Please note:

deliveries are currently suspended. More Information.

No longer the lesser of the two 'bs'

Head of copy Paul Trelford finally understands the allure of Barbaresco

The view from Produttori del Barbaresco's tasting room

‘Name me two wines from Piedmont?’ I would ask wine-loving friends and colleagues.

To which everyone answered Barolo, and 90% said Barbaresco (the balance was Gavi and a smattering of Barbera d’Asti).

Have you ever tried a Barolo? I would counter.

‘Have you ever tried Barbaresco?’
‘No,’ said the majority. ‘It’s a kind of poor man’s Barolo, is it not?’ being the common refrain.

A lesser Barolo probably described my impression too, before I was lucky enough to visit Piedmont last winter with our Italian wine buyer Sebastian Payne MW and fine wine editor Janet Wynne Evans. I say winter, but you wouldn't have known it as we bustled around this fabulous region in short sleeves basking in the glorious November sunshine.

I was asking Sebastian about this disparity between the number of people who had heard of Barbaresco as opposed to the number of people who drank it as we drove to the eponymous town, and he admitted that he'd struggled to find Barbarescos worth the price.

While good Barolo can be some of the finest wines in the world and a great buy at almost any price, most Barbaresco tended to be thinner and just not significantly cheap enough in comparison to its neighbour. And a steady demand for Barbaresco in the USA had maintained and even inflated prices.

We were en route to visit the headquarters of Produttori Del Barbaresco.

"There were numerous unforgettable tastings and visits during our trip, but none more impressive nor memorable for me."

Paul Trelford

Autumn Colours in Northern Italy

Barbaresco's Greatest Asset

Established in the 1950s, Produttori is a co-operative of some 50 members accounting for 100 hectares of vines (all devoted to the nebbiolo grape) across nine different Barbaresco crus.

But possibly its greatest asset is managing/technical director Aldo Vacca, formerly right-hand-man of local icon Angelo Gaja. I could have sat for hours listening to him.

For Aldo, it's climate change that has really allowed Barbaresco to blossom and emerge from the shadow of its larger neighbour, Barolo.

"20 years ago, Barbaresco was much leaner than it is today"

Aldo Vacca, Managing/technical director

This century, a few extra degrees of heat have changed the wines making them much more approachable and tangibly lower in green tannins. This made them instantly more appealing, especially in the United States which accounts for 30% of the co-op's market. Aldo said that they'd never felt the need to 'Parkerise' their wines to curry favour – global warming had done it for them!

The co-operative makes 11 wines: a Nebbiolo Langhe, nine Barbaresco Riserva 'cru' wines and, the wine that has made the Produttori's name, is not a cru bottling but Barbaresco pure and simple. This last wine accounts for at least 50% of production at any time, and when needed, the cru fruit goes into it to maintain standards and keep the faith. It's only when nature is bountiful that the crus are bottled under their own name, as 'riserva'.

A spare, businesslike and energetic 50-something, Aldo patently has no time for small talk – his welcome speech, such as it was, was that he had very little wine to sell – but plenty of passion to impart and share.

A Veritable Golden Age For Barbaresco

His mini-lecture on the region and the DOC was masterly, underlining the differences in vintage conditions between Barolo and Barbaresco, where weather systems can vary and picking is earlier.

A case in point was 2014, reckoned to be rather testing in Barolo, was ‘exciting’ here. Though some rain during flowering reduced the crop, and July was pretty wet but August was dry and there were no problems with hail either.

In 2010, though, earlier picking worked against Barbaresco, when just three day-long downpours in September, one a week, were enough to waterlog the grapes. The later harvest in Barolo saw the benefits of two wonderful sunny weeks at the end of the month and a ‘classic’ vintage emerged. Moreover, according to Aldo, 2009 and 2011 are better vintages in Barbaresco, which is generally favoured by warm years.

As for 2015, whisper it not, this is going to be a great Italian vintage, from Alto-Adige to Pantelleria.

Since the millennium, climate change has effectively brought harvesting forward from October to September. 2007, which started on 15th September was the earliest on record. Spring was two weeks early, followed by a warm summer and a 'beautiful Fall' creating a perfect season and seamless wines. Sadly there were none to try!

Autumn Colours in Northern Italy

However, it doesn't always work that way. The latest harvest on record was 2013 which, after a very cool summer, got going on 10th October.

