The Barbera grape is relatively low in tannin, high in acidity, and likes warm, sunny days with cooler nights. Because it is naturally resistant to pests, disease, and mildew, Barbera is quite reliable in the vineyard and very popular with growers.
Most Barbera is made to be enjoyed young and appreciated for its distinctive cherry flavors and refreshing acidity. Try these wines on warm days with lighter fare. Barbera lacks deep tannin, and with too much age, wines can be prone to oxidation and will develop a brownish hue. This is not to say that wines made from Barbera are overly simple. Rather, they possess an honesty that is a welcome change from the complexity of many other red varietals.
There are examples that will improve over time, but they are pretty rare, and most are from Piedmont. Age-worthy Barbera is given ample barrel treatment which imparts tannin into the wine and rounds out the grape’s naturally tart cherry flavors. The most complex Barberas have a hint of spice accentuating flavors of blackberries and plums.
Italian immigrants planted California’s first Barbera during the 19th century. Before Prohibition, the grape was much more common than it is today, though is seems to be making a bit of a resurgence.
Located in the Sierra Foothills, Montevina Winery makes particularly good Barbera. The region’s intense sunlight and unfertile soils develop lush fruit flavors in the grape. At the same time, cool, overnight temperatures retain balancing acidity. This winery is owned by Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home.
In Italy, Barbera is a very important grape for everyday wines. Because it is naturally high in acidity and does not have any domineering flavor or aroma characteristics, it is also widely used in blends. In fact, Sangiovese is the only red grape that is planted more in Italy.
While the best Barbera is made in Piedmont, the grape takes a decisive backseat to Nebbiolo in this region. Although the best vineyard sites are reserved for Nebbiolo, there are some excellent, single varietal Barberas to be found. Lighter Piedmont examples are known as Barbera d’ Asti, and darker versions are called Barbera d’ Alba. Sardinia, Lombardy, and Emilia-Romagna also have substantial plantings of the varietal.