these tannic reds bare no similarities to the shadows of their past and are widely considered the densest and most ageworthy of all red wines worldwide.

So both are dense, both are tannic, and both are made from the same grape. What’s the difference? Both are in the Langhe region of Piedmont but are two different areas within the region. So from a geographic standpoint there are different soils and even different climates between the two. Barbaresco has soils that are more calcareous marl whereas Barolo soils are more sandstone and clay with sandy marlBarbaresco despite being only ten miles from Barolo receives more of a maritime influence promoting earlier ripening. Additionially Barbaresco wine traditionally sees a shorter maceration period meaning there won’t be as much tannic extraction. This leads to a softer mouthfeel in the wine as well as a wine that is approachable at an earlier age than the Barolo wines which are more intensely tannic.

Another difference lies in the aging laws. Barbaresco must be aged a minimum of two years of which one is in oak or chestnut. Barolos are to be aged a minimum of three years of which two must be in oak barrel. Both wines can age decades after their release with the general consensus being that Barolos can out last Barbarescos.

Despite their differences, both are outstanding expressions of the nebbiolo grape and give off intoxicating notes of roses, licorice, leather, black pepper, and smoke. Both are outstanding wines to pair with antipasto and gamey meats with fat and both are outstanding wines to pair with.. well… a glass. It doesn’t matter which one you choose and if you have the option to buy both, then do. But whichever one you choose you can buy them with confidence, knowing that both are widely regarded as arguably the best wines of Italy. So whether it’s the powerful Barolo or smoother more elegant Barbaresco  you can rest assured that both of these Piedmontese gems are sure to deliver some earthy, old world euphoria providing a satisfying experience from start to finish.


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