What’s the difference between Barbera, Barolo, Brunello and Barbaresco?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What’s the difference between Barbera, Barolo, Brunello and Barbaresco?

—Jim, Los Altos, Calif.

Dear Jim,

So many great wines, so many similar names! It certainly can be confusing. Let’s start with what they have in common: These are all red wines from Italy.

Three of them—Barbaresco, Barbera and Barolo—hail from Italy’s Piedmont region. (For more on Piedmont and its grapes and wines, check out Wine Spectator senior editor Bruce Sanderson's "ABCs of Piedmont," in the April 30, 2014, issue.) Barbarescos and Barolos are both made from the Nebbiolo grape, and named for the regions where the grapes are grown. Broadly speaking, Barolos are more dense and tannic versions of Nebbiolo, while Barbarescos are more approachable and graceful. Both have reputations for long aging potential. Barbera is a red grape, and you'll frequently see the wines labeled with a denomination that features both the name of the grape and the region in which it was grown, such as Barbera d'Asti or Barbera d'Alba. Barberas are typically bright, light- to medium-bodied reds that drink well young, and are much less tannic than their Piedmont counterparts.

That leaves Brunello, which comes from Tuscany. Brunellos are made from 100 percent Sangiovese, another of Italy's many native grape varieties (it's also the grape used to make Chianti). Brunellos stand out for their perfumed aromas, and can have notes of licorice, mineral and leather in addition to bold, rich black fruit flavors. They are also a good candidate for the cellar.

—Dr. Vinny

Italy Barolo Brunello di Montalcino Piedmont Tuscany Red Wines Nebbiolo Sangiovese Ask Dr. Vinny

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