More valuable intelligence on past vintages, which tell a tale of their own:

  • 1988, 1989 and 1990 were nothing short of a ‘glorious’ Holy Trinity, as they were in the Rhône, Bordeaux, Burgundy etc
  • 1991 was good but had an impossibly hard act to follow. Overlooked, it ended up being sold off in bulk. Some buyers must have had a bargain and a half.
  • 1992, 1993 and 1994 were poor vintages that were sold in bulk, and the blenders and bottlers made all the profits, presumably because they are more cynical and more easily satisfied than the co-op!
  • 1994 was the last to use chaptalisation
  • 2005 (which we were privileged to taste, below) was a cool summer but a balanced vintage that ended up under the radar, between 2004, 2006 and 2007

Another raiser of the bar in Barbaresco has been clonal selection, building on pioneering research by the university of Turin that has delivered a quantum improvement in quality with lower yields and better colour. These über-vines became available for planting in the 1990s and are now coming of age. Meanwhile, the existing workhorse vines have become older, naturally lower-yielding and better so this is a veritable golden age for Barbaresco.

A good Barbaresco, says Aldo, has a life of 20 years max, and an optimum drink window of 8–12 years. They are matured for two years in botti and a year in bottle, Riservas for an extra year in botti, a mix of 50-hectolitre and 500-h/ltr capacities. The first six months are passed in inox or cement. Bottling takes place in April/May, so the 2011 Riservas will be released next year. This usually happens early (January/February) in time for Vinitaly in April.

The Tasting

Langhe Nebbiolo (13.5%) is made in the same way as Barbaresco but from younger vines (less than 15 years old) and aged for a shorter time (bottled after six months in oak as opposed to 18). So, a piccolo Barbaresco, lightish, strawberry-infused and delicious.

Barbaresco 2012
This was a vintage where all the single vineyards went into the pot rather than into individual bottlings. Normally this rather more than basic brew accounts for some 50% of production in any given year and is reckoned to be one of the stars of the region. Aged for two years in botti and a year in bottle. Very clean, good fruit, upfront and nicely lingering on the palate. A light vintage, but elegant and refined.

Barbaresco 2011 by contrast showed the hallmarks of a properly hot September - much more stuffing here, younger-tasting and chunkier. A very warm summer, says Aldo, that was too much for some Barolo but which here provided that all-important contrast between hot days and cool nights, and, combined with the earlier picking factor, delivers precision aromatics.

Barbareseco Pajè Riserva 2011
Pajé (pronouned Pah-YAY) is a cool site to the south of the DOC, though not as far south as Rabaja, close to the river Tanaro and not too high up. It’s a cru marked by finesse, concentration and suppleness and it didn’t disappoint. Fresh, firm, brightly perfumed and delicious.

Barbaresco Riserva Rabajà 2012
One of the pre-eminent crus of Barbaresco, Rabaja (Rab-eye-YAH), is a warmer site to the south-east, relatively high on the slope on very compact soils. It’s considered a five-star cru, along with Montefico to the north and neighbouring Martinenga. Very sexy, curvier and chunkier than Pajé with more complexity.

Barbaresco Riserva Vigneti in Montefico 2005
Described by Aldo as the austere one, this small, southerly-exposed cru in the north of the DOC sits on more mineral, calcium-rich soil. This had wonderful perfume and a rich, seductive balance of chew, smack and purr if we could be so technical. None available, sadly.

Barbaresco 2005
‘Proper job’ I noted. The tout-court bottling was no less completely delicious with bags of damson fruit and real character. If you have some in your cellar then I’m very jealous!

Where to go next?

Silvano Bolmida >

Return to Trip Overview >

More from this trip

Trip homepage >

Other recent buyer trips


France 2015

South by South-West

Marcel Orford-Williams embarks on a whistle-stop tour starting in Saumur, on to the South West, the Languedoc then hopping over to Corsica.

View full trip

Austria 2016

Discovering Austria

The Society’s digital copywriter Martin Brown joins buyer Sarah Knowles MW on a tour of Austria, where they enjoy the fruits of the excellent 2015 vintage and blend a new Society wine.

View full trip
Autumn in the heel of Italy

Southern Italy 2016

Autumn in the heel of Italy

Tim Sykes accompanies Italian buyer Sebastian Payne MW on a whistle-stop tour of Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria, visiting existing suppliers and prospecting for new ones. Surprising highlights include sadly neglected Calabria and singing nuns!

View full trip
Argentina: the present and the future


Argentina: the present and the future

Argentina's malbecs, with their softly alluring, fruit-forward charm, are deservedly in vogue. I've been buying South American wine for over two decades and have been excited to see the increasing variety and nuance.

View full trip
Browse all >

Members' Comments (0)

There are no comments for this article.

Want more inspiration?

Sign up for a carefully-curated selection of recipes, guides, in-depth expertise and much more.

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.


4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies: Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.