Italian wine regulations require that Barbaresco wines must be aged for a minimum of two years (at least one year in oak) prior to release and aged for at least four years to be considered a riserva. The wine must have a minimum 12.5% alcohol level, though most wines are closer to 13.5%. As Barbaresco wines are extremely tannic and tight in their youth, they are expected to age at least 5-10 years after vintage before they are consumed, and some continue to drink well even after 20 years.
The typical style of a Barbaresco has bouquets of roses or violets with flavor notes of cherry, truffles, fennel and licorice. As the wine ages, it can develop smoky notes and more earthy and animal flavors like leather and tar.
Despite being made from the same grape and produced in neighboring areas less than 10 miles from one another, the wines of Barbaresco and Barolo do have some distinct differences. The Barbaresco zone, located south of the river Tanaro, receives a slight maritime influence which allows Nebbiolo to ripen here a little earlier than it does in the Barolo zone and allows the grape to get to fermentation earlier with a shorter maceration time. The early tannins in a young Barbaresco are not quite as harsh as those of Barolo and, under Italian law, it is allowed to age for a year less than Barolo. The most pronounced difference between the two wines is that the tannins of Barbaresco tend to soften more quickly, which can make the wines more approachable to drink at an earlier age but won't allow it to age for as long as the traditionally-made Barolo could age.
Since Barbaresco is a powerful red wine, it pairs best with dishes that have strong flavors. In Piemonte, Barbarescos are often paired with meat dishes, heavy pastas and rich risottos with porcini mushrooms. Other dishes would include lamb, veal, rabbit, wild boar and venison; pastas with heavy tomato or truffle sauce; and such poultry as pheasant, duck breast and foie gras. Barbarescos do not pair well with light or mild meals, seafood, most chicken and pork dishes.
Cheeses that go well with Barolo include old strong (crumble) cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Vecchio; old Goudas and Cheddars; blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola and Danish Blue; and cheeses with rich flavors like Fontina Val d'Aosta and Taleggio.