Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera are the three most important grape varieties in Piedmont, Italy.
Ok, trick question—Barolo and Barbaresco, two of Italy’s most legendary and serious reds, are not grape varieties but the names of wines made in the Alba region of Piedmont from nebbiolo grapes. The red grape barbera is Piedmont’s most widely planted variety and the region’s favorite every night dinner wine. Vineyard estates in Piedmont, Italy’s preeminent wine region, are meticulously cared for and mostly small (the average vineyard estate is 3 to 5 acres/1.2 to 2 hectares), which reflects vintners’ philosophic belief that great wine is the progeny of a single, perfectly adapted grape variety—in this case, nebbiolo. Supremely complex and riveting, Barolo and Barbaresco are esteemed throughout Italy because nebbiolo, one of the world’s most site-specific grape varieties, is one of the most difficult to master. No place else in the world has more nebbiolo than Piedmont, and no place else has had more success with this complicated grape. Barolo and Barbaresco are highly structured, expensive wines that can be aged for years, even decades. Today most are made in a way that renders them softer (but not soft, exactly) at a younger age, and thus enjoyable earlier. These formidable, firm, black-red wines are meant for carnivorous drama—for whole roasted pigs or lambs—or with grand pastas showered with white truffles (Alba, after all is the Shangri-La of these mythic culinary fungi) and costing a ransom. Needless to say, Barolo and Barbaresco are decidedly not what the Piedmontese drink with dinner every night. That distinction goes to barbera (and another lovely red, dolcetto) a vibrant, mouthfilling, slightly rustic wine of the same name, oozing with a wealth of fruit flavors. Barbera is an easy companion to food, thanks to its relatively high acidity and low tannin. Read Karen’s past Wine to Know reviews of VIETTI “Perbacco” Nebbiolo Langhe 2016 and GUIDO PORRO Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Santa Caterina” 2018.