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

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

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

More In Dr. Vinny

What's the difference between premier and grand cru Burgundy?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the centuries-old classification systems of …

Dec 9, 2019

Is it true that great vintages for Bordeaux reds are not so good for the whites, and vice-versa? If so, why?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains white and red grapes ripen at different times, …

Dec 6, 2019

I see reviews for highly scored wines that are not ready to drink. How can a wine that's not ready score so highly?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the philosophy behind our drinking window …

Dec 4, 2019

I have a hard time describing the types of wines I enjoy. Any tips?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny offers strategies for communicating what types of wines …

Dec 2, 2019

Is low-sulfite, minimal-intervention winemaking the future of wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny talks about why sulfites are important to winemaking.

Nov 29, 2019

What does it mean when a wine is described as “rustic”?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how tannins can range from rustic to elegant.

Nov 27, 2019
WineRatings+

WineRatings+

Xvalues

Xvalues

Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search