How I rediscovered Barbaresco
- Written by Diana Zahuranec
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Wine tasting with Barolo and Barbaresco in Turin
This past weekend, the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS) hosted a wine tasting for their national convention held in Turin. The wines and producers were set up in the beautiful Palazzo Carignano, the seat of the National Risorgimento Museum (its former roles include housing for the Carignano princes and Savoy nobility, birthplace of several kings, and seat of Parliament). I tasted Barolo and Barbaresco in the middle of masterpieces of art.
Palazzo Carignano. Photo from Bernard Blanc, CC.
These two iconic Piemontese wines weren’t the only ones I tasted. 158 producers from all over Piemonte were present, each with three or four wines. I started off in some of my favorite areas to discover, the Torinese and Alto Piemonte, sipping Nebbiolo-based wines like Carema, Spanna, Lessona, Fara, Gattinara…then I looked at my wine map brochure and decided that I couldn’t taste 158 x 3 = 474 wines in 2 ½ hours. I had to pick and choose.
As much as I love discovering rare wines from the less-heralded vineyards of Piemonte, I drifted on over to the Barolo and Barbaresco section like a bee to flowers. I couldn’t help it!
There, I rediscovered Barbaresco.
Never had it tasted so perfect as it did that afternoon. Maybe it was because I tasted Barbaresco among the austere Barolo wines; I always love Barolo (you’re wrong if you don’t love it), but it gets so intense it can numb your palate after tasting one after another in the space of an hour. That afternoon, I completely appreciated the elegance, freshness, and juiciness of Barbaresco. Every sip lit up my taste buds.
Amid all the different wines I tasted, which was not nearly enough, I also rediscovered why Nebbiolo is the king of grapes. It changes from one hill to the next, even from one vineyard on the same hill to the next. You can read the terroir so easily through Nebbiolo, and taste what the different sun exposure, soils, altitudes, and working hands give it. I always knew this, but it was really emphasized when I tasted two from the same producer, same year, side-by-side, vinified the same -- and the only difference was literally the hill or hill section. Incredible!
And it’s so resistant. The weather in 2014 caused many people to jump the gun on their judgment of these as-yet unbottled wines, but it looks like Piemonte, and particularly Nebbiolo, is going to pull through really well. “The weather in 2014 led to a natural concentration of everything in Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera,” said Paolo Giacosa of Giacosa Fratelli in Neive. There will be less wine, but everything the grapes developed during the year will be condensed into that smaller output.
I also get why Barbaresco is called “feminine” and Barolo is called “masculine.”
Some people might bristle at the perceived stereotyping, but it describes the general characteristics of the two wines perfectly. It has to do with a natural elegance and softer tannins in Barbaresco versus the weight of complexity and strength in Barolo. Barbaresco, in fact, is released on the market one year earlier than Barolo (which, some might argue, should stay in producers’ cellars for at least another year before it's released). Its tannins soften more quickly than Barolo’s, and while it ages wonderfully, Barbaresco tends to last for a slightly shorter length of time than Barolo. Although it goes without saying – either of these great wines can display characteristics of the other.
I love Piemonte’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps! My goal and challenge is to see as much of the region as possible using public transportation, but if you have a car I’d appreciate the ride. My intro to wine was at the Univ. of Gastronomic Sciences, and I love visiting family wineries, plus discovering Piemonte's craft beer scene. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite wine, but Nebbiolo never disappoints (from Barbaresco to Ghemme). As for beer, the Birrificio San Michele makes an incredible beechwood smoked brew.