Small is beautiful

When doing the research for my thesis on the Barbaresco wine making area and it´s development, I had the pleasure to meet the journalist and former mayor of Barbaresco, Giancarlo Montaldo, for an interview.  Giancarlo is like a living encyclopaedia when it comes to Barbaresco´s history and evolution, and amongst all the other interesting topics that we discussed, we touched the subject of the reasons for Barbaresco having been less famous historically,  and still being so to a high degree, than Barolo, especially outside of Italy. Among the many factors which have contributed to the different development of these two neighbouring areas making high quality Nebbiolo wines, which I will discuss further in my thesis, a very practical fact is one of them: the size. Barbaresco area is about a third of the size of Barolo and represents around of a third of their production. Historically, for logistical and practical reasons, many changes that occurred in Barolo also occurred in Barbaresco but at a slower speed and on a smaller scale. It was harder for producers to form a group and to market their wine, especially after the hard years of two world wars when Piedmont was a poor and troubled area. Giancarlo Montaldo says: “It is true that small is beautiful, but small is not always able to assert itself on the market”.

We are now talking about the late 19th century and early 20th century, and the world today is of course radically different from what it was in those days. Piedmont has experienced an enormous increase in tourism in only a few decades, and the fame of Barolo and Barbaresco wines is not unfamiliar to any wine lover worldwide. Today most wine lovers also know that the idea of Barbaresco as a “smaller brother” of Barolo is  completely unjustified in terms of quality. The two wines, both complex and structured, are two expressions of the same grape. Barolo is sometimes called the “king” and Barbaresco the “queen” of wines – not defining any hierarchical order but describing the different characters of the two top wines: Barolo often being more muscular and tannic and Barbaresco more elegant and feminine. The increasing interest for Barbaresco wines today can partially be explained by changing consumer habits, today people prefer lighter and more ready-to-drink wines. But in addition to this, on a highly competitive wine market, uniqueness and character is becoming more important. Not only the established guides and scores count anymore, exclusiveness is now a driving force for wine consumer’s curiosity, and small scale producers are gaining more and more interest. In a world with a tendency of flavour globalization and homogenization, people wish for diversity.  Perhaps what used to be one of the reasons for the slower development and minor fame of Barbaresco: the limited size and the higher amount of small scale producers – can prove to be its future strength in a world where people crave exclusiveness and originality. Today, more than ever, small is beautiful.

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