The tiny appellation of Barbaresco is located in the state of Piedmont (which translates to ‘foot of the mountain), in the very north-west of Italy. The village of Barbaresco is located on the eastern banks of the Tanaro River, and all vineyards sit just outside this tiny village. Several centuries ago, the hill where the village of Barbaresco now stands was intensely wooded and the Ligurian tribesmen used these forests as a hide-out to elude the deadly Roman cavalry. The Romans called this area ‘barbarica silva’, or ‘wild woods’ because it was situated on the very edge of their domains and was risky territory owing to the barbarian presence, and the name stuck, eventually evolving into Barbaresco. In addition to this main town, fruit can be sourced from the neighbouring towns of Nieve, Treiso, and a tiny part of the Alba zone to make up the final wine.
So, what is it that makes this region so special? Well, Barbaresco is one of those plots of land where everything seems to come together for the production of complex, delicious, exceptional quality, long-lived wines. Located in the ‘pre-alpine’ foothills of the Italian Alps, the climate is quite cool. The vineyards are all located on south-east-facing slopes that perfectly catch the gentle morning sun in the spring, as well as funnelling off the dangerous morning alpine fogs which would freeze the delicate flowers. The soils are an incredibly unique calcareous clay from the Tortonian epoch mixed through with fossil marls, and the Nebbiolo grape variety loves them- very few other varieties could grow in this metal and mineral rich soil type. The wines produced in this region are some of the most complex and layered on Earth, with fruit aromas including raspberries and redcurrant jam, floral geraniums, rose petals and violets but also green pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, dusty wood, toasted hazelnuts, vanilla and aniseed. With age, complex earth, fungus and iron elements appear. Tannin and acid are major aspects of this wine, both of which are present in near-extreme amounts. You always know when you’re drinking a Barbaresco!
Barbaresco is Nebbiolo, and Nebbiolo is Barbaresco. Thick-skinned, abundantly tannic and acidic, this grape variety is one of those few that has found a perfect place in which to grow (and in Barolo it must be said) . It does not grow particularly well anywhere else on earth- despite several attempts by many producers in many regions to try their hands at it. Despite its heavy tannins and abundance of flavour and complexity, Nebbiolos are always quite opaque in appearance, and gain a very distinctive brick edge to their colour with age. Nebbiolo from Barbaresco seems to age more rapidly when compared to its cousin Barolo, reaching its drinking peak somewhere between 5 and 15 years.
Once considered by many to be the poor cousin to the better known Barolo region to the south-west, today it is difficult to pick which is better. History had a large part to play in Barbaresco’s anonymity- or perhaps I should say more to do with the fame of Barolo! Barolo was the wine drunk by the famous House of Savoy and in the Royal Court of Turin, and Barbaresco was used as a mere blending agent in these wines when they couldn’t fulfill orders from their own vineyards- meaning the wines were obviously good enough to be called Barolo, but the knowledge of the region wasn’t enough to warrant fame. Added to this is the fact that the Barbaresco appellation is one third the size of Barolo (already a fairly tiny region), meaning there just aren’t that many wines from this region out there! The name Barbaresco was first recorded on bottles in 1894, and the producer, the Produttori di Barbaresco, was the first and biggest co-operative of the region which still makes great wines today- see below for a few examples! It was largely the work of 2 men through the 1940s to 1960s that brought Barbaresco out of commercial obscurity. Bruno Giacosa and Giovanni Gaja (followed today by his great-grandson Angelo; “the man who dragged Piedmont into the modern world”) fought for decades after WWII to establish Barbaresco as its own unique wine. Today these wineries enjoy a privileged position at the top of the Barbaresco tree, and produce what are considered to be the best wines of the region, as well as the most expensive!
Barbaresco has some of the strictest controls in all of Italy in regards to its production- which is probably one of the reasons it is so highly regarded. First up, all wines must be 100% Nebbiolo. Alcohol must reach a minimum 12.5%- not always easy in the cool alpine seasons. At harvest, there is a strictly controlled yield placed on vineyards; a maximum of 8,000kg of grapes can be harvested from each hectare, which usually equates to less than 1kg of grapes from each vine! After harvest, the wines must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, one of which must be in oak. To be labelled ‘Riserva’ the wine must be aged for a minimum 4 years! The single vineyard or Cru system is becoming more established and important in Barbaresco. An official list of single vineyards, called the Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive was drawn up in 2007, something Barolo saw the benefits of, following suit in 2010!
Wine Sales Manager