A few months ago, I wrote an article with my list of the 25 Best Barolo producers. Barolo is far and away the most famous wine of the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, but there is another wine from this region that should be equally celebrated, yet is too often regarded as a lesser wine when compared to Barolo. The wine is Barbaresco, and while this has many similarities with Barolo – both are produced exclusively from the Nebbiolo variety, and both are made in zones near the city of Alba – Barbaresco rarely demands the same prominence given to its more renowned counterpart.
There are several reasons for this – there is only about one-third total production of Barbaresco as compared to Barolo, being one factor – but I believe that Barbaresco should be praised just as much as Barolo. Barolo tends to be more powerful and has a reputation of greater aging potential, but there are many splendid examples of Barbaresco that are just as rich on the palate and age just as long as the finest examples of Barolo.
Given that, here is my tribute to Barbaresco, with a list of the Top 25 producers. I could write a longer list, but I believe that 25 is an appropriate total for this online article. There is no numerical ranking – these are in alphabetical order – except for the top three producers, who are routinely outstanding, and deserve special mention (these top three are also listed in alphabetical order). Forza Italia Barbaresco!
Gaja - It’s safe to say that some wine drinkers may have never heard of Barbaresco if it wasn’t for Angelo Gaja. The grandson of Giovanni Gaja, who established the family winery in the mid-19th century, Gaja was one of the individuals who truly put Barbaresco on the map. He introduced single vineyard bottlings of Barbaresco as early as 1967 with Sorì San Lorenzo, and then with Sorì San Tildìn in 1970 and Costa Russi in 1978. These wines, with their tremendous concentration, received great acclaim from wine media around the world and elevated Gaja to the position of one of the world’s greatest wine producers.
Gaja has not been without controversy along the way. Many opposed his use of barriques for aging his examples of Barbaresco, instead of the traditional grandi botti, and then starting in 1996, he opted to include a small percentage of Barbera in the above mentioned wines, meaning they could not be labeled as Barbaresco; Langhe Nebbiolo DOC was the identifying appellation. A few years ago, Gaja, on advice from his daughters Gaia and Rossana, decided to once again produced these wines as 100% Nebbiolo, meaning they would again be labeled as Barbaresco (this as of the 2013 vintage). Whatever you think of Angelo Gaja, the man, it is clear that his innovative work has brought Barbaresco to the forefront of Italy’s and the world’s greatest wines.
Bruno Giacosa – Bruno Giacosa passed away in January 2018, leaving a legacy of greatness and universal acclaim that few producers ever enjoy. He produced Barbaresco – as well as Barolo – since the 1960s, with much of the fruit purchased from local growers. He started to buy vineyards in the 1980s, and produced some of the most complex, long-lived and ethereal examples of Barbaresco anyone has ever made. What is remarkable about his wines, is that it has almost been impossible to find any negative criticism of his approach, even from modernist critics who often favor a more international style. Giacosa, and his long-time winemaker, Dante Scaglione, were traditionalists, always using large casks for aging their wine, abstaining from barriques.
Today, the best examples of Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco include Rabajá (the 2013 is stunning) and his most famous single vineyard wine, Santo Stefano. There is also a red label riserva Barbaresco from the Asili vineyard, produced in exceptional vintages.
Beyond the exceptional quality of his wines, perhaps the greatest component of Bruno Giacosa’s success was his strong opinion on what his wine should represent. In 2006, a vintage thought to be outstanding in the Langhe, he did not produce Barbaresco or Barolo, as he thought the wines were not up to his standards. He did this again for the 2010 vintage, another great vintage as assessed by most locals. Few vintners would ever think of skipping vintages that others believed to be notable, but this is what made Bruno Giacosa special. We will miss him, but thanks to the passion of his daughter Bruna, his wines today are as memorable as ever.
Produttori del Barbaresco - There are several factors that combine to make the finest producers of Barbaresco (and other iconic reds in Italy and throughout the world) so extraordinary. One of the most important is varietal purity, and along those lines, perhaps no one does this better than the Produttori del Barbaresco. Situated in the heart of the town of Barbaresco, this is one of the greatest cooperative producers in all of Italy. Managed by Aldo Vacca, former assistant to Angelo Gaja, the Produttori sources fruit from growers in the commune of Barbaresco. There is a classic Barbaresco, one that has superb varietal character and is arguably the finest value Barbaresco made today.
