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Home » Barbera, Barbaresco and Barolo: How They Differ

Barbera, Barbaresco and Barolo: How They Differ

Wine

I am pretty excited about this Barbera post because I think there’s a ton of confusion about Barbera. It’s sort of pushed to the side and forgotten, seen as the “lesser” sister from the famous land where big brother and sister, Barolo and Barbaresco (the King and Queen of wine, as some reference them) reign supreme.

Barolo and Barbaresco

Barolo and Barbaresco are both made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes.

Furthermore, Nebbiolo is quite a fickle grape and winemakers can sell Nebbiolo wines at a much higher price than a Barbera. Secondly, just like any other wine region there are prized sites and not so prized sites. Barolo and Barbaresco get planted on the most prized sites, Barolo being slightly higher altitude and less fertile soils while Barbaresco has more fertile soils and lower altitude. Consequently, Barolo yields wines that are leaner, more tanninc, and austere than the more feminine Barbaresco wines which have slightly more fruit character (albeit still lean compared to other grape varietals) and floral notes.

Another item to note regarding Barolo and Barbaresco is time of aging. These wines have such high tannins that they can indeed age well. This is why these wines can be so expensive.For the reason that this post is not on Nebbiolo, I won’t go into too much more detail here. If interested in finding out more about this, or to get some reasonably priced ideas check out this blog post on Nebbiolo.

Barbera Flavor Profile

It isn’t often that Barbera is seen on menus (if it’s even there – rare outside of Italian restaurants) or wine store shelves. However, I am here to encourage you to try this wine out. To prove it – I actually had a Barbera by the glass when I was starting up a small wine bar and it was our biggest seller. Fun fact: It was this Barbera, but the Superiore version.

Barbera is plummy, high acid (like Nebbiolo) but low tannin (unlike Nebbiolo). It’s also very red fruit forward, and richer. In some ways I would characterize it to clients as a Pinot Noir style body. Of course, it has the classic Italian savory notes too, thyme and white mushroom, but I would say that those more complex notes come out more prominently in higher quality styles.

Barbera on The Rise?

Slowly but surely, I do believe Barbera is becoming more popular. California is actually beginning to grow a lot of Barbera. Sadly, they’re using it mostly as a blending component rather than single varietal (from what I’ve noticed so far, but this could change). I believe they do this because the color of Barbera is so deep and gorgeous that it makes naturally thinner ruby Pinot Noirs look deeper and darker. A Pinot Noir should not look the same in the glass as a Cabernet Sauvignon, friends. But alas, so they do because that’s what the public wants.

So for purposes of this post, if you have never had Barbera, I recommend you stick with the Italian Barbera. Of course, always try new things, but if you’re trying to get a good idea of what these wines can be like, it’s best to start at the original source.

Asti vs Alba

When shopping around, you’ll notice two major things on the bottle label. There is Barbera d’Alba and Barbera d’Asti. Asti and Alba are two towns in the Piedmont. There are a lot of grapes allowed to be grown in both areas, but if the bottle says Barbera d’Asti or Alba, the wine must be at minimum of 85% Barbera grapes. What’s the difference?

Asti: Considered higher quality (for soil reasons and more, higher altitude, more in the foothills of the mountains – see the climate article for more info on why this matters). As such, the best of these wines can in fact age for a few years. They will have more of those dried herb notes and a bit more structure to them.

Alba: Still a good product, but typically these wines are not quite as high acidity (still high, but not as high as Asti). These wines are more meant to be drunk young while fresh and vibrant.

Assessment of G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba 2018

Appearance: This wine is medium ruby.
Nose: Youthful with medium intensity. Notes of blackberry, ripe raspberry, black currant, bramble and dried violets.
Palate: Dry with medium plus intensity. High acidity, high alcohol, medium plus body, medium finish and medium minus tannin. This wine has notes of blackberry, ripe black currant, and bramble. There are also notes of dried herbs (thyme, tomato leaf) with vanilla and clove.
Assessment of Quality: This is a good wine.
Level of Readiness for Drinking: This wine is suitable to drink now, not recommended for further aging.

Hi! I'm Sydney,

nice to meet you!

I left a marketing career in Hollywood to go to the Culinary Institute of America. After a few years of working in restaurants, I am now a private chef and sommelier in the 30a area.

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