Affordable Riva Leone Barbaresco Meets Bolognese #ItalianFWT

Riva Leone Barbaresco

Two of the most well known wines in Italy are made from the Nebbiolo grape, Barolo and Barbaresco. While rarely grown in the US, we recently tasted two from California’s Lago Lomita vineyard made by Soquel Vineyards, and one from Madrona which we will be publishing soon and will be part of the Slow Wine Guide. Last spring we wrote about Nebbiolo from Humboldt and Santa Barbara. Not much of a migrating grape, Nebbiolo has stayed where it was born for many centuries with no other genetic relationship varieties in other areas in Italy or other countries. Fortunately Nebbiolo was brought to California by Italian immigrants in the 19th century. But really, Nebbiolo is famous from Italy, and specifically from the Piedmont region in the northwest. While Nebbiolo was first mentioned by name in 1266, it’s not grown widely in Italy. In a March webinar about Nebbiolo, I learned that its parentage is quite obscure, and in fact that those vines are extinct.

This month we have a Nebbiolo from Barbaresco’s Riva Leone paired with bolognese, followed later in the month by two from California, and then in December, we bring you Nebbiolo from Barolo. We’re hoping for samples of Aldo Clerico’s organic wines; the last time we wrote about Barolo we were fortunate to have samples from Case Corini, made by Lorenzo Corino who recently passed away. Read my interview with sustainability pioneer Lorenzo Corino here.


Nebbiolo wines are lightly colored, turning brick as they age, and famously tannic, especially when young. Nebbiolo wines can require years of aging to balance the tannins with other characteristics.

While the wines of Barbaresco and Barolo grow about 10 miles away from each other, they are different due to soils, styles, and climate: Barbaresco has a slight maritime influence allowing the Nebbiolo to ripen earlier and to get to fermentation earlier with a shorter maceration. With less intense tannins, DOCG Barbaresco can age for a year less than Barolo, and the tannins of Barbaresco soften more quickly so they are more approachable sooner.

Never heard of Barbaresco before? Not surprising as there’s less annual production of Barbaresco, about 35% less than Barolo, so it’s not as available. Also, until 1894, with the founding of Cantina Sociale di Barbaresco, Nebbiolo grapes from the Barbaresco area were mostly sold to Barolo producers. 

Five Secrets to Bolognese 

Fortunately, a Barbaresco from Riva Leone is available from Mack & Schuehle for $25, which we paired with a homemade Bolognese sauce that Sue simmered for a few hours. The ground meat from Main Street Meats we used was a blend of brisket, top sirloin, and tritip which we frequently purchase for the ultimate burger. It made the ultimate Bolognese also! The third secret to Bolognese which differentiates it from a simple spaghetti with meat sauce? It has cream in it! And the fourth secret, use a wide flat fresh noodle, and mix it all up, don’t just ladle it on top — although that does make for a prettier picture, we did it the other way with the leftovers. And secret five: make enough for leftovers since it just gets better and better! 

Read on for all the details about this wine and pairing, plus links to articles from my fellow Italian Food Wine Travel writers. 

Barbaresco from Riva Leone

2017 Riva Leone Barbaresco DOCG
ABV 14%
SRP $24
Grapes: 100% Nebbiolo 
sample for my review 

A man known for his unique character and personality, Riva Leone  served as an ambassador for the wines of the Langhe in the early 20th Century: “His legacy lives on in our wines which uphold the winemaking traditions of Piedmont for a new generation of wine lovers across the world,” says importer and distributor Mack & Schuehle. 

Grown on calcareous marl in a continental climate, the grapes were 100% crushed and destemmed, macerated for 6 to 8 days with daily pump-overs, with 100% of the wine is aged in American and French oak for 12 months. DOCG regulations say Barbaresco wines must be aged for a minimum of two years with at least nine months in oak before release. Generally, Barbaresco wines are expected to be cellared for five or more years before opening, and they can age for significantly longer.

Barbaresco can be quite expensive, so we weren’t sure what to expect from this wine at this price, but we were very impressed– it definitely delivers! For the price, this is a very nice wine, and it shouldn’t be that hard to find.

Color: Very translucent, light, rhubarb with a very pale garnet rim, almost pale corral. 

Aroma: Raspberry, mint, baking spices, gardenia, waxy white flower, potpourri, clove, clove and apples. First whiff is of baking spices, which recede and then return as the wine opens up more. Give this wine some air! 

Palate: Dry, fruit forward, very light, spiced cherry tart, gardenia, waxy white flower and spice, dryness from the tannins. Lots of spice on the palate as the wine opens up.

Pairing: This bright light wine loves the richness of the Bolognese, cutting through the dense dish, while harmonizing with the acidic tomato sauce. The earthy spice in the wine shines through with this rich meaty dish. The wine appreciates and enhances the textural qualities of this rustic pasta dish and the fruit in the wine is nicely elevated as the wine is quite dry. I love the baked spice notes, and how they can take on a dish like this. Suggested pairings include pasta with a mushroom sauce.

Riva Leone Barbaresco with Bolognese

For more Barbaresco from members of the Italian Food Wine Travel Writers, these posts will be going live sometime between now and 8am Saturday Nov. 6: 

For more Barbaresco, check out our 8am twitter chat by searching for the hashtag #ItalianFWT.

And for more Nebbiolo, later this month we have two from California, and next month we do Barolo! (Any suggestions? What are your favorite pairings with Barolo?)

Where we’ve been– Italian Food Wine Travel themes for 2021:

Posts are published by 8am on the first Saturday of the month before our monthly 8am #ItalianFWT twitter chat. Join us!

8 thoughts on “Affordable Riva Leone Barbaresco Meets Bolognese #ItalianFWT

  1. I like that you thought outside the box with the bolognese. It’s typically Emilia-Romagna fare and paired with Lambrusco salomino or grasparossa. I’ve also never tried this producer before either, and it looks like it was a win all around!

    Liked by 1 person

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