Labels are baffling barriers to being comfortable with Old World wines.
Take three of Italy’s killer reds, quaffs that should be on every wine drinker’s bucket list: Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello.
You are excused if you don’t know what grapes are used to make these wines, where they come from, or why they carry “Whoa Nelly” price tags. Here’s the picture from 30,000 feet:
• Barolo and Barbaresco are made in Piedmont (“foot of the hills”) region in northwest Italy. Barolo comes from Barolo village, Barbaresco from Barbaresco village; both villages are southwest of city of Asti.
• Barolo and Barbaresco are made from nebbiolo, Italy’s powerhouse red and thus have big aromatics, tons of tannin, significant balancing acidity.
• Barolo and Barbaresco are massive reds, Barolo in particular, with prices to match. They can age for decades. They play in same league as high-end Napa cabs and big bucks Bordeauxs and Burgundys. Barolo is royalty, Barbaresco takes less time to make and costs somewhat less, but neither remotely flirts with value pricing.
• Brunello is Tuscan wine from the Brunello di Montalcino region south of Florence, and is made with a specific clone of sangiovese, core grape of Chianti and the only grape in Brunello. It is lighter and less serious than Barolo-Barbaresco. Brunello is made to drink somewhat younger—although all three wines require mandated years in barrel according to Italian laws. Brunello sometimes can be relatively less expensive.
Pecking order in terms of seriousness of wine, required years of aging, boldness, and price is Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello. That said, all three are “you are drinking in the big leagues now, grasshopper” wines with prices to match.
Emboldened with such superficial knowledge, suck up your courage, pull out your credit card, and check off a La Dolce Vita experience on your wine bucket list.
• Vallebelbo Cesare Pavese Barbaresco 2009: Silky, harmonious, great pairing with marbled steak. $27
• Gianni Gagliardo Barolo 2008: Elegant, excellent, approachable, affordable Barolo. $54
• Martoccia di Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino 2008: Delicious, seductive, light, refined. $73
• Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2011: Ripe, meaty, balanced, long finish. $80
Last round: The more wine I drink, the better I get at pronouncing names of the wine I am drinking.
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