Want to explore all about Barbera wine and the best bottles to add to your wine collection?
Barbera is one of the oldest grape varieties in Italy with origins that date back over 700 years. The red wine made from this hardy grape is juicy, light-bodied, and easy to drink.
Barbera has never had the fame or complexity of the more celebrated Nebbiolo and Dolcetto wines from the same region. However, winemakers today focus on bringing out the fruity richness and terroir-driven expressions of the grape.
How is Barbera winemaking being transformed today? Which are the best Barbera wine bottles you should buy?
This article will walk you through all you need to know about Barbera wine and the grape varietal - its history, flavor profile, winemaking techniques, the best Barbera wines to buy, and the easiest way to buy them in 2020.
This Article Contains
- The Barbera Grape Variety
- A Brief History of Barbera Wine
- Barbera Wine Regions
- The Taste of Barbera
- Food Pairing with Barbera Wine
- The Best Barbera Wines in 2020
- Roberto Voerzio Riserva Pozzo dell'Annunziata Barbera d'Alba
- Coppo Riserva della Famiglia, Barbera d'Asti Superiore Nizza DOCG
- Bella Grace Vineyards Barbera
- Giacomo Bologna Braida Ai Suma, Barbera d'Asti
- Charles Smith CasaSmith Cervo Barbera
- Bodega Herrero Cerezo Altos de San Isidro Reserva Barbera
- Giacomo Conterno Vigna Francia Barbera d'Alba
- The Drift Farm 'Gift Horse' Barbera
- Giacomo Conterno Cerretta Barbera d'Alba
The Barbera Grape and Wine
Barbera is a luscious red wine that is predominantly produced in Piedmont, Italy.
The Barbera red grape gives a deep violet, almost black hue to the wine.
It is used predominantly to create varietal red wines. This Italian grape is occasionally used for blended wines too.
In the past years, Barbera grape variety has traveled all over the world and has made other countries it’s home as well. Besides Piedmont, Barbera grapes are now grown in Italy, Argentina, the USA, and even South Africa.
Let’s dive into its fascinating journey!
Want to discover other famous Piemontese wines like the sparkling Asti Spumante? Or check out this incredible line-up of delicious Italian Red Wines!
A Brief History of Barbera Wine
It all started in the rolling hills of Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy. The 1246 Cathedral records of the beautiful Italian town show that vineyards were leased to grow the Barbera grape variety.
Barbera is a hardy grape that can hold its own even in less-than-ideal conditions.
In the 1800s and 1900s, many Italian winemakers moved to the United States, taking the Barbera grape variety with them. Barbera was planted in California until prohibition hit, and sadly many of these historical vineyards were destroyed.
In 1986, Barbera wine experienced quite a scandal in its native Piedmont. On finding their wine to be too thin, Giovanni and Daniele Ciravegna (Italian wine producers) illegally added methanol to it. This ended up killing over 30 people and blinding others.
After this accident, the Italian government tightened up restrictions and regulations that governed winemaking in the region.
Today, thankfully Barbera red grapes are carefully cultivated and the wine is produced using safe, modern techniques that are continuously being improved upon
Barbera Wine Viticulture and Winemaking
The Barbera grape produces high yields even when the conditions aren’t perfect.
But, if the vine isn’t pruned often enough and is left to its own devices, it will become out-of-control. This affects the quality of the grape.
Though it can thrive in almost any kind of vineyard soils, the Barbera grape prefers calcareous soils that contain calcium carbonate or a mixture of soil and clay, called clay loam.
As Barbera is a high acidity wine, winemakers use a couple of techniques to soften its taste and create a more balanced Barbera wine.
- The vine is harvested in autumn, between late September and early October when the grapes are riper. Riper grapes are sweeter with lower acid levels.
- It is sometimes blended with a low acidity grape variety.
- Another method used to soften the wine is fermenting it in oak barrels. Fermenting the Barbera wine in oak barrels gives it an oaky flavor with a hint of spice.
Barbera Wine Regions
Barbera wine regions are spread across the old world and the new world wine regions.
Now, terms like “old world” and “new world” can be confusing.
New World Barbera vs. Old World Barbera - What’s the Difference?
Simply put, “old world” refers to wine made in Europe, and “new world” refers to wine made anywhere else!
Old World Barbera is a traditional Italian wine that's highly acidic and quite tart.
New World Barbera wine, particularly in California and South Africa, tends to be full-bodied and tastes more fruity than the Old World Barbera.
Let’s take a look at the different wine regions where Barbera wine is made today.
Piedmont is the birthplace of the Barbera grape. And, most of the best wines come from the Barbera producers in the Piedmont region.
Piedmont is the home of the Nebbiolo or Barolo grape and the famous Barbaresco wine!
The most famous DOC and DOCG appellations in the Piedmont region are d’Asti Barbera DOCG, Nizza Barbera DOCG, and Barbera d’Alba DOC.
- Barbera d’Asti DOCG is the historical center of Barbera wine and produces a full-bodied varietal that is over 90% Barbera grapes. The remaining 10% is made from Dolcetto, Freisa, or Grignolino grapes.
- The Nizza DOCG is a subzone of d’Asti but was given its own DOCG status in 2014. Unlike d’Asti, the Nizza varietal is made of 100% Barbera grapes and has a long aging period inside the oak barrels - to soften the acidity of the Barbera grapes.
(Also, Nizza Monferrato is a town famous for its Italian wine - a place that every wine enthusiast should visit!)
- Barbera d’Alba DOC does not produce as much wine as the other vineyards in the region. Nevertheless, Barbera d’Alba wines are high-quality with an intense fruit flavor and dark coloring.
Lombardy in Northern Italy is also known for its Barbera vine cultivation.
One of the most delicious Lombardy Barbera wines comes from the Oltrepò Pavese DOC. The specialty is that some of these wines are made in the frizzante (semi-sparkling) style.
The wine has a beautiful deep purple hue and tastes like rich berry and currants. Some Barbera grapes grown in Lombardy are also used as part of table wine blends.
Barbera is produced in small quantities in Emilia-Romagna, a neighbor to the Piedmont region, though it is not the main wine of the region.
The Colli Piacentini Barbera DOC is a great example of a good Barbera wine from this region. It is made from 100% Barbera grapes, which gives the wine a bright ruby color and, like the Lombardy Barbera, it tastes of berry.
D. Sardinia and Sicily
Three areas in Sardinia grow Barbera grapes - Cagliari, Oristano, and Sassari.
In Cagliari, the grape variety is known as Barbera Sarda and is mostly used as an added grape to increase the acidity of other blends.
In the island of Sicily, Barbera grapes are usually used in the Perricone blend.
2. South Africa
A. Cape Town
The Barbera grape was first imported to South Africa from Italy in the early 20th century and planted in Durbanville Wine Valley at Altydgedacht Wine Farm.
Barbera grapes are still grown there today, and Altydgedacht produces a 100% Barbera varietal. The red wine is matured for over a year in an oak barrel.
Overberg in Western Cape Province is where the majority of South African wines are produced.
The Barbera varietal is grown in a small vineyard - The Drift Wine Estate - and is only used to make a 100% Barbera wine when the harvest is perfect.
3. United States
Barbera was brought to the United States in the 19th century by the Italian immigrants.
California is one of the main regions that grow this Italian grape, and it produces a Barbera that's a little sweeter than its Italian counterparts. And, most of the Barbera grape variety in California is planted in the Sierra Foothills.
You’ll also find an annual Barbera Festival in Amador County (a region within the Sierra Foothills) where people come from all over the State to taste the Barbera wine from Amador.
Napa, Sonoma, and the Central Valley also produce varietal Barbera wines. Throughout California, the grape has been used as a blend component in jug wines.
The Barbera grape reached Argentina the same way it did in North America - along with the Italian immigrants.
Even though Mendoza winemakers focus on the light, pink-skinned grapes, they also grow grapes from the Barbera family and use them primarily for blended wines.
B. San Juan
The San Juan wine region in the shadow of the Andes mountains is known for its Malbec. But in recent years, Barbera has also been planted here.
Wondering how a glass of red Barbera tastes?
The Taste of Barbera Wine
The Barbera grape variety produces a high acidity, low tannin wine that is usually medium to full-bodied with a light berry taste.
You’ll enjoy flavors of strawberries and raspberries in a mature Barbera. When young you can take in intense aromas of blackberries as well.
The taste of Barbera can differ, depending on how long the wine is aged for and whether it has been fermented inside oak barrels or not.
The younger Barbera wines have an aroma of fresh berries and tend to be softer with a bright red color.
The older Barbera wines that have been matured inside oak barrels are dense and plummy and have a strong tannic structure. Barbera is a bone-dry wine and fluctuates between 13% - 15% ABV.
Food Pairing with Barbera Wine
Barbera wine goes best with rich and hearty food. Serve the wine with Truffles - the star of Piedmont dishes. Gamey meat, risotto, and fondue cheeses are also part of the rich and indulgent Piedmont’s cuisine.
The acidity in Barbera works well with almost any rich food, so most meats, mushrooms, or cheese sauces would be delicious - with some braised greens on the side!
Match the wine’s natural acidic fruit flavor with a cherry pie or a raspberry dessert!
Now, for the most important question: Which Barbera wines should you buy?
The Best Barbera Wines in 2020 (Including Prices, Tasting Notes)
Barbera is best to drink young. While Barbera is not an ideal long-term investment just yet, it could become one in the future, due to its increasing popularity!
Here are some great Barbera wines that you should add to your wine collection.
1. Roberto Voerzio Riserva Pozzo dell'Annunziata Barbera d'Alba, Piedmont, Italy
It is a smooth, dry wine that has high acidity levels. This bold wine has notes of black cherry, blueberry, and other dark fruit notes, as well as an oaky vanilla taste when it matures.
Pair this Barbera with game meat, as well as veal or lamb.
Average price of Roberto Voerzio Riserva Pozzo dell'Annunziata Barbera d'Alba 2001: $151
2. Coppo Riserva della Famiglia, Barbera d'Asti Superiore Nizza DOCG, Piedmont, Italy
This is a medium tannin wine. It is also quite soft and has a plum and jam taste to it.
This is a rare wine and can be difficult to find. So if you get your hands on a bottle, pair it with duck or other game birds to really make the most of it!
Average price of Coppo Riserva della Famiglia, Barbera d'Asti Superiore Nizza DOCG 2009: $122
3. Bella Grace Vineyards Barbera, Amador County, USA
This New World Barbera is made in the rolling hills of Amador. It is rich and smooth, with a lovely tart bite at the end. This wine gives you flavorful notes of raspberry, sour cherry, and strawberry, coupled with delicious undertones of vanilla and coffee.
Pair this Barbera with a slow-cooked roast lamb.
Average price of Bella Grace Vineyards Barbera 2016: $24
4. Giacomo Bologna Braida Ai Suma, Barbera d'Asti DOCG, Italy
This dry Barbera has high acidity and low tannin levels.
You can really taste that this wine has been aged inside oak barrels, and it goes down a treat. The wine is a lovely deep violet hue.
Pair it with good tajarin pasta or something gamey with a side of braised greens.
Average price of Giacomo Bologna Braida Ai Suma, Barbera d'Asti DOCG 2017: $70
5. Charles Smith CasaSmith Cervo Barbera, Wahluke Slope, USA
Another New World wine, this one is slightly sweet, unusual for a Barbera. It has great structure and aromas of red cherry and redcurrant, combined with a rich earthiness.
Pair this wine with a beef dish.
Average price of Charles Smith CasaSmith Cervo Barbera, Wahluke Slope 2014: $24
6. Bodega Herrero Cerezo Altos de San Isidro Reserva Barbera, Cafayate, Argentina
This is a rich and intense dry wine from the beautiful Cafayate Valley in northwest Argentina. The wine is smooth with an aroma of blackberry and plum and an earthy fruit flavor.
Pair this wine with a meaty venison stew.
Average price of Bodega Herrero Cerezo Altos de San Isidro Reserva Barbera, Cafayate 2010: $25
7. Giacomo Conterno Vigna Francia Barbera d'Alba, Piedmont, Italy
Another classic Barbera from d’Alba DOC, this wine is highly acidic and bold with a rich bouquet of leather and oak aromas.
This wine also has a fruitiness to it, with tangs of blackberry and blueberry.
Pair this Barbera with Anatra Farcita Alla Novarese, a traditional baked duck dish from Piedmont!
Average price of Giacomo Conterno Vigna Francia Barbera d'Alba, Piedmont 1993: $107
8. The Drift Farm 'Gift Horse' Barbera, Overberg, South Africa
A Barbera wine all the way from Africa - you couldn’t get further away from the grape’s native Italy, but the taste is worth it!
Drinking this Barbera is an intense experience, as the grapes are cold-soaked before fermenting and matured in French oak barrels. It is a wine that ages well and has a jammy, earthy taste.
Pair this wine with a rich and hearty meat dish.
Average price of The Drift Farm 'Gift Horse' Barbera, Overberg, 2015: $68
9. Giacomo Conterno Cerretta Barbera d'Alba, Piedmont, Italy
A classic and savory wine, this Barbera d’Alba is smooth and dry. With a deep violet color that tastes like plum, blueberry, and cherry, this red wine has an aroma of leather and smoke.
Pair this with some tajarin pasta or a pork dish with braised greens.
Average price of Giacomo Conterno Cerretta Barbera d'Alba, Piedmont, 2017: $74
As for buying these wines, you may come across a Barbera del Monferrato or a Barbera d'Asti Superiore in your local wine shop. If you live in Piedmont you might as well drop into one of the wineries and pick up a bottle or two.
But, what if you want to buy some of the more hard-to-find, investment wines for the long haul?
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