Better Know a Varietal – Barbera

Barbera is a red wine grape from Italy. It used to be the most widely planted grape in Italy but has been supplanted by Sangiovese and recently Montepulciano. In most of Italy it is blended into wines that are not very interesting. In the northwestern Italian province of Piedmont it is sometimes treated with the respect it deserves, particularly in the regions around the cities of Asti and Alba as well as the Monferrato Hills. Recently some California wine makers have been experimenting with it too.

Barbera is a fairly acidic variety with flavors of cherry, raspberry and blackberry. In the better examples, earthy notes such as cedar can be tasted. What makes Barbara unique is that for a red wine grape it has very little tannin. Some producers view this as a flaw and add tannins by aging their Barbera in oak barriques (see for a discussion of oak aging). While this can yield very nice wines, all too often it turns them into rather generic tasting reds. 

Far from viewing the lack of tannins as a flaw, I see it as an asset. As a result of its acidity and lack of tannins, a well made Barbera is probably the most versatile and food friendly wine there is. Looking for a red wine to have with fish? Try a Barbera. Having a group of friends over that includes vegetarians and carnivores? Give them a Barbera. Having something in a cream sauce and want to have a red wine with it. Barbera is the wine for you. Oh, and there may be no better wine to have with pizza. 

Some Barbera’s are too acidic to make pleasant sipping wines but even there, for me, their versatility with food more than makes up for that. Enjoy.

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