Barolo vs Barbaresco: Both are Nice. Which Will You Choose?

The Langhe growing region, nestled in Northern Italy, regularly draws tourists from around the world–and it just so happens to be home to Barolo and Barbaresco wine.

Now, a wine academy is offering lessons to anyone who wants to learn more about Barolo and Barbaresco wines, and wines in the Langhe growing region in general. Named the Barolo and Barbaresco Wine Academy, the courses will be offered for a few days in mid-September and are intended to not only acquaint wine enthusiasts with signature red wines from Northern Italy but to delve in deeper with the entire winemaking process.

Enrollees will learn in three units, the first one covering geography; the second covering grapes of the greater Piedmont growing region, and the third the actual process of winemaking. Lectures are supplemented with experiential learning, and, of course, wine tasting.

Over just three days, students receive an immersive experience, traveling the region with a professional geologist; attending lectures and even touring a castle at the tail end.

One reason the course is being offered? Wines like Barolo and Barbaresco are so much a part of Northern Italy that is nearly impossible to separate the wines from the larger culture.

But let’s face it: as much as we’d like to, not all of us have the means to travel to Italy to learn about, and taste Barolo and Barbaresco wines in person. For everyone who falls under that category, this article will test how Barolo and Barbaresco stack up when compared, what they have in common, and distinguishing factors that may lead you to favor one over the other.

Main Differences Between Barolo vs Barbaresco

The Main Differences Between Barolo vs Barbaresco are:

  • Barolo has a higher level of tannins, whereas Barbaresco has a more floral aroma.
  • Barolo tends to be more expensive, whereas Barbaresco is more acidic.
  • Barolo has higher ageing requirements, whereas Barbaresco is always aged at least two years.
  • Barolo has a bolder fruity notes, whereas Barbaresco presents a wide range of flavour notes.

What is the Langhe growing region?

The Langhe growing region, located in the larger region of Piedmont, is situated in Northern Italy and home to both Barolo and Barbaresco wines, as well as other, mostly red varieties such as Dolcetto. South of the town of Alba, the region introduced a special labeling system in 1994 which designates the different degree of varieties and experimentation in wine blends.

That means that wine producers can include as much as up to fifteen percent of wine grapes from other regions, which allows for a degree of innovation. However, Barolo and Barbaresco, the very best varieties, tend to rely solely on grapes within the region.

In addition to native grapes, the vibrant growing region is also home to a number of international red varieties, including Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

What are the main features of Italian wines?

Collectively, Italian wines include numerous varieties of especially signature red wines, which span from Valle d’Aosta to the very North West, to Puglia in the South East.

Italian wines are divided by dry and sweet and signature flavor notes-fruity versus more earthy. There are eleven well-known varieties of red wine, only two of which are light in body. Northern Italians, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, tend to exhibit a full body and bright acidity, though of course, that is a generalization.

Why should I choose Barolo or Barbaresco over Amarone?

In case you’ve never heard of it, Amarone is one of the most prized red wines in Italy and is also grown in Northern Italy, though in a slightly different region. The problem is that most Amarone is quite expensive, with an average price of fifty to eighty dollars per bottle, but most vintage wines running well into the hundreds, due to the laborious and careful production process.

By comparison, Barbaresco and Barolo wines are by far more affordable, while still showcasing some of the most exemplary features of Northern Italian wine. And of course, Amarone is not for everyone, and both Barbaresco and Barolo offer different flavor notes.

What is Nebblio?

This is where we go into a bit more detail, so pay attention. Nebbiolo refers to the more precise region and the specific grapes that produce some of the most popular red wines in Northwest Italy. Very high levels of tannins, as well as signature floral notes,  are common. The grapes themselves have a thin skin, and tart, playful acidity.

What accounts for the main differences between Barolo and Barbaresco? 

The main factors that distinguish Barolo from Barbaresco have to do with the specific characteristics of that growing region. Even the smallest differences can produce different flavor notes and qualities, such as levels of acidity and tannins.

Among other factors, the main reasons why Barolo and Barbaresco differ include:

  • Soil: Vineyards usually are located on one of four soil types–sand-based, silt based, loam and clay soils.
    • Sandy soils produce wines with low levels of tannins that have more pronounced aromas and tend to be paler in color.
    • Silt based soils tend to produce wines with lower levels of acidity, silky finish, and smooth tannins.
    • Loam soils are very fertile, but that can actually be a negative thing. They can overtake vineyards and wine tends to be less flavorful. Most often, some other soil types are mixed in, such as sand (you’ll find this in California) the result is drinkable and soft wines.
    • Clay soils produce wines with vibrant colors and bold flavors. Barolo is grown on clay soil.
    • The difference in Barolo and Barbaresco here lies in the nutrients in the soil. Very rich soils result in softer tannins, and thus, Barolo, which has less rich soil, tends to have more pronounced tannins.
  • Climate: While both Barolo and Barbaresco are from Northern climates, even the slightest difference in geographical location can tweak the climate. To be clear, the climate is not the same as weather. Climate refers to the regional conditions overall, while the weather is a specific occurrence on a day, week, or year.
    • Warmer climates lead to wines with higher sugar levels, lower levels of acidity, and even softer and more fruity.
    • Cooler climates result in higher levels of acidity and more sharp, ripe flavors.
    • Even though both Barolo and Barbaresco are near one another, there is a tiny difference in terms of climate. But their close proximity also explains why there are many characteristics also in common.
  • Aging: Aging makes flavors more complex, and also adds notes such as vanilla and toasted flavors. While both wines are aged, the time they are aged is a distinguishing factor.

What are the main differences between Barolo and Barbaresco wines?

 Now let’s see how Barolo and Barbaresco look when compared side by side on some major characteristics of the wine. While we’ll certainly see some similarities between the two, we’ll also see what distinguishes these Italian wines from each other.

  • Why do Barolo and Barbaresco wines have so much in common? First things first–besides being both Northern Italian wines, why are the two wines similar? As we hinted at earlier, that’s because they are both produced through Nebbiolo grapes. So that’s why you’ll see so many overlapping characteristics. Still, the subtle differences are notable enough to take note of.
  • How do they compare in tannin levels? Tannins in wine are important for a few reasons. For one, these naturally occurring compounds add bitterness and astringency. As a result, higher tannin wines will taste more bitter, and vise versa. Some have likened tannins to the taste of black tea or coffee. More astringent wine can come off as ‘sharper’ in flavor. Red wine, in general, has higher levels of tannins than white wines, but some red wines have a low level of tannins and are generally described as softer.
    • Barolo has higher levels of tannins, which means that Barbaresco is a softer, less astringent wine in comparison, yet the tannins are still strong and pronounced when compared to other wines. As we’ve already explained, that’s due mostly to differences in the soil in the two regions. Barolo has been described as having tannins pronounced enough your mouth feels dry after drinking.
  • Which is more aromatic? Compared, both Barolo and Barbaresco are considered fairly aromatic wines. Floral notes, including rose, can be detected in both. In this, they have much in common. Due to the tannin level and astringency present, Barolo may come across as slightly less floral, but both exhibit a similar aroma, with a bit of tar to balance the floral scents you might first notice.
  • Are there differences when it comes to levels of acidity? The Nebbiolo grape itself is considered to have pronounced, yet balanced acidity. Of the two, Barbaresco’s acidity is more pronounced, presenting a ripe, bright finish, while Barolo has a softer acidity, with a softer and smoother finish.
  • What are the differences in terms of aging? Aging wine helps develop complex flavors, develop tannins, and, if aged in oak, often adds touches of vanilla and even toasted flavor notes. As it so happens, there actually is a significant difference between Barlo and Barbaresco wines.
    • Barbaresco wines are always aged at least two years, with nine months in a barrel, while reserve wines much are ages for a minimum of four years.
    • Barolo wines have higher aging requirements. Barolo wines must be aged for a minimum of three years, though many of the best wines from this region are not sold until they have been aged for a decade or more. These wines are especially at their prime when aged for extended periods of time.
  • Which is more expensive? Though you can find affordable bottles of both Barolo and Barbaresco wines, in general, Barolo wines tend to be more expensive, because they have generally been aged longer.
  • How does Barolo compare with Barbaresco in terms of flavor notes? In terms of flavor notes, as in all categories, Barbaresco and Barolo wines have some contrasting characteristics and some in common.
    • Barbaresco wines are mostly known for bright, playful fruity flavors. Depending on the specific variety, Barbaresco wines can present a wide range of flavor notes, including light berries like strawberries and raspberries, and even some light candied notes, with just a touch of anise.
    • Barolo is also quite fruity, but these fruit notes are bolder, richer, and less playful and light. While you can also detect raspberry notes, prominent are cherry and floral notes, with dimension cocoa and spices such as allspice and anise.
  • How full body does Barolo feel compared to Barbaresco? Barolo is going to come across as more full-body, while Barbaresco is more light and sprightly, though in reality it is not considered a light-bodied wine.
  • What about wine with food pairings? Due to their slightly different characteristics, Barolo and Barbaresco have slightly different options when it comes to the best wine with food pairings.
    • Barolo wine, with intense tannins and bold fruit flavors laced with spices and a bit of cocoa, actually works quite well with something like game meat, as well as something like a duck–in a nutshell, meat with distinct and pronounced flavors. Creamy and slightly earthy dishes work well too. Aged cheeses, dishes with mushrooms, and overall creamy dishes with a touch of sweetness are all excellent choices (think pasta and risotto).
    • Barbaresco, with riper, brighter notes, works with rich but more traditional meats, including ribs, lamb, and roasts. With some light varieties, you can even pair it with a more delicate veal. While some claim Barabesco also works with game meat, as well as duck, for that Barolo really is the better choice. Other popular pairings include grilled steak and vegetables. You can even get buy pairing it with pizza.
  • What is the general aesthetic of Barolo vs Barbaresco wines? Compared, Barolo is the stronger firmer wine, with more pronounced tannins, with stronger flavors overall from the levels of complexity that come with the aging process. Barbaresco, on the other hand, is a more approachable wine with ripe, bright flavors and overall a lighter feel. Both, of course, have fairly firm tannins and notable acidity which is reflective of the general region.
    • If you have to sum up the differences between the two wines, Barbaresco is the more elegant wine, while Barolo is the more bold wine.

