Have you ever heard of Barbera wine? It is not as common outside of Italy as some of its more famous Italian counterparts, but that just means we have a lot to learn! Barbera grapes hail from the Piedmont region of Italy, in the northwestern part of the country. A part of the Alpine/Mediterranean region, Piedmont and its capital Turin make up the second largest region in Italy, with one of the highest amounts of exported gastronomical products from the entire country. Barbera wine is very drinkable, with an intense color and a nose full of berries, flowers and spices. It has a good amount of tannins, but is not too aggressive, and has a light body with a very high acidity. Barbera wine is actually one of the most acidic wines there are despite its growth in a relatively warm area.
So, what is this Barbera wine from Piedmont? Well, to start, Barbera itself is a grape, found principally in the Alexandria, Alba, Asti and Oltrepo Pavese zones, areas where other grapes such as Nebbiolo, and Dolcetto are also frequently grown. Barbera wines fall under a number of denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) brands, such as Barbera d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba, or Barbera del Monferrato. Another Barbera wine typical of Piedmont is Barbera Vivace, a young, effervescent sparkling wine.
Barbera del Monferrato is the most widely consumed, with a pronounced acidity and cherry notes. Barbera d’Asti is the more rotund wine, with mineral tastes and a complex bouquet. Barbera d’Alba is a more flowery wine, with a full body, and hints of prune and spices with a sharp acidity. This Barbera comes from the edge of where Barolo is produced, giving it a more dense, dry, structured flavor, similar to a Nebbiolo wine. Finally, the Barbera dell Oltrepo Pavese, which comes from the southeast of the Barbera production region, is a vigorous wine, similar in body and structure to a Cabernet Sauvignon. Barbera wine is great to delve into, because there are so many varieties and blends. Some of the wines are blended with the precious Nebbiolo grape, giving more structure and body. For example, Barbera d’Alba wines tend to have a darker color and a fruitier taste while Barbera d’Asti are often more bright and elegant on the palate.
Barbera wine’s strength is its drinkability: a bottle of Barbera is perfect for a light aperitivo, as an accompaniment to classic Piedmontese dishesm such as vitello tonatto (veal with a tuna sauce, or with some simple salumi (cold cuts). A more full-bodied Barbera, aged in wood, could be served well with a risotto al tartufo (truffle risotