Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Barbera is an ancient variety with historical roots in Italy. Today it remains the second most widely planted red variety, after Sangiovese. This vigorous, hearty, late ripener excels in Piedmont, where gentle fogs and undulating hills provide the ideal microclimate. This is a very dark-skinned, high acid grape, similar on paper to Nebbiolo.  However, at its height Barbera is still a grapey refreshing table wine, whereas nebbiolo-based Barolos or Barbarescos are ethereal, intellectual wines. Nebbiolo is much more problematic in the vineyard, while Barbera is a breeze to grow. Barbera is one of those rare Italian grapes that is, conveniently, also the name of the wine.

In Piedmont, Barbera accounts for half the total grape production in a typical year. Styles range from light and tart to opulent, fruit forward, and oaky. The traditional style has soft tannins, plummy, dark berry, and violet notes, a spicy, grapey palate, and the kind of tartness so refreshing in lemonade. While the wine cognescenti ooh and ah over Barolo, everyone else, including the Barolo producers, drinks barbera. The wine is incredibly refreshing, a simple pleasure rather than intellectual experience, and pairs beautifully with a wide range of food. Better examples come from the sub-zones of Asti, Alba and Monferrato. To avoid the super-extracted, heavily oaked trendy style stay in the $15 price range.

Barbera is grown in Oltrepo Pavese, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, and Sardinia for simple, every day wine. In San Juan, Argentina, it is the most cultivated red variety, and is heavily planted in nearby Mendoza as well. Much of this grapey, perfumed, tart wine is consumed locally. Barbera is grown, following on the success of Italian varietals sangiovese and pinot grigio, in almost every region in the state of California. From Mendocino in the north to Santa Barbara in the south, and all through the central valley and up into the Sierra Foothills, barbera, for the most part, mimics the traditional Italian style, though with riper fruit, fuller body, and the occasional splash of vanilla from toasted oak barrels.

Agostino Pavia Barbera d'Asti Bricco Blina (Piedmont, Italy)
Giacomo Conterno, Barbera d'Alba (Piedmont, Italy)
Oberto Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont (Italy)                                                      
Giuseppe Rinaldi Barbera d'Alba (Piedmont, Italy)
Vietti, Barbera d'Alba Scarrone Vigna Vecchia (Piedmont, Italy)
Palmina, Bien Nacido Vineyards, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara, California (USA)    
Thomas Fogarty Barbera Fiddletown, Amador, California (USA)
Eberle Winery Barbera Sauret/Steinbeck Vineyard Paso Robles, California (USA)
Peirano Estate Barbera Lodi Heritage Collection Lodi, Central Valley, California (USA)

Best Value
Preston Barbera Dry Creek Valley, California (USA)
St. Amant Barbera Lodi, Central Valley, California (USA)
Valentin Bianchi Los Primos Barbera 2000 San Rafael, Mendoza (Argentina)

© Copyright 2014 Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis, Planet Grape LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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