On April 27th, after my study group tasted two white wines (an Arneis and a Gavi di Gavi) a Dolcetto d’Alba and two samples of Barbera d’Alba we then tasted a Barbaresco. Of all the wines we had tasted thus far, this Nebbiolo was the first “grid wine” of the day in preparation for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced exam.
I have provided a profile of the Nebbiolo grape in other posts, such as when I reviewed the 2005 Cascina Val del Prete Nebbiolo d’Alba, so I won’t go into great detail here.
It produces clear light colored red wines that tend to be ruby at the core with typical garnet and burnt orange colors at the rim. Visually such colors can be an indication of an older red wine (such as an aged Bordeaux) but this is indicative of a Nebbiolo even in its youth. These colors are also similar to that of a Pinot Noir but on the palate it is far too tannic to be mistaken for a Burgundy. So the other two wines it may be mistaken for is a Sangiovese from Tuscany or an older Aglianico from Campania, which isn’t a “grid wine” for the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Advanced exam.
If you are blind tasting a Barbaresco and you have accurately described the visual, aromatic and structural components of the wine your closest lateral alternatives are a Barolo (also made from Nebbiolo) and a Sangiovese from Tuscany.
Barbaresco is produced in the Piedmont region in an area of the Langhe to the northeast and east of the city of Alba and in the communes of Barbaresco, Treiso (formerly part of Barbaresco) and Neive plus that area of the frazione San Rocco Senodelvio which was once part of the commune of Barbaresco and now belongs to the commune of Alba. In 1966 it was granted Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) status and in 1980 it was granted Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status. Barbaresco is considerably smaller than Barolo (only 1,680 acres) so it only around 35% the production of Barolo. Consequently the wines are not as widely available on the market.
Although Barolo and Barbaresco are both made from the Nebbiolo grape and are produced in areas less than 10 miles from each other there are some differences due to difference in the soils and a slight difference in the climate. The soil in Barbaresco is richer in nutrients and is fundamentally a calcareous marl. In addition, the Barbaresco zone is located south of the river Tanaro so it receives some maritime influence which allows Nebbiolo to ripen a little earlier than it does in the Barolo zone. Because of this, the vines don’t produce as much tannin and they are harvested and fermented earlier with a shorter maceration time. So, while Barbaresco has similar aroma and flavor profiles to Barolo the tannins are not as aggressive and under DOCG rules it is allowed to age for a year less than Barolo.
However, this does not mean that Barolo and Barbaresco are easily distinguishable when tasted blind. There are some Barolo wines that tend to be similar in body, fruitiness, and perfume to Barbaresco wines particularly those produced near the villages of La Morra and Barolo.
The 2007 Vietti Barbaresco is a clear, light ruby red at the core to garnet at the rim, with just a hint of burnt orange around the edge with medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with subtle aromas macerated black cherries, ripe strawberries, roots, herbs, anise, spice, minute notes of tar and smoke with fresh roses. It is dry with well refined and well integrated medium+ to high tannins, medium+ acidity, medium+ alcohol, and a medium+ length finish. It is well balanced with exceptional complexity.
 Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford University Press; 3rd edition, 2006), 62.
 Ibid, 62.