What are some of my best options when it comes to Barolo and Barbaresco wines? 

Whether you prefer Barolo or Barbaresco wine, one thing is for certain: you want to purchase the best wine possible. So what are your options?

When it comes to both of these wines, you’ll get the most nuanced flavor with aging, and you want to look for wines from a respected vineyard, and also wines that feature classic flavor notes.

Let’s take a look at some wines you might enjoy:

  • For Barolo
    • Ceretto Barolo 2014: Vintage Barolo wines can be very expensive, so at sixty dollars, this is actually a good value. You’ll be greeted with classic cherry and rose flavor notes, with indulgent truffles. Black fruits, a bit of tar, and a pleasant silky finish make up for the fact it is not quite as rich as more expensive vintage wines.
    • Mauro Molino Barolo 2015: This Barolo wine is a nice pick, with ripe cherries notes and those classic floral touches. Walnuts, tar, and even some spice and leather add dimension and savory elements to the sweeter notes. This is a complex but affordable Barolo wine.
    • Massolino Barolo 2014: A great pick if you’re in search of a more balanced Barolo, spicy, floral and sweet notes are all present, with nice structure and a full body. Dark fruit, including cherries and a touch of brighter wild berries team with pepper, and a bit of vanilla to finish.
    • Viberti Barolo Buon Padre 2014: Our final suggestion for Barolo has a nice blend of fruity and floral flavors. Dried fruit and spices add depth to strawberry notes. The full body and complementary spectrum of flavors are well balanced with bitter and structured tannins.
  • For Barbaresco
    • Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2017: For under thirty dollars a bottle, this is an accessible and pleasing Barbaresco wine. The ruby red color is inviting, as are the fresh red fruit flavors with a touch of wild berries. Just a bit of anise and white pepper round out the flavors.
    • Luigi Oddero Barbaresco 2015: If you want Barabesco with a splash of citrus, consider this wine. Rose and red fruit notes are complemented with orange notes, with a soft pleasant structure and satisfying finish. Even though it’s a bit on the brighter side, it’s sophisticated enough to pair with a variety of meats.
    • Pio Cesare Barbaresco 2014: A bit higher on price point, this wine has been described as a ‘classic’ Barbaresco, with ripe and pleasant fruity notes, alongside a bit of spice and tannins that feel present but brighter. Licorice and sour cherry can also be detected. Overall, you’ll get all of the notes you expect, including rose, with a bright but smooth finish with overall pleasing experience.
    • Adriano Marco e Vittorio Basarin Barbaresco 2015: Barbaresco should, above all, exemplify ripe fruit flavors, and this bottle of wine does just that. Enjoy signature cherry flavor notes, heightened by traces of vanilla, and less expected floral notes including violet and wild rose. The spices and structure are not overwhelming, but also make it suited for red meats.

Frequently Asked Questions

What cheese goes with Barolo?

We all know wine is a cheese best friend. But all different kind of wines, are a best or a worst cheese pairing depending on the type. For Barolo, specifically, you might want to choose Reggiano, asiago, or pecorino cheese.

How do you serve Barolo?

Enjoy your Barolo between 70 and 80 degrees F. Consideren room temperature.

Is Barbaresco full bodied?

Barbaresco is a full-bodied wine with a very complex structure and intense character. This wine can definitely be enjoyed just by itself.

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Erin Jamieson

Erin Jamieson brings the latest information to you on wine flavors and types so you can enjoy your next glass to the fullest. In the past, she covered wine selections for weddings and engagement parties. She also previously worked with a private chef company to suggest the perfect wine pairings and believes there is a flavor for every occasion. Erin Jamieson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University of Ohio.

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