Not to be confused with Barbaresco, which shares a similar name but is actually a different type of wine, Barbera is the third of the major B wines to come from the Piedmont region. Though it does not share the same level of popularity and understanding as its two more famous cousins, it is an absolutely stellar wine in its own right and one that we think is deserving of a little more attention than it gets outside of Italy.
Of course, you need to know what you’re letting yourself in for with Barbera wine, just as you do with any other kind of wine. That’s why we are not going to take a look at the wine in a little more detail so you can understand where it comes from and why you should consider buying it the next time you go shopping for wine.
Though Barbera comes from the same region as Barolo and Barbaresco, it doesn’t share the same grape. While the King of Wines and its slightly less illustrious cousin both share the Nebbiolo grape in their production, Barbera uses the grape that gives the wine its name.
You will see Barbera grapes grown all over Piedmont, should you choose the visit the region. What you will notice is that it is grown a little less than Nebbiolo. This is likely a symptom of the elater grape being used for two types of wine. Also, it shows that Barbera does not share the same popularity as Piedmont’s more famous varieties, at least outside of Italy.
That situation is changing. The advent of the internet has helped more people than ever before learn more about Italian wines outside of the most famous varieties. This has led to a slow increase in popularity for Barbera wine, particularly in North America where the wine is slowly getting introduced to any even wider audience. Over time, we imagine this will lead to even more of the hills of Piedmont getting covered in Barbera grapes.
So, what can you expect to actually taste when you drink a glass of Barbera wine? The first thing you’ll likely notice is the notes of dark fruits. Most Barberas have strong notes of plum, blackberry, and dark cherries. Many offset this a little with a slight hint of dried strawberry, which serves to take the edge off what is otherwise a rather complex menagerie of flavours. That leads to a rather unique taste that masterfully combines complexity with lightness. This makes the wine a great choice if you want to introduce a wine novice to Italian red wines.
Beyond that, you’ll notice a few lighter notes if you really explore the bouquet. Many Barbera wines have notes of lavender and violet, with many also bringing vanilla, nutmeg and dried leaves into the mix. It’s a beautiful mix of notes and flavours that makes the wine an absolute joy to drink.
Though low in tannins, the wine is rather high in acidity. You should keep this in mind when creating food pairings. Note that the wine has an almost juicy texture, which may affect your enjoyment if you prefer wines on the drier side of things.
Most recommend that you age the wine for at least two years before drinking, with the period between the two and four-year marks generally being considered the sweet spot if you want to get the most out of a bottle of Barbera.
A Few Other Things To Know
We’ve established that Barbera perhaps doesn’t carry the same level of popularity as some of its region mates, but that doesn’t mean that the wine lacks pedigree. In fact, it is believed that the grape itself has been around since at least the seventh century. That makes it over a thousand years older than Cabernet Sauvignon, which is currently one of the most popular red wine varieties. There has to be a reason why the grape has endured so long and it all comes down to the quality of the wines that it produces.
Barbera is also a very potent vine that can grow a remarkable number of grapes. That isn’t always the best thing. In fact, many of the world’s top Barbera producers aim to generate as small a yield as possible on their vines. This extra level of care and detail really shows itself in the wines that such producers create. Naturally, larger yields mean much more maintenance work during the growing season, which can have an effect on the quality of the wine.
One of the more interesting things about Barbera is that there are actually some sparkling varieties of the wine. Despite the increasing international popularity of Barbera, few know that you can get it in this form. In fact, sparkling Barbera is rarely heard of outside of Italy, meaning anybody who really wants to explore the wine will have to expand their search a little to find out everything that it has to offer. For the record, sparkling Barbera wines tend to have a similar freshness and feel to a good Lambrusco.
Now you know a little bit more about the wine it will probably help to learn which foods go well with a nice Barbera. After all, if you’ve decided to buy a bottle because of this article you will want to make the most out of it.
The wine goes very well with high tannin foods due to its own comparative lack of tannins. Combine it with any dark and rich meats to achieve a great combination. It also works well alongside many types of mushrooms, greens, herbs, and root vegetables. These foods also draw the best out of the wine’s high acidity levels.
For a more regional pairing, try Carne all’Albese. This is a beautiful dish native to the Piedmont region. It’s essentially a steak that is served alongside parmesan, rocket salad and a dash of olive oil. You’ll get the true regional experience and find out why so many people in Piedmont enjoy Barbera despite having two wines as important as Barolo and Barbaresco in their cellars.