Two Italian red wines, Nebbiolo and Barbera, grow in the same region of Northwestern Italy, but just how are they different?
Barbera is a red Italian wine with a lighter body, medium tannins, higher acid, deep color, and intense cherry and blackberries. Nebbiolo, a paler Italian red, has high acid, rasping tannins with rose and tar aromas. Nebbiolo tends to make more premium styles. Both are excellent food wines.
Here’s what you need to know about the distinctions between Nebbiolo and Barbera.
Barbera Basics: The Friendly Companion
Believed to be from Lombardy, Italy, just west of Piedmont, Barbera presents itself as Nebbiolo’s more approachable and affable companion. With a lighter to medium body and a refreshing level of acidity, Barbera has bright red fruit flavors, predominantly cherry and blackberry, sometimes accompanied by gentle spice notes. The wine’s friendly nature makes it an excellent choice for a wide range of occasions.
Fun Wine Fact: Barbera is often referred to as the “wine of the people” due to it’s approachable nature and the fact that it doesn’t take years to mature in the cellar before it’s ready to drink. Here’s what you need to know about Barbera wines.
Nebbiolo Basics: Italy’s King of Wines
Hailing from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, Nebbiolo isn’t a wine for the faint of heart. Expect your Nebbiolo to have a medium plus to full body and medium plus to high tannins. You’ll likely detect red berry aromas, floral rose notes, and even some earthy tar notes.
Here’s a full post on what you need to know about Nebbiolo wines.
Fun Wine Fact: Nebbiolo is the grape variety used in the production of Barolo and Barbaresco, two prestigious wines from the Piedmont region of Italy.
Wine Comparison: Nebbiolo vs. Barbera
Let’s dive into a side-by-side comparison of Barbera and Nebbiolo.
Barbera Wine Profile:
- Sweetness: Typically produced in a dry style, Barbera wines have minimal residual sugar.
- Alcohol: Barbera wines generally have a moderate alcohol content, ranging from around 13% to 14.5% ABV. As with all wines, this can vary depending on the winemaking style, the region where the grapes are grown, and the specific vintage.
- Body: Barbera will have a light to medium body, depending on the the vintage and winemaking sytle.
- Acid: Barbera has medium plus to high acid, but will generally be lower in acid compared to Nebbiolo.
- Tannin: Expect your Barbera wine to have medium tannins that are approachable and perfect for pairing with foods.
- Flavor and Aroma Intensity: Barbera has bright red and black fruit aromas that are medium plus to pronounced.
- Flavors: Expect strawberry, cherry, blackberry, licorice, and subtle spice notes.
Nebbiolo Wine Profile:
- Sweetness: Nebbiolo is always bone dry.
- Alcohol: Nebbiolo wines typically have a moderate alcohol content, similar to Barbera, ranging from around 12.5% to 14% ABV.
- Body: Known for its medium plus to full body, Nebbiolo is a big, structured wine in your glass.
- Acid: Nebbiolo shines with perky acidity, contributing to its refreshing character.
- Tannin: Nebbiolo has noticeably high tannins, higher than Barbera, which sets it apart among red wines. Nebbiolo wines often go through extended aging before release to help soften them up and make them more drinkable.
- Flavor and Aroma Intensity: Nebbiolo wines will be pronounced and exhibit red fruit, rose notes, and a tar, earthy, clay profile.
- Flavors: The flavor profile often includes red fruit notes, such as cherry and raspberry, earth, clay, rose, and tar.
Are Barbera and Nebbiolo Similar?
Barbera and Nebbiolo share vibrant acidity and red fruit notes, making both wines versatile and well-suited as meal wines.
What Is the Difference Between Nebbiolo and Barbera?
Nebbiolo will be more structured, with more pronounced tannins and higher acid than Barbera. Nebbiolo will also be paler in color and have more floral and earthy notes. Expect your Barbera to be fruit-forward.
Barbera vs. Nebbiolo Winemaking
Winemakers employ different techniques when crafting Barbera and Nebbiolo wines. These techniques may involve using neutral vessels like stainless steel or barrels for fermentation and/or aging. The price point of each wine will dictate how the winemaker shapes the final product. Less expensive Barbera wines tend to be fruit-forward with little or no oak influence. Both wines undergo traditional red winemaking.
Moreso than Barbera, Nebbiolo wines are often aged for longer periods in the winery to help soften their high acid and tannin levels and integrate their flavors.
Barbera vs Nebbiolo: Food Pairings and Serving Temperature
- Barbera’s fruit-forward style and higher acid will pair well with classic Margherita pizza, grilled sausages with peppers and onions, and mushroom risotto.
- Nebbiolo’s robust tannins and acid make it a food wine that begs for fat. Think roasted vegetables, rich roasts, and truffle dishes.
Serving Nebbiolo and Barbera Comparison
|Decanting Recommendations||Not necessary, but improves with aeration||30 minutes to 1 hour to enhance flavors|
|Glass Shape||Bordeaux Glass||Burgundy Glass|
Both Barbera and Nebbiolo are best served slightly chilled. Place them in the refrigerator for approximately 15-20 minutes before serving to reach the ideal temperature. Most Barbera wines can be enjoyed immediately after opening (decant fuller styles and aged bottles). Nebbiolo benefits from some aeration before tasting.
- Helpful Wine Drinking Tip: Inexpensive, entry-level wines rarely benefit from decanting. Give them a good swirl in your glass to open them up, and then savor every sip!
Which Is More Expensive, Barbera vs. Nebbiolo?
The price of a wine bottle depends on various factors. In general, Nebbiolo is more expensive than Barbera. Nebbiolo needs longer maturation in the winery, meaning it costs more to produce.
Barbera Wine Price
- Entry-level Barbera: Under $10 USD
- Premium Barbera: $15-$20 USD
- Super-Premium Barbera: $30-$50 USD
Nebbiolo Wine Price
- Everyday Nebbiolo: $10-15 USD
- Premium Nebbiolo: $25-$45 USD
- Super-Premium Nebbiolo: $50 – $90+ USD
Nebbiolo wines from renowned Piedmontese vineyards can also be expensive, with prices often exceeding $300 USD. Here’s a full breakdown of Nebbiolo wine price.
Helpful Tip: If you’re curious about the pricing of wine bottles, here’s a full breakdown of how wine gets priced.
Which Is Better, Barbera or Nebbiolo?
If you love easy-drinking red wines with bright red fruit, then Barbera is your match. If you want a complicated, layered red wine that will pair with your hearty stews and roasted boar, then Nebbiolo is for you.
- Personal Tip: Nebbiolo is not a red wine for new wine drinkers. This is an adult wine that takes time to warm up to. If you’re new to wine, then start with Barbera, then go slowly with Nebbiolo.
Final Thoughts – Nebbiolo or Barbera?
What I love about Italian wines is that they’re made for food. Both Nebbiolo and Barbera are delicious options for meals.
I recommend arranging a side-by-side tasting of these two wines if you haven’t done so already.
Grab two bottles of similarly priced Barbera and Nebbiolo, and get a few friends together to experiment. Make sure you have some appetizers or finger foods, this is essential for these two wines (here are some finger food recommendations).
Thirsty for More?
If you’re passionate about boosting your wine knowledge, consider hosting your own blind wine tasting for beginners.
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