If that wine was all that this firm produced, it would be considered an important producer, but it is the collection of nine cru Barbaresco – again all from the Barbaresco commune – that have cemented the legacy of the Produttori. These riserva bottlings are produced only from the finest vintages; recent releases have been from 2013, 2011, 2009, 2008 and 2007 (the wines were not made from the 2010 vintage, as Vacca believed the firm had too many releases of these wines on the market at the same time). Vacca divides the nine cru wines into three groups of three; the most approachable (Pora, Rio Sordo, Asili), middleweight (Ovello, Pajé and Muncagota) and the most full-bodied and ageworthy (Rabajá, Montefico and Montestefano).
All of these wines are brilliantly realized Barbaresco, with rich delicious cherry fruit along with notes of cedar in the aromas (these wines are all aged in grandi botti) and subtle brown spice. These are beautifully harmonious with very good to lively acidity (depending on the vintage) and offer dazzling complexity and of course, superb sense of place; these are wines that express the soul of Barbaresco, what the Piemontese call anima. At minimum, these wines drink well for 10-12 years, with Montefico and Montestefano often showing well some 20-25 years after the vintage. A brilliant producer with wines that are not to be missed.
Here are the rest of the Top 25 Barbaresco producers (again, in alphabetical order):
Orlando Abrigo – There are several Barbaresco made at this Treiso estate including Montersino, Meruzzano and Rongalio, this last wine made from the oldest vines in the Meruzzano vineyard. A sustainable producer, the wines here are aged in large and mid-sized casks, and display rich spicy notes and excellent varietal character.
Marco e Vittorio Adriano - A small estate in San Rocco Seno d’Elvio, on the outskirts of the town of Alba, this is an underrated Barbaresco producer. Barbaresco offerings include Sanadaive and Basarin, this latter from the cru in Neive; the firm also produced a riserva Basarin, which is their most complex and satisfying Barbaresco. These are traditionally-aged Barbarescos and while you wouldn’t rank them among the most powerful, they are among the most satisfying.
Ca’ del Baio – Elegantly styled Barbaresco from the Grasso family in Treiso. There are four different Barbaresco produced here: Autinbej, a blend of different cru, and Pora, Vallegrande and Asili (there is also an Asili Riserva). Winemaking varies, with some wines matured in large casks, with others in barriques, but all of the wines are subdued with lovely harmony; as the fruit, and not wood notes take center stage. Graceful wines from a lovely family!
Cascina delle Rose – At this stellar estate in the Rio Sordo sottozona (subzone) in the commune of Barbaresco, Giovanna Rizzolio, her husband Italo Sobrino and their sons Davide and Riccardo craft some of the very best examples of Barbaresco in the entire production zone. The featured Barbaresco are Rio Sordo and Tre Stelle, the latter from a subsection of Rio Sordo. The aging in botti preserves the varietal purity, and what sensuous wines these are, with their ripe red cherry and orange peel aromas, backed by velvety tannins and excellent acidity. I can’t say enough about the charm and finesse of these wines. A great producer!
Cascina Roccalini – Here is a hidden gem you should know about. It’s the creation of Paulo Veglio, who sold his Nebbiolo grapes to Dante Scaglione at Bruno Giacosa for ten years, and then with the help of Scaglione, decide to produce his own Barbaresco. The winery is named for the sottozona where his vineyards and winery are located. The wine is fermented in cement tanks, which improves its varietal purity, and then matured in grandi botti. This is an exceptional Barbaresco, one that makes no apologies for its intense fruit-dominated character. It’s rich, complex and extremely subdued with its wood notes. I absolutely love this wine, which is admittedly hard to find as so little is produced (less than 1000 cases). But it’s definitely worth the search (from time to time, there is also a riserva Barbaresco produced).
Ceretto – The Ceretto winery is located just outside the town of Alba, and while they may have become more famous for their various Barolo, the releases of their Barbaresco are also noteworthy. The classic Barbaresco is an excellent value, while the cru Bernadot is admirable for its spice and complexity. The signature Barbaresco from this producer is the Asili, a wine with remarkable length as well as finesse. This is generally one of the finest examples of Barbaresco produced each vintage. While older wines of Ceretto were rather modern in their approach, recent vintages have shifted back towards a more traditional approach, thanks to the work of winemaker Alessandro Ceretto.
Pio Cesare – An historic winery in the town of Alba (next to Roman ruins), the winery today is run by the affable Pio Boffa, who has the energy of two or three men! The classic Barbaresco is rich and ripe with firm tannins, while the “Il Bricco” from a single vineyard in Treiso, is a full-bodied, deeply concentrated wine that stands the test of time. While the wood notes in this wine are sometimes a bit strong, this was not a problem with the 2014 offering; this is one of the finest examples of Il Bricco to date; it will offer great pleasure for 15-20 years. This is not just a powerhouse Barbaresco, but one with great structure and floral notes as well.
Poderi Colla – Situated in the small hamlet of San Rocco Seno d’Elvio, this is an historic producer. Today Tino Colla and his children manage the estate; their Roncaglie Barbaresco, first made from the 1994 vintage is a subdued wine, one where power is sacrificed for harmony, while spice and wood notes are nicely integrated. I must also mention the name of Beppe Colla, Tino’s older brother, who is one of the living legends of Langhe wine, a forward thinking person who helped shape the direction of wine in this area for several decades.
Fontanabianca – Established in 1969, this family estate is situated in Neive; today Aldo Pola continues the work of his father Franco. There are three different examples of Barbaresco produced here, and aging is a combination of large and small oak, depending on the wine; the classic Barbaresco is aged in both large and small wood, the Serraboella solely in big barrels, and the best known wine, the Bordini, aged solely in barriques. These are extremely well made wines with excellent depth of fruit and ample spice.
Giacosa Fratelli – A family estate in Neive that dates back more than a century. There are three different Barbaresco produced: a classic offering, one from the Basarin cru in Neive and the Basarin Vigna Gianmaté, from a small vineyard situated at the southwestern reaches of Basarin. The Basarin is aged in botti, while the Vigna Gianmaté is barrique-aged; both wines have abundant spice as well as a delicate mineral character to them. The style here is not flashy and forward, but a more subdued approach.
Luigi Giordano – A tiny estate in Barbaresco, the signature wine here is Montestefano, from one of Barbresco’s most famous cru. Traditionally made, this has classic dried cherry and orange peel aromas, along with notes of cedar and truffle – just heavenly! Deeply concentrated, this wine is all about charm and finesse and can be used as a textbook example of what producers talk about when they refer to the feminine style of Barbaresco. Great aging potential as well – don’t miss!
Marchesi di Grésy – This historic producer is one of the reference points for Barbaresco. Their Martinenga estate is situated just outside the town of Barbaresco; a natural ampitheater, it faces south towards the hills of Barbaresco. Three examples of Barbaresco are produced from this estate; one named Martinenga, and the other two named for sections of the vineyard: Gaiun and Camp Gros. The Martinenga is a medium-weight Barbaresco aged in both large and small oak, while the Gaiun, aged only in barriques, is richer, riper and spicier. Finally the Camp Gros is a riserva, displaying excellent weight on the palate, along with a wide variety of spice and tobacco notes. Each of these wines is capable of lengthy aging, as much as 30 years or more for the Camp Gros. If the quality of the wines doesn’t sway you, then certainly spending some time with proprietor Alberto di Grésy will, as he is one of the most elegant and charming vintners in Piemonte.
Moccagatta – Rich, modern-modern styled Barbarescos from the Minuto family in the Barbaresco commune. Four separate examples of Barbaresco are produced, including a classic offering along with three cru: Basarin, from Neive, and Cole and Bric Balin from Barbaresco. Instantly appealing, with nicely integrated wood notes; yes, the wines are modern, but not international in their approach.
Ada Nada – One of several Nada families in Barbaresco, this is among my very favorite of all the zone’s producers. The Valeirano, matured in barriques, is a rich, fleshy wine, while the Cichin and Elisa, aged in grandi botti, are more subdued and feminine in their approach. Each of the wines are extremely well made and offer subtle spice and tobacco notes.
Fiorenzo Nada – Bruno Nada manages this small estate in Treiso, and produces highly complex Barbaresco. His most famous wine has been the Rombone Barbaresco, from the cru in Treiso. Deeply concentrated (the vines are more than 50 years old) with beautiful ripeness, this is aged in a combination of small and mid-sized oak; great consistency with this wine. As of late, Nada’s other Barbarescos, Montaribaldi and Manzola, have also impressed.
Serafino Rivella – A tiny estate, literally a garage producer at the Montestefano cru in the Barbaresco commune. Traditional to the core, with a long maceration (about 25 days) and aging solely in grandi botti. Superb finesse, complexity and sense of place, this is a great Barbaresco that is unknown to many lovers of Piemonte wines. New technology is always entering the scene, but heritage remains forever, and I am thankful to proprietor/winemaker Teobaldo Rivella for his belief in this winemaking approach.
Rizzi – Graceful, harmonious Barbarescos from Ernesto Dellapiana and his son Enrico, two of the kindest individuals I have met in Piemonte. Their vineyards are beautifully sited in the commune of Treiso; these include cru Rizzi, Nervo and Pajoré; there is also a riserva Barbaresco labeled as Boito, produced from fruit of the Rizzi cru. The wines are all aged in large casks (as big as 50 hectoliters, or 5000 liters) and display beautiful Nebbiolo purity, silky tannins, very good acidity and ideal structure for a decade or more of aging. Yet the wines – especially the Rizzi offering – are so appealing upon release, you may not want to wait!
Roagna – A legendary Barbaresco producer, with several great wines. The family history in Barbaresco dates back to 1929, with their first purchase of a section of the Montefico vineyard, while an important date in modern history can be traced to 1958, when the family produced its initial selection from the Pajé cru; this wine would later be named Crichet Pajé, and become Roagna’s most famous Barbaresco. At least seven different examples of Barbaresco are produced at Roagna, with three of them labeled as vecchie viti (old vines); most of these vines are at least 50 years of age, with some vines in the Pira vineyard dating back to 1937. All of the wines are from estate fruit, and the philosophy here is a strict one, with no herbicides or pesticides used in the vineyards, no fining or filtration, and aging solely in grandi botti. All of the wines are brilliantly realized – Roagna is a must for any true Barbaresco lover!
Albino Rocca – Three Rocca sisters – Daniela, Monica and Paola – are at the forefront here, crafting beautifully complex Barbarescos with great fruit intensity in an elegant style. Each wine represents it source extremely well, from the spicy Montersino to the deeply structured Ronchi (there is also a Ronchi riserva) and the lovely purity of their Angelo Barbaresco, named in tribute to their late father. A new Barbaresco for this firm is from the Cottà cru. The Rocca sisters are so down to earth, warm and genuine – adjectives that well describe their wines.
Bruno Rocca – A very important producer situated at the Rabajà cru in Barbaresco, the wines are produced by Bruno and his children Francesco and Luisa. Make no mistake, these are modern versions of Barbaresco, aged in barrique and they are quite ripe, sometimes flashy in style. Yet the wines offer excellent harmony, complexity and spice. Along with the Rabajà bottling and a riserva also from this cru, there is a classic Barbaresco, as well as are bottlings from the Currà cru (two, including a riserva) and a special offering named Maria Adelaide, a blend of the finest grapes from their vineyards, the wine is a tribute to Bruno’s mother.
Sottimano – About 2000 cases of supple, beautifully expressive Barbaresco are produced at this family estate in Neive, managed by Rino Sottimano and his children Andrea and Elena. While these are modern examples of Barbaresco, only a small percentage of the oak is new, so wood notes are well integrated. Highlights include cru bottlings from Currà, Cottà, Pajorè and Basarin, along with a riserva, a blend of fruit from Cottà and Pajorè from vines ranging from 45 to 75 years of age. Each Barbaresco here is made with great skill, and is very appealing in its youth.
La Spinetta – You may love or hate proprietor Giorgio Rivetti’s use of small oak (much of it new) in his wines, but there is no denying the richness and intensity of his various Barbaresco. There are four Barbarescos, with the most celebrated being Gallina, from a Neive vineyard with 50 plus-year old vines, and Valeirano (Treiso), with vines averaging 50 years of age. Both wines are aged in 100% new small oak for 20-22 months, and are not filtered. The resulting wines are powerful, to say the least, with notable varietal purity and plenty of spice. These wines are a combination of site and the handprint of Rivetti, making them highly distinctive.
Honorable mention - 15 more notable Barbaresco producers
Bel Colle, Bera, Piero Busso, Ca’ Rome, Cantina del Pino
Castello di Neive, Giuseppe Cortese, La Ca’Nova, Pelissero, Pasquale Pelissero
Pertinace, Prunotto, Prinsi, Punset, Rattalino
And finally a tip of the cap to a few Barolo producers who also make a lovely Barbaresco:
Vietti (Barbaresco Masseria)
Poderi Oddero (Barbaresco Gallina)
Michele Chiarlo (Barbaresco Asili, Faset)