aka Barberone, Barbexinis, Besgano, Cosses Barbusen, Gaietto, etc…
Barbera has a very rich history going back centuries. It is said that the beginnings for the grape start in the hills of Monferrato in central Piemonte (Piedmont), Italy in the 13th century. However, Pierre Viala, speculates that Barbera actually originated in the Lombardy region of Oltrepò Pavese. Despite this discrepancy you can still find the original 13th century vines planted in the Piedmont Region of Italy; still producing grapes.
Historically Barbera was used in the Barolo & Barberesco region to add color to the naturally light Nebbiolo grape. Today it exists as both a blending grape and as a varietal. It is also being grown successfully outside of Italy.
Today Barbera is grown around the world. From its humble beginnings in Northern Italy the grape can now be found in Eastern Europe, the south Pacific, the Middle East and in the Americas; both North and South. When traveling through Eastern Europe you’ll be able to find small plantings in Greece, Romania, and the coastal region of Primorska in Slovenian. In the Middle East, Israel produces varietals. In the Southeastern state of Victoria, Australian wine producers have found some success with Barbera.
The grape arrived in the Americas during the 19th and 20th century. During that time waves of Italian immigrants brought Barbera with them. The vine originally took root in California and Argentina (Mendoza and San Juan provinces.), Brazil, and Uruguay. John Doyle introduced the vine in California in the 1880s hoping to help increase the quality of wines currently being produced. Now, Barbera can also be found in Washington state, Oregon, Idaho and New Mexico.
Starting in California’s Central Valley Barbera was almost exclusively used as a blend component in mass-produced jug wines. Due to the weather of the Central Valley during the summer (hot and dry) most Barbera produced still finds it way into one blend or another. However, as the art of winemaking progressed, tastes became more refined and Italian grapes came into fashion more California winemakers began to produce high quality varietal Barbera.
The Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, Santa Clara, Napa and Sonoma, where very warm days are tempered by cool nights, produce some of the state’s best varietal bottling of Barbera. These areas also tend to be more humid than the interior Central Valley.
In Washington State, Barbera was put into production on an experimental basis. Years later the vine plantings of Barbera have produced successful varietals. Thus far these very young vines have produced fruity wines that carry strawberry notes with limited complexity and aging potential.
While the following states lack the rich history of growing Barbera they are ready to compete against the bigger kids on the block. Oregon, Idaho and New Mexico boasts a vineyards that produce the grape.
Barbera has the ability to raise the quality of and bring balance to inexpensive red wines. Other reasons for the popularity of Barbera vines in the United States are the vigorous and reliability of production in a wide variety of soils. It tends to thrive most in less fertile calcareous soils and clay loam. The vine has also proven to be highly resistant to fungal diseases. Careful mutation and clonal variations have increased Barbera’s resistance.
One of the biggest threats to Barbera is the leafroll virus. The leafroll virus is characterized by reddening of all or most of the leaves on the vine; red varieties only. The virus undermines both quality and productivity of vineyards.
Quality production of Barbera yields a grape that is widely known for its deep ruby color, pink rim, noticeable levels of tannins and pronounced acidity. Some producers will delay harvest of the the grape in order to increase sugar levels. While this can help to balance the grape’s acidity, the grape can be too ripe and have a raisinish taste. When Barbera is cultivated in temperate areas and cropped for quality, the result is a grape that can exhibit an attractive ripe aroma of red fruit, currants or blackberries. These aromas can be enhanced by vanilla, smoky or toasty notes added by barrel aging (reserved for powerful/intense varieties of Barbera wines).
Small oak barrels are used for fermentation and maturation. This process can add subtle oak spice and plum notes and limit levels of oxygenation to soften the wine. If wines are made with older or more neutral oak usually a more vibrant aroma and notes of cherry are produced. Tannins drawn from the oak barrel itself help stabilize color.
Partnering With Food
Rule #1: Matching the alcohol level and body of the wine to the heaviness of the food should make for a proper pairing every time.
If you are looking for a wine that can be paired with delicate or rich foods go no further. Barbera is known as one of the most food friendly wines. In the lighter-bodied versions of this grape the low tannins in the wine will not overpower a delicate dish. The more robust versions of this grape have more tannins but still have levels of acidity that can still complement many different foods. Any meal with a tomato sauce is a perfect match with Barbera.
Below are a list of foods and dishes that should pair well with Barbera:
- Seafood Jumbalaya
- Meat Lasagna
- Ravioli or Manicotti (w/Cheese)
- Rosemary Lamb Chops
- Veal Scallopini
- Braciole di Maiale
- Pasta with Pesto
Restaurants With These Types of Dishes
To view restaurants that serve appetizers, entrees and other dishes that partner well with this grape type, click here….