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The Difference Between Barolo vs Barbaresco

Both regions are found in northwest Italy and they both produce wine with Nebbiolo grapes. So how are they different? This film is an inspiring look at two of the most historically important wine regions of Italy. It was put together by Master Sommelier, Geoff Kruth, for guildsomm.com .

The Wines of Barolo and Barbaresco from guildsomm

Want to try a Barolo or Barbaresco? Check out the tips below

The difference between Barolo and Barbaresco

The Primary Differences

Different Soils

The main difference in Barolo and Barbaresco is in the soils. The soil in Barbaresco is richer in nutrients and, because of this, the vines don’t produce as much tannin as found in the wines of Barolo. Both wines smell of roses, perfume and cherry sauce — and they both have a very long finish. The difference is in the taste on the mid-palate; the tannin won’t hit you quite as hard in the Barbaresco.

What type of soil grows Nebbiolo best?

If we look at the composition of the soils of Barbaresco and Barolo, they are calcareous marl. Calcareous marl basically is a lime-rich clay-based soil. The lime adds a higher pH (more alkaline) which, interestingly enough, makes the vines produce wine grapes with a lower pH (more acidic). Acidity is a very important component for making high quality wines.

Different Rules

Barolo requires wines be stored for 3 years before release, whereas Barbaresco only requires 2 years. This could be because of the high tannins in Barolo that require the wine to age longer before being put on the market (and ultimately drunk by a thirsty public). Aging does more than just reduce tannins though, it also changes the way the fruit flavors taste in a wine.

  • Barolo 3 years
  • Barolo Riserva 5 years
  • Barbaresco 2 years
  • Barbaresco Riserva 4 years
  • Different History

    Barolo is actually about 50 years older than Barbaresco and was named after a noblewoman, the Marchesa de Barolo, in the 1850’s. Back when Barolo got its name, it was a very different wine. Barolo wines were made in a richly sweet and fruity style. It was much closer to how you might imagine a ruby Port or a very fruity Shiraz.

    Barbaresco got its start in 1894, taking a similar stylistic approach to Barolo with their wine. Both regions suffered greatly to Phylloxera and were producing low quality wines during the World Wars. It wasn’t until after World War II that a family producer called Gaia (‘guy-uh’) began to bring quality back to Barbaresco wines. Another great step to quality was the start of The Produttori del Barbaresco (a consortium of small producers) in 1958.

    Buying Barolo and Barbaresco Wines

    When buying wines from Piedmont, note that the vintage you buy matters. Keep these basic tips in mind:

    Best Years for Barbaresco and Barolo Wines
    • 1995-Current Vintage good string of vintages, except for 2002
    • 2002 not a good vintage, hailstorms
    • 2003 very hot year, but because of Nebbiolo’s inherent high acid and tannin structure, the heat made for liquorous and generous Nebbiolos from good producers.
    • 2004-2005 Drinking great now
    • 2006 A very structured (e.g. tannic) vintage, good for cellaring
    • 2007–2009 Warm vintages producing rich styles
    • 2010 Elegant vintage, should be excellent for long-term aging
    • 2011 Rich vintage, many are drinking well now


    The Produtorri held up well against the others; the Marcarini was the perfect age (13 years) and the Contero was a bit more brooding and heady than the rest. — Madeline

    It’s not uncommon to see prices for these 2 Piedmont wines reaching towards the $90+ mark. So we asked Sommelier, Rina Bussell, for some value-driven options to explore these great areas.

    Rina’s Pick: Best Value Barolo

    • Fontanafredda Barolo
    • Elvio Cogno “Cascina Nuova” Barolo
    • Giovanni Viberti “Buon Padre” Barolo
    • Cascina Fontana Barolo
    • Domenico Clerico “Pajana” Barolo
    • Paolo Scavino “Monvigliero” Barolo
    • Rivetto “Serralunga” Barolo

    Rina’s Pick: Best Value Barbaresco

    • De Forville Barbaresco
    • Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco
    • Ca’ del Baio “Valgrande” Barbaresco
    • Castello di Verduno Barbaresco

    Great Alternative: Langhe Nebbiolo Wines

    Langhe Nebbiolo is an appellation in Piedmont and it’s often made by the same producers as Barolo and Barbaresco. The primary difference is in the location of where the grapes are sourced. Some of them are from the less desirable slopes or from areas outside of the Barbaresco and Barolo zones. Either way, on good vintage years you’ll find these Langhe Nebbiolo wines to have a great value and taste but without as much tannin.

    • Vietti “Perbacco” Nebbiolo d’Alba
    • Ettore Germano Langhe Nebbiolo
    • Castello di Verduno Langhe Nebbiolo
    • Luciano Sandrone “Valmaggiore” Nebbiolo d’Alba

    Video used with permission from guildsomm.com

    About Madeline Puckette

    James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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