What Is Barbera Wine?
Barbera is a popular dark-sinned grape variety that is enjoyed all over the world for its high acidity and low tannins. It is believed to be native to the hills of Monferrato, in the central Piedmont region of north-western Italy. The warm local climate, with its long summers and autumns, is perfect for growing top quality grapes.
The Barbera grape has been grown in Piedmont wine since the 13th century. It was popular for its high yields and acidity. In fact, century-old vines still exist in many vineyards across the Piedmont region. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Italian immigrants brought Barbera to the new worlds of America, Argentina and Australia, where it found new devotees.
Indeed, Barbera is so popular that it is the vine of choice in nearly half of all plantings in Piedmont today. It is widely grown in Asti and Monferrato regions. Barbera ripens earlier than Nebbiolo – harvest usually takes place in late September to early October, to retain Barbera’s natural acidity and sharpness. Some producers deliberately harvest a bit late to achieve higher sugar levels, which leads to more fruit-forward wines.
Barbera can adapt to a variety of soils, but thrives best in calcareous soils and clay. Like other grape varieties that are widely grown, many expressions of Barbera wine can be found – ranging from medium bodied and fruity, to full bodied and intense.
The most well-known appellation is the Barbera d’Asti DOCG. The DOCG is the highest level of Italian wine classification, and is a reflection of strict standards and high quality. As the name suggests, Barbera d’Asti is produced in the hilly areas of the Asti and Alessandria provinces in eastern Piedmont, bordering Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. The vineyards which produce Barbera d'Asti wine are typically situated on hilly terrain, with altitudes ranging from 100-300m.
By regulation, Barbera d'Asti wine must consist of at least 85% Barbera. The remaining 15% can be made up of Freisa, Grignolino or Dolcetto. The bottles must achieve a minimum alcohol level of at least 11.5% alcohol. There is also a superiore designation, which must be aged for a minimum of 12 months.
Barbera d'Asti is particularly well suited to cellaring, and can be aged for up to eight to ten years. At its best, it is rich and tangy. As it ages, it goes from an intense ruby-red to a garnet red. It is a full-bodied wine whose flavors become more balanced and appealing as it matures.
In 2000, the town of Nizza was officially recognized as a sub-region within the greater Barbera d'Asti DOCG, in recognition of particularly high quality. Nizza produces the ripest Barbera, which means higher sugar levels to match the grape's high acidity.
Another popular appellation of Barbera wine is known as Barbera d’Alba, which is produced in the town of Alba, Langhe and the surrounding hills. Langhe is famous for Barolo and Barbaresco, and the Barbera vines in the area thrive in the limestone rich soils.
At a young age, Barbera d’Alba wines exhibit intense trademark flavours of red cherry, along with blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry. The cherry character is well complemented by the high acidity to give a bright and tangy experience. Barbera d’Alba wines consists of at least 85% Barbera. The superioire versions are aged for at least 12 months prior to release.
Many Barbera producers use toasted oak barrels for aging, which gives off hints of vanilla notes and increases the complexity of the wine. The oak gives the Barbera wine additional structure, as well as softens the wine. Some producers favour small barrel maturation, which tend to produce rounder wines, with notes of spice and plums.
Compared to the wines of Barbera d'Asti, which tend to be more feminine, elegant and brighter in colour; Barbera d'Alba tend to have a deeper colour with more intense, powerful fruit.
Why We Love Barbera Wine
Piedmont Barbera wines are juicy and refreshing. With its low tannins and moderate alcohol levels, it is easily drinkable. The distinctive berry bouquet and high acidity makes it an attractively refreshing experience.
The high acidity levels pairs well with rich Italian dishes like pizza, risotto and pasta. It’s better with lighter proteins like rabbit, duck or a meaty fish. It’s also great with cheese and charcuterie platters, perfect for picnics!
Traditionally, Barbera has been considered a wine of the people – an affordable everyday stunner. Compared to the prestigious Nebbiolo produced in the same region, Piedmont Barbera wine is more approachable at a young age. Compared to Barolo and Barbaresco, Barbera is great value, and relatively underappreciated.
The lighter versions of Barbera wine are better enjoyed young, and are not recommended for cellaring. The fuller bodies expressions can be cellared for up to 10 years.
You’ll Love Barbera Wine Too
We have searched far and wide to bring you the best expressions of Barbera wine, so that you can experience this unique little grape in all its glory. Barbera is super affordable, and super tasty - perfect for weekdays!
Our suppliers are Australia’s best, hands on importers who specialise in high quality wines of place. So join us for some amazing little-known Italian wines and enjoy!