In Food + Drink

Italian Wines 101: The Difference Between Barolo, Barbaresco And Brunello

For many, Italy’s major viticultural regions are the entry-point to a lifelong love affair with wine. With over 20 major zones, hundreds of appellations, and even more indigenous grape varieties than one could ever count, it’s safe to say that Italy is one of the most versatile and exciting wine-producing countries on the planet.

However, as with most wine-producing nations, there are always a handful of regions that sit above the rest. These are the growing areas that hold world renown, and therefore, produce some of the highest quality (and age-worthy) bottles on the market.

When it comes to Italian wines, three of these most recognisable regions appellations are Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino.

Image: Bertrand Bouchez / Unsplash

So what’s the deal with Italy’s three ‘Big Bs?’ If you’ve ever frequented a high-end Italian restaurant, steakhouse, or Michelin-starred restaurant in your lifetime, you’ve surely come across these infamous Italian zones.

Despite the fact that all three are known for their world-class bottles, each of these appellations actually brings something quite different to the table – and knowing their differences is key to becoming an educated wine drinker.

Get to know the basics behind three of Italy’s most luxurious wine-producing areas through our ‘Big B Breakdown’ here – italian wines explained.


italian wines

Image: Botter Barolo Rosso DOCG /

Location: Barolo is located in the northern Italian region of Piedmont. It is broken down into five major growing areas, known as communes: Barolo, Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, and Serralunga d’Alba. Each of these communes is home to a slew of smaller appellations, known locally as ‘crus’.

Grape Variety: Nebbiolo

Terroir: The vineyards of Barolo are mostly planted on steep hillsides, often 50 meters or more above those of Barbaresco. These vineyard locations in southern Piedmont experience a continental climate, which is moderated by the Tanaro River and its tributaries. The Monforte and Langhe Hills both provide steep growing sites for vineyards, which allow fruit to benefit from optimal daytime sunlight and cooling evening temperatures, which preserves natural acidity within the fruit. The two major soil types of Barolo are sandstone and calcareous marl, though a handful of clay deposits are scattered throughout the region.

Appellation regulations: The appellation rules for Barolo state that the wines must be crafted from 100 per cent Nebbiolo, aged for at least 36 months prior to release (24 of which must be done in oak). Wines with five or more years of aging on them can be labeled ‘Riserva.’

Tasting notes: Wines from Barolo are often noted for having aromas and flavours of roses, sour cherry, and tar. As the wines age, their color begins to fade from pale red to a rusty orange hue and fruit flavours morph into those of truffle, leather, and tar. Wines from Barolo are known for their prominent mouth-drying tannins, which can at times, take over a decade to soften.

Top producers: Bartolo Mascarello, Burlotto, G. Rinaldi, Giacomo Conterno, Vietti


italian wines

Image: Peliserro Barbaresco Nubiola 2011 /

Location: Barbaresco, like Barolo, is also located in Piedmont, just east of Alba. The region is broken down into three major communes: Barbaresco, Treiso, and Neive.

Grape variety: Nebbiolo

Terroir: Barbaresco also experiences a contintental climate. Soils across all three communes are calcareous marl, making wines from all over Barbaresco much more similar than the site-specific bottlings found in Barolo.

Appellation regulations: Barbaresco wines must be made from 100% Nebbiolo, aged for at least two years prior to release (9 months of which must bein oak.) Four years of aging qualifies these wines to be designated ‘Riserva.’

Tasting notes: Similar to Barolo, wines from Barbaresco are known for their floral driven palates, particularly noted with flavours of roses, violets, cherries, and licorice. Barbarescos tend to be very tannic in their youth, though soften over time and develop tertiary leather-driven notes.

Top producers: Colombera & Garella, Gaja, Roagna, GD Vajra

Brunello di Montalcino

italian wines

Image: Rosso di Montalcino D.O.C. /

Location: Montalcino is located in the province of Siena, in the heart of Italy’s Tuscany region. Montalcino is broken down into eight smaller subzones: Montalcino North, Montalcino South, Castelnuovo dell’Abate, Camigliano, Tavernelle, Bosco, Torrenieri, and Sant’Angelo.

Grape variety: Sangiovese

Terroir: Montalcino experiences a much warmer and drier climate than that of Piedmont. A more maritime climate dominates Tuscany’s vineyards, meaning that summers are warmer and winters are milder than those up north. Soils across Montalcino are quite varied, ranging from limestone, schist, to crumbly marl (known as galestro, in the local dialect.)

Appellation regulations: Appellation rules state that Brunello di Montalcino wines must be crafted from 100% Sangiovese and aged for three years in botti (large Slavonian oak casks.) Wines designated ‘Riserva’ must age an additional year.

Tasting notes: Brunello di Montalcino bottlings are known for their ripe, fruit-forward character. Generally, flavours of black cherry, ripe raspberries, leather, and red flowers dominate the palate. As the wines age, tannins begin to soften and more tomato-driven flavours tend to take over the palate.

Top producers: Col d’Orcia, Pian dell’Orino, Salicutti

(Lead image: Louis Hansel & ANDI WHISKEY)

Published 20 September, 2019