The Underrated Italian Varietal, Barbera
Barbera is Italy’s third most planted red wine grape after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Also known as Barbera Nera, this grape shines for its quality and elegance. Barbera is immensely popular in Piedmont and is the source of specular wine. Despite its widespread global distribution, Barbera is mainly grown in Piedmont and parts of neighboring Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna.
Barbera produces acidic, medium-bodied wine with a typical fruit-forward and floral bouquet that both enthusiasts and connoisseurs easily enjoy. One would think that Nebbiolo is the most planted red grape in Piedmont, since it produces the most structured and age-worthy wines. Still, Nebbiolo only grows where the conditions are perfect; everywhere else grape growers plant Barbera and, to a lesser extent, Dolcetto.
Barbera is a high-yielding grapevine, often used to produce low-cost, mass-produced wines. Still, with the proper pruning techniques, the vine can produce concentrated grapes suitable for fine wine production. The most popular Barbera DOCs include Barbera d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba, and Barbera del Monferrato.
Barbera’s Flavor Profile
Barbera produces ruby-red wines with purple hues. The wine displays black fruit aromas, often followed by floral scents and undergrowth. The wine has impressive acid levels and medium to low tannins. Cherries, plums and hints of violet are common descriptors of Barbera, sometimes with whiffs of vanilla from new oak barrels. That said, Barbera is rarely aged in new oak barrels, at least not in Italy, except for modernist winemakers experimenting with new oak.
Intense Fruity Pleasure
The fruity taste of Barbera can be quickly recognized when it is poured into a glass. It is observed that fully mature Barbera wines evoke associations with sweet cherries—the well-known Piedmont cherries—paired with a dash of moist earth aromas.
Barbera and Food Pairings
Barbera’s medium-body, medium tannins and elevated acidity, makes it an ideal for pairing with lean red meat, white meat, and tomato-based sauces. Pasta is the typical pairing for Barbera since the wine’s acidity tames the tomato’s tanginess while balancing its sweetness. Since Barbara is almost always very well priced, it makes for a fantastic everyday wine best paired with comfort food, from casseroles to meat stews.
Fun Facts about Barbera
- Barbera is medium-bodied and refreshing due to its mouth-watering acidity. While some believe that Barbera is meant to be consumed young, many quality Barbera wines have the potential for long aging.
- DNA testing indicates that Barbera is related to Mourvèdre, a typical grape variety in France and Spain.
- Barbera is thought to have originated in Monferrato, a small northern Italian town in Piedmont.
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Key Dates in Barbera’s History
1200: Barbera is believed to be first discovered in the 1200s.
1800s: Barbera was brought to the Americas by Italian immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries, where it took root in California and Argentina, among other places.
1986: During Italy’s wine scandal, which lasted from 1985 to 1986, the Barbera grape variety fell into disrepute, as many wines produced from it were tainted by the methanol scandal and could no longer be sold.
A Date for the Diary
Annual Barbera Day is on December 4th!
Want to read more about Italian wine? Try reading these books!
- Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012
- Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010
- The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019