A Wine Lover’s View Of The Red Barbera Grape

Barbera is Italy’s third most widely grown red wine grape, coming in after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. It once held second place in the Italian grape hit parade but a mid-1980s scandal that involved some producers adding methanol to their Barbera wines killing over 30 people and blinding others not surprisingly lowered this grape’s popularity. Plantings declined by about 40 %.

Documents in the Casale Monferrato Cathedral located in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy that date back to the mid-Thirteenth Century describe leasing for Barbera vineyards in the neighborhood area. Other Italian regions growing Barbera grapes include Piedmont’s eastern neighbors Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, and the southern islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Interestingly enough, in The Piedmont Barbera makes a varietal wine, actually several, while in other regions of Italy it is usually blended. The Barbera grape is also grown in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Israel, South Africa, and Uruguay. It is quite popular in both California’s Central and Napa Valleys. Can you guess which of these two locations is more likely to produce a high-quality wine? Other Barbera states include Oregon, Washington, and Arizona.

The juice of the Barbera grape has a dark ruby color, and contains high levels of acid but moderate to low tannins. It has a fruity, floral nose and a distinctive taste of red fruits and black cherries. Barbera-based wine is usually consumed within a few years of bottling, but it does age well. Italian Barbera is very versatile, making dry, sweet, and sparkling red wines.

The best-known appellation is the Barbera d’Asti, which was awarded the sometimes prestigious DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) designation in 2008. Pay a little more, if you can find it, for the Superiore version of this fine wine and you can store it for a decade or longer. The neighboring Barbera d’Alba wine carries the less prestigious DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) designation. You may have to go to Italy to find the often fizzy Barbera del Monferrato (DOC) or its Superiore (DOCG) version.

Barbera-based wines tend to go with Italian food such as Antipasto, Pasta with Tomato or Vegetable Sauce, and Pizza. For those who want a non-Italian treat, try a Barbera wine with Greek Moussaka.

Over the years I have reviewed all three of the above mentioned Italian Barbera wines, including at least one organic bottle but never a Superiore. Yet. I tasted these wines with a wide variety of foods and sometimes cheeses.

Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten computer and Internet books, but prefers drinking fine Iwine with good company. He teaches computer classes at an Ontario French-language community college. His global wine website www.theworldwidewine.com features a weekly review of $10 wines. His Italiian  travel website is http://www.travelitalytravel.com .

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