Famous for their reputations as great-tasting reds and for the histories behind their evolution, top Italian wines Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino are sometimes confused. It’s easy to see how these well-known Italian wines with similar-sounding names could be mistaken for one another–that is, until you understand what makes each of these wines distinct.
In fact, comparing Barolo vs. Brunello di Montalcino shows that they have many significant differences. To start with, these wines differ in flavor profile, acidity, and tannin levels–those divergences will influence which wine you choose to add to your collection, as well as which ones you open for a special occasion. To help you make an informed decision, here’s how these wines compare.
Distinguished Traits These Italian Reds Share
As different from one another as Barolo and Brunello ultimately are, these distinguished Italian reds do share a handful of traits. For years, Barolo was known as the “King of Wines,” and it wasn’t long before Brunello had the same nickname. Each of these wines is made in one of the top Italian wine-producing regions. They were two of the first wines granted Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status in 1980 as well, when the designation was first established. And, of course, Barolo and Brunello wines are both medium-to-full bodied, high in tannins, pair well with rich foods, and have an ABV of at least 13 percent.
The differences between Barolo and Brunello can help you decide which style of wine to invest in.
Status and reputation, in addition to taste, have helped both of these wines become highly sought-after, and their popularity with critics and collectors is well-deserved. However, the differences between Barolo and Brunello are important and can help you decide which style of wine to invest in should you want to add a high-quality traditional Italian red wine to your portfolio.
The Differences Between Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino
The biggest difference between these Italian reds begins with the grapes used to create each wine. Barolo is produced solely from the Nebbiolo grape, whereas Brunello is made from 100-percent Sangiovese. The Nebbiolo grapes that go into Barolo produce a lighter-looking wine which is nevertheless full-bodied and high in both tannin and acidity. Brunello also has high acidity, but contains lower levels of tannin. Of course, the intensity of the tannins in each of these wines softens over time and a minimum of ten years of cellaring is recommended for both Barolo and Brunello. If you’re specifically looking for wine to age, however, you can hold either of them to sell or drink for up to 25 years, depending on the vintage and producer, though Barolo is generally longer-lived thanks to its prominent tannin.
There are some flavors common to both Brunello and Barolo, such as dried herbs, pepper, cherry, leather, and earth.
Barolo and Brunello are produced in different regions, where unique terroir and climate conditions affect the characteristics of the grapes. Barolo is produced in the Barolo DOCG in Piedmont, which serves as an ideal environment for growing Nebbiolo grapes. Though this northern region is the coldest in Italy and receives a lot of rainfall each year, it’s also temperate (due to the influence of the Mediterranean Sea) and sunny—especially in the hills where grapes for some of the best Barolo vintages are grown.
Brunello is made in the central region of Tuscany. This area can also be cool and experience heavy rain, but the Sangiovese grapes planted near the town of Montalcino benefit from a location that is typically warm and dry. The unique climate allows plenty of time for the grapes to ripen, and is why many of the best Italian wine producers grow Sangiovese in this region.
While there are some flavors common to both Brunello and Barolo, such as dried herbs, pepper, cherry, leather, and earth, the difference in grape variety and location means these two wines have very different common tasting notes:
- Barolo: Lively and succulent with a deep, yet delicate floral taste, the notes you’ll find in a Barolo include raspberry, licorice, rose petal, and spices such as cinnamon and cumin.
- Brunello: Rich and opulent with Burgundian fruit-forward flavor, the prominent notes in a Brunello are often strawberry, fig, aged balsamic, and espresso.
Your taste and structure preferences will make good initial guiding factors when deciding which king of Italian wine is for you. But, when—and even whether—you want to enjoy a glass of one of these wines can also influence which one you choose. Though both wines should be aged a minimum of ten years, Barolo wines tend to keep improving the longer they’re cellared; the wine’s very high tannin simply needs more time to soften. A Brunello can be enjoyed sooner, and your initial investment may be slightly lower with Brunello than with a Barolo of the same vintage.
The Best Vintages to Buy When Choosing Between Kings
Listed below are some of the best recent Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino vintages. Each wine has been awarded 96 points or more by Wine Advocate and both lists are in order by vintage.
Top-rated Barolo wines include:
- 2015 Ceretto Barolo Brunate
- 2013 G.B. Burlotto Barolo Monvigliero
- 2013 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne
- 2012 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate
- 2010 Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche
- 2010 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Speciale Monfortino
- 2010 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne
- 2010 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate
- 2010 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Rocche dell’ Annunziata Riserva
- 2009 Brezza Barolo Bricco Sarmassa
- 2009 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis
- 2007 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo
- 2007 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Brunate
- 2006 Vietti Barolo Lazzarito
- 2005 Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra
- 2004 Domenico Clerico Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra
- 2004 Luigi Pira Barolo Vigna Rionda
- 2001 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne
- 2000 Paolo Scavino Barolo Bric del Fiasc
The following are top vintages by excellent producers of Brunello di Montalcino:
- 2013 Livio Sassetti Brunello di Montalcino
- 2012 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto
- 2010 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli
- 2010 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino
- 2010 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto
- 2010 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova
- 2010 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Brunello di Montalcino Vigna di Pianrosso
- 2010 Giulio Salvioni Brunello di Montalcino
- 2010 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Vigna Paganelli
- 2010 Livio Sassetti Brunello di Montalcino
- 2010 Renieri Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
- 2010 San Filippo Brunello di Montalcino Le Lucere
- 2010 Uccelliera Brunello di Montalcino
- 2007 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino
- 2007 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Madonna del Piano Riserva
- 2006 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino
- 2004 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Cerretalto
- 2001 Soldera (Case Basse) Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
- 2001 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino Madonna del Piano Riserva
Investing in Barolo Vs. Brunello di Montalcino
If you’re concerned about resale value, you may be comparing Barolo vs. Brunello di Montalcino to determine which wine makes a better investment. The truth is, either of these Italian reds holds potential for turning a future profit. To ensure diversification in your portfolio, however, it’s not a bad idea to invest in both. And if you’re looking to drink these wines, it’s a great idea to purchase more than one bottle of the same vintage. This gives you the freedom to taste the same vintage as it ages over time, as well as at its peak. Ideally, you’ll also set aside a few bottles of top-quality Barolo or Brunello to give as a gift, open for a special occasion, or sell on the secondary market.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.