Platinum Pairings A-Z: Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello…


When I first learned about the yummy Italian wines starting with the letter B, I was hooked. Of course I love a smooth Chianti from Tuscany (stay tuned for a blog post just on Chianti and the Super Tuscans), but those B wines… they really make me happy.

The Barbera grape is known for bright flavors of blackberry or cherry, with a silky finish. Produced mainly to the north in Piedmont, where the days are cooler and the growing season is a little longer, I would call this the simplest of the “B’s”; try it with a rustic pizza or a simple bowl of pasta. Barbera usually has a lower price point, making it affordable to try, and often found as a table wine (Vino da Tavola). Or if you see Barbera di Asti, order it. California winemakers have started to use Barbera in their blends, but I suggest you stick with the Italian versions for now to get to know its flavors.

Moving to a Barolo we step up the game. Barolo is bolder, bigger, fuller-bodied, and goes well with all those marvelous northern Italian bolognese meat dishes or maybe a lasagna. Made from the Nebbiolo grape, also from Piedmont’s cooler, higher elevation, wines are rich in tannin and may take 6-10 years to be ready for consumption. But watch out, because these full bodied garnet or ruby colored wines are beautiful when they are ready to be opened!

Lovely Barbarescos are also made from Nebbiolo, and are lighter, less masculine, and not aged quite as long as it’s cousin Barolo. You could pair either wine with my favorite pasta dish, pappardelle with wild boar (Ragu Di Cinghiale). For a great recipe to try at home, check out this great blog:

For me, it’s the Brunello di Montalcino that’s the best “B” of all. Made from 100% Sangiovese grapes that grow basking in the dry, sunny slopes of Southern Tuscany, these hearty grapes provide the body, color and tannins that pair a Brunello well with food. Because Brunello di Montalcino is aged a little longer than other wines, often seraltesino brunelloved at 8-10 years, it has developed a character that goes well with a big fat steak. My first pairing memory of this grape was a Brunello served with a veal chop at Macello Restaurant in Chicago – delicious! After that experience, I was fortunate to pick up some bottles of Brunello at Altesino, a gorgeous winery high on the hills overlooking the Tuscan countryside. I opened my 2005 Altesino and served it with steaks cooked on the grill last New Year’s Eve. Yes, Brunello di Montalcino is indeed for special occasions!

So if starts with a “B” and the next time you are in the mood for Italian food, try one of these wines. I promise you will fall head over heels for some lovely Italian gems.