Some thoughts on Barolo/Barbaresco

A customer 2 nights ago, asked me the difference…. between Barolo & Barbaresco. I thought that would make for an interesting blog…..especially if I could incorporate quotes from other notables on the subject.  Just so you understand, There is NO ONE correct answer.  It would therefore be crazy to generalize, as there are so many factors/variables which can influence the outcome. I am, however, just hoping by asking the questions, it will start the discussions….AND hopefully the comments from each will help to shed more light on the topic……from different perspectives.  I have found that is a great way to learn.

I greatly thank the contributors, for your comments, in some cases, sticking your necks out, so we can learn & therefore ask better questions.

ALFIO CAVALLOTTO  (Cavallotto Tenuta Bricco Boschis)

Well, the most important difference between Barolo and Barbaresco is that in average Barolo is more structured and there is more complexity. In average it has a better attitude to age & for a long time.  Barbaresco normally is ready before to be well drank; it is a little bit shorter in the back taste but it can be very elegant with a very fragrant bouquet.

The production of Barolo is about 12 millions of bottles;  Barbaresco is product in about 4,5 millions bottles.

The two territory are separated by the plain area around Alba town and so they aren’t adjoining.  The soil of Barolo, in particular the soil of the East side (Serralunga Castiglione, Monforte) called “Elveziano” is much older than Barbaresco area and is richer in calcareous clay. Barbaresco, that is very close to Tanaro River, is richer of sand and the soil is a little bit more humid.

Of course, depending from producer to another one, there are many difference about the characteristics of the wines and it can change a lot if the producer is more “classic” or “modern”, if he works very well in the vineyards or not etc etc.



“Although we start from the same grape variety and from a geographic area
with similar characteristics and very close the one to the other, Barbaresco
and Barolo present significant differences.
Barolo is rougher, crude, austere, structured, Barbaresco is more elegant,
refined, delicate, more winning.
The characteristics are anyway similar for these two wines, while they’re
both sons of the same vine variety, the Nebbiolo, grape that for his own
history and for his varietal characteristics originates acid, complex and
harsh wines. The Barbaresco area, for its geographical shape and for its
soil, mitigates more and better this characteristic roughness then the
Barolo area.
   The main difference is in the fact that the Barbaresco area has the form of
a hand with its five fingers, where all the fingers are opened towards the
valley, characteristic which allows a great air circulation which permits
the climate, during the maturation period and during the whole year, to be
more regular then the climate in the Barolo area, without in fact great
peaks of high and low temperatures during all over the year. This condition
permits a major regularity among the different vintages, too.
In the Barolo area instead the hills are more “closed” – to understand You
may think about the form of a funnel – and for this reason they keep inside
them a sort of sacs of heat, so called sultriness, and humidity, that cause
a different perception on the different vintages of the wines.
To joke, in Piemonte people always say that Barolo is the king of the wines
(being more structured and majestic), while Barbaresco is the queen (more
elegant, delicate, soft and refined)….this is the reason why I only
produce Barbaresco!!!!!!!!!!!”



“Barolo and Barbaresco are two great wines and they have one huge factor in common and that is their grape varietal, Nebbiolo. To me Nebbiolo is the most intriguing varietal in the world and of course, I might be biased, as I am a born and raised Piemontese. However it is difficult to argue, that Nebbiolo is one of the scarce varietals that are elegant, yet full bodied with length. To me Nebbiolo is the race horse, that is so powerful yet so elegant, when it moves. 

Now having said this, Barolo and Barbaresco, both being Nebbiolo from vineyards that in fact are only some 10-15 miles apart from each other, are two very similar wines. I doubt, that even wine producers from the area, when having to taste Barolo and Barbaresco blind, would always get it right. Some Barolos would fall more in the category of Barbaresco and vice versa. Yes, there are some generalisations, people say that, Barolo is more dense, more deep and more made for aging. However, I believe that the intensity and longevity of a Barolo or Barbaresco depends on the producer and his vineyard. Are the vineyards south facing, what is the soil like, how old are the vines, very important, at what yields is the wine being produced. Factors like this, will more decide the expression of the final product, whether the Nebbiolo would be perceived more as a Barolo or a Barbaresco. 

My concern regarding the discussion of the differences of Barolo and Barbaresco goes into another direction. I am much more concerned about a negative trend: More and more Barolos and Barbarescos with the DOCG on the label, that taste like Langhe Nebbiolo, too light and with no aging potential are entering the market. This trend is a real shame and reflects bad on the area and all of the producers. Langhe Nebbiolo wines offered for a Langhe Nebbiolo price, yet on the label  it is written Barolo or Barbaresco. This unfortunately will confuse the final consumer much more, than trying to identify the exact differences between a great Barolo or a great Barbaresco. 

To me everything that is called Barolo and Barbaresco should be top wine and should be sold at a price point the wine and the work of the producer deserves, anything else we should call what it is, Langhe Nebbiolo!”


VITTORIO FIORE (semi-retired, superstar consulting oenologist)

“the question that you do to me is one of the most difficult to answer (and it is the same one that a now distant day a colored taxi driver  in NY did to Bob Parker, putting him in big trouble) as Barolo and Barbaresco have everything in common except the production area and some cellar practices .

First of all, both are obtained from the Nebbiolo and the amount of grapes per hectare is 8 tons for both  Barolo and Barbaresco.

Barolo must be kept for 38 months , of which at least 18 must be in wood , while the Barolo Riserva is required 62 months , 38 of which in wood.

Barolo can be put on the market after January 1st of the fourth year following the harvest , while the Barolo Riserva must wait until at least January 1st of the sixth year following the harvest.

The Barbaresco , however, must be kept for 26 months ( of which at least 9 in wood ) , while for the Barbaresco Riserva –50 months of storage , of which at least 9 to spend in the wood.

Therefore, the element that distinguishes these two wines and gives each of them their own personality, is definitely the environment in which the grapes are grown.

Barolo is born in the towns of Barolo, Castiglione Falletto , Serralunga d’ Alba and part of the territory of the municipalities of Monforte d’ Alba, Novello, La Morra, Verduno Grinzane Cavour , Diano d’Alba , Cherasco and Roddi within the province of Cuneo.

The Barbaresco is produced instead in the towns of Barbaresco , Neive, Treiso (former village of Barbaresco) and part of the village ‘ San Rocco Senodelvio ” already part of the town of Barbaresco and aggregated to the municipality of Alba in April  1957, within the province of Cuneo.

But the most important aspect that gives the measure of the difference between these two giants of Italian enology, is certainly that organoleptic.   The BARBARESCO is perhaps more light and elegant , while the BAROLO is more powerful and concentrated. 


STEPHEN TANZER (world renown wine writer…..International Wine Cellar / Winophilia)

I’m more likely to want to recommend specific wines to Winophilia readers than to TALK about the differences. I find generalities are no more important than winemaker styles.  What would you say beyond Barbaresco typically being lighter and more floral, and perhaps peaking earlier?  Seems to me that differences due to the slightly earlier harvest in Barbaresco could be more important that stylistic differences between the two zones.

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