Let’s be frank- Italian wine is as complex as it is enchanting. The castle-topped rolling hills of Italy are home to approximately 350 official grape varietals, 20 different wine regions, and an exceptionally intricate wine labeling system. With such a brilliant and diverse wine production system, there is no doubt that Italy deserves all of the praise it receives. Read more to get the Italian wine 101.
When approaching a country that is as vast and diverse as Italy, where exactly does one even start? Often, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello are the Italian staples of most collectors cellars. With legacies, this impressive, the three B’s of Italy are certainly the best place to begin your Italian wine voyage.
While each is highly recognized for its superior quality, many vital differences make each one unique. We’ve curated a breakdown of all the things you need to know about these Italian wine superstars!
Eleven subregions comprise the entire wine-producing region of Barolo. The most recognizable being Barolo, La Morra, Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba, and Monforte d’Alba. Many of the vineyards sit upon steep hillsides, occupying land over 50 meters higher than it’s neighboring Barbaresco vines to the North. The vines on these hillsides are showered in a generous amount of daytime sunlight. Moderate temperatures, cool evenings, and soils of calcareous marl and sandstone help to ensure that the natural acidity remains within the fruit.
Appellation Regulations: Wines from the Barolo DOCG must be made with 100% Nebbiolo grapes, which are aged a minimum of 38 months. Of the over three required years, 18 of these months must be in wood barrels. When coming across a bottle deemed ‘Riserva,’ note that these wines have been cellared for an additional five years.
On The Palate: Barolo wines are best when enjoyed after a good ten years of aging. Tasting notes feature flavors of rose petal, cherry, raspberry, baking spices, and white pepper. When aged, tastes evolve to feature heartier notes of licorice, leather, and rich chocolate.
Region: Barbaresco, Piedmont
Much like Barolo, the weather of Barbaresco is relatively dry, featuring hot summers and exceptionally cold winters. The calcareous marl rich soils of Barbaresco remain consistent throughout its subregions. The Nebbiolo grapes reach maturity much quicker than Barolo due to its close proximity to the Tanaro River.
Appellation Regulations: The subregions of Barbaresco, Treiso, and Neive make up the regulated region that produces Barbaresco. Before releasing, these wines must be made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes, spend nine months in oak barrels, and age for a total of two years. Barbaresco ‘Riserva’ bottles must be aged an additional two years.
On The Palate: Barbaresco wines are particularly floral, often expressing notes of roses, violets, cherries, and licorice. Expect a younger bottle of Barbaresco to be very tannic. As the bottle ages, it should soften, developing deep notes of leather. Barbaresco is a much more approachable alternative to Barolo as it is much less tannic and ready to drink at an earlier age.
Region: Montalcino, Tuscany
This picturesque region sits on a hilltop just 50km south of Siena. The 4,000 hectares of vines are located within the breathtaking scenery and medieval architecture of the total 24,000 hectares within the territory. While the specific characteristics of the terroir vary from vineyard to vineyard, the lower areas feature deep layers of quaternary fragments. On the contrary, the higher elevations have been formed by the decomposition of alberese, limestone, and highly concentrated calcium carbonate. The overall weather in this area is much warmer than the others, with warmer summers and winter months that are much milder.
Appellation Regulations: Brunello di Montalcino must be made with 100% Sangiovese grapes and have a minimum ABV of 12.5%, with no exceptions. A Brunello wine must age for five years total, two of which must be in oak, and a minimum of four months in bottle before releasing it to the market. Wines considered ‘Riserva’ must spend six years aging, two of which the wine must remain in oak, finishing with six months in bottle.
On The Palate: For the most pleasurable wine drinking experience, it is best to age these wines. Some are even best when aged up to 20 years. When ready to drink, expect a wine with bold flavors of wood, chocolate, candied cherry, leather, hints of vanilla, and even dried rose. Brunello wines are full-bodied, highly tannic, and exceptionally acidic.
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