Let’s dive into the rules, regulations, and some myths and tales about Barbaresco wine growing area. Barbaresco is a smaller appellation to it’s bigger brother Barolo, and even bigger neighbor to the north Roero. Barbaresco appellation is made up of 3 villages and a fraction of Alba calle San Rocco Seno d’Elvio. The 3 other villages that make up a part of this winemaking area; are Barbaresco, Treiso, and Neive. From these three areas Neive is the largest land area in all of Barbaresco but Barbaresco has them beat with the most amount of Nebbiolo planted in the area. This makes much sense because the quality level of the growing area in Barbaresco is much greater and greater quality to the other regions.
In Barbaresco alone you have the most amount of what we could compare to the French Grand Cru vineyards. In Barbaresco the Grand Cru vineyards would be considered Asili, Pora, Bricco, and Montestefano. Followed by Ovello, Rabajà, Riosordo, Martinega, Roncalini, Roncaglietta, and Trifolera, then Bernino, Vincenziana, Moccagatto, Ronchi, and Faset. The Barbaresco area is the closest to the river Tanaro, it is practically touching the river bed and thus this is very helpful in case of a storm coming from the north area Roero, before the storm will reach Barbaresco it will have been taken up the river by its current. The soil in Barbaresco village belongs to the Tortonian period, where a bluish marl - clay that is very compact, which is defined as Sant’Agata Fossils. Barbaresco here is sharing the same soil structure as the neighbors in Barolo villages Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba. Here, because the soil is more compact and more difficult for vine growth we are left with a product more rich in tannin and with more complexity. Which could be why there are the most amount of growing areas of Grand Cru quality.
Neive my home and I cannot tell you how much I love to live here, and you must come to visit! Like me you might not want to go home. Neive is a bit more north east respect Barbaresco and Treiso and the soil structures vary quite a bit. The more southern part of Neive where you have more Moscato, towards the area Mango you will have more Tortonian-Serravallian with veins of Lequio formations, here you will find more of a grey marl mixed with sand. The vineyards that are on the boarder of Barbaresco share the same Tortonian bluish marl and thus are more complex than the latter. Towards the northern bit you have more sandy soils, better for younger drinking wines. There are only 2 Grand Crus in Neive and that would be Gallina and Cottà with Bordini, Chirrà, Gaja, Balluri.
Treiso shares a lot in common with Barolo, towards the south western part of Treiso you will find wines that have a lot of the same complexity as Barolo. With this said you will find a lot of the same soils as you will in the Barolo area. Tortonian and Tortonian-Serravallian, lots of clay, grey marl, and iron rich soils with little or no sand. There are less grand crus in Treiso but some vineyards to keep an eye out for are Rombone, and Gresy. Also Montarsino, Varaldi, Castellissano, followed by Rizzi, Bongiovanni, Marcarino, and Stella. Treiso and San Rocco Seno d’Elvio are a lot of the same vineyards, for instance Rizzi, Montersino, and Meruzzano.
Interesting story about San Rocco seno d’Elvio is this fraction of Alba is where an Emperor of Italy was born. Elvio Pertinace and you will find his coin on the bottles of Produttori del Barbaresco labels as an ode to the Emperor who represented this area. Pretty cool?
In the area of Barbaresco there is not only Nebbiolo grapes, it is a major part of this wine making area but not the only one. There is even more of a history with the grape varieties of Dolcetto, Barbera, and also Moscato in these areas. Historically these other grapes were the wines that were consumed most. More as table wines for everyday consumption, and while Nebbiolo would have been the more affordable wine to drink, the people at that time paid a little bit more to have Dolcetto and Barbera. It is funny because today we talk about Dolcectto and Barbera like sports teams, not many people like both varietals. This is because Dolcetto starts of fruity and floral and then has a finish with a little bit of tannins and some almond skins, this flavor gives a bitter aftertaste. Most people don’t get along with this aftertaste but in terms of pairing with food it is very important and thus Dolcetto pairs well with most types of food. Barbera on the other hand has no tannins at all has lots of red fruits and a bit of iron flavors, and is famous for its bright acidity that cleans the mouth. This wine is then paired with fattier foods, meat dishes, and cheeses. Then we have Moscato which in the two towns of Neive and Treiso can make Moscato d’Asti, a lightly fizzy sweet wine that pairs well with Panatone, and with fresh fruit like strawberries and peaches, or just on its own as a pick me up in the late afternoon. We will talk more about Moscato in a later blog post as I would like to explain all the hard work and sleepless nights that goes into every bottle of Moscato d’Asti.
After all of this talk about the areas and what makes them so special lets take a minute to talk about the rules and regulations of Barbaresco area. To make a Barbaresco starts at the slope in the vineyard where you can grow Nebbiolo grapes on an East, South, or Western facing slope and you cannot growthe Nebbiolo higher than 550 meters above sea level. This excludes all together the North facing as when the DOCG was put into place the reasoning was that the late ripening variety Nebbiolo would not finish its phenolic ripening process. The maximum amount of grapes that can be harvested per hectare is 8 tons and the alcohol must be higher than 12%, and the vine training must be Guyot. After all of these specifications once the grapes have been brought into the cellar the fermentation and maceration depends on the grower, but the wine can be released on the 3rd year after the harvest and 9 of those months in cellar must be in wooden barrels. From there you can keep the wine in barrel longer and in bottle longer and can release when you would like but the basis is 9 months in wood. The wines when they are finished will need to go through a series of exams, one is a chemical analysis and the second is a sensory analysis where many wine makers who are part of the Consorzio will attend a blind tasting to make sure these wines are meeting the necessary standards.
Once all of this has taken place the government will issue banderols to place on each bottle of wine as proof of its legality. Now the wine is ready to drink! Just kidding, one question I get asked a lot is when should you open a bottle of Barbaresco to maximize its full potential in this wine. Like taste, this answer is not so simple, also there might be many winemakers who have a different idea I would like very much for them to share their experiences. I cannot answer for everyone but I hope to make a diplomatic approach to my answer. Once upon a time Barbaresco and Barolo were wines that were to dink with at least 20 years of age. Because of climate change, and new technologies in the cellar I feel as though these Nebbiolo based wines can be enjoyed at a much younger age. As much fun as it is to save a bottle in your cellar for the next twenty years to one day take it out to share with your friends and loved ones I am of the type that I just can’t wait. To many things can happen to this bottle of wine from today to the next 20 years and I am not wanting to take a risk. So I say to many people that the best time to enjoy a Nebbiolo wine like Barbaresco and Barolo is after the first 5 years the wine is in the bottle. Here is the tricky part, how do you know when the wine was in the bottle? Well the safe way to go about it, is unless it is a Riserva you can be safe to say that the wine was bottled near the year it was released, but unless you talk to the winery it is hard really to know. So here is my cheat sheet! About 10 years from the vintage in the bottle is the best time to start to drink your Barbaresco or Barolo. It is not a rule of thumb but it is pretty close to getting you to optimal drinking potential. The first 5 years the wine is growing developing, then after this period the wine starts to age, just like people. Some of us get better while others of us just get a bit worse. Thus my fear of not wanting to wait to long. With this said there are plenty of wines that age amazingly and have a longevity that could out live all of us.