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  • Theresa Downs

Barbaresco? Barolo's Lesser Known Sibling Makes It Into The Limelight

Neive, Piedmont via Wine By Appointment LLC

In our last blog, we talked about the wonders of Barolo wine. I was remiss in that blog because I also didn't talk about Barbaresco. You can't have a conversation about Barolo without including Barbaresco. Well, as I proved, you can, but that's like eating a hot dog without the mustard or ketchup. It's edible, but you don't get the full culinary experience of hotdogness without the condiments. And, you don't get the whole picture of Nebbiolo wine in Piedmont without discovering how wonderful Barbaresco is.

Barbaresco, like Barolo, is the name of a commune. It's also the name of a spectacular wine made from Nebbiolo grapes, like Barolo. Both Barolo and Barbaresco are located in the Langhe appellation of Piedmont. Only 14.9 miles apart, the difference between the two is, well, I wouldn't call it a night and day, but it's closer to late afternoon and midnight

So, let's talk about what makes Barbaresco great and what differentiates it from its more famous sibling, Barolo.

The Barbaresco DOCG (remember what those are? Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita or DOCG areas produce wines of the highest quality.) The Barbaresco DOCG lies on the right bank of the Tanaro River. Barbaresco is wine made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown on the hillsides of the Barbaresco, Neive, and Treiso communes with a section of the San Rocco Seno d'Elvio thrown in. Some other requirements that contribute to Barbaresco's distinction:

· Barbaresco, as mentioned before, must be made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes.

· Barbaresco must be aged for a minimum of 26 months; 9 months must be spent in oak

· Barbaresco Riserva must be aged for 50 months, 9 months must be spent in oak as well.

· Barbaresco must be at least 12.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), although most Barbaresco wine registers 13%-14% ABV.

Barbaresco wine hasn't been around as long as Barolo. Although wine was made from the area (a lot of into Barolo), the first cooperative in Barbaresco wasn't created until 1894. Barbaresco wasn't fully recognized for its greatness until the late 1950s, and 1960s, when producers such as Angelo Gaja brought Barbaresco out of obscurity and into the limelight.

Three things contribute to Barolo and Barbaresco's differences:

Vineyard Placement:

Barolo vineyards are required to lie at an elevation between 550 – 1,800 feet. Barbaresco vineyards are planted at approximately 160 feet (quite slightly lower).

Access To Bodies of Water

Barbaresco vineyards are also closer to the Tanaro River, which means the grapes ripen soon and with slightly less tannins.

Soil (this is a biggie)

The difference between the two areas is the structure of the soil. While both have called calcareous marl soil, which is lime-rich and clay-based. Grapes love lime and clay. When you have this combo, grapes are produced with high acidity – a requirement for great wine. Barbaresco soil is much sandier and softer than the soil found in Barolo. Also, the Barbaresco soil is much higher in nutrients, resulting in a softer wine with less tannins.

So, the upshot is both Barolo and Barbaresco are similar in color, aromas, and flavor. Both are light ruby to garnet in color and develop more brick orange tones with age; both smell and taste of roses, fresh red berries, cherries, and tar (which evolves to dried flowers, dried berries, and dried cherries over time too). The major difference is that Barbaresco is rounder, lighter, and less structured than Barolo's full body and structure. Whereas Barolo is often referred to as the "king of wines," Barbaresco is "the queen of wines." Both are equally delicious. Confession to make…I love Barolo, but I adore Barbaresco. I love that feeling of liquid silk sliding down my throat with each gulp.

Food-wise, you can pair Barbaresco with the same fare as Barolo: braised veal, lamb, or wild boar, pasta with ragu, Or enjoy a cheese pairing of Fontina and Pecorino. Chicken works, too, especially roasted.

So, my advice? Go to your favorite wine store and get a bottle of Barbaresco and Barolo. Do a side-by-side tasting, and you decide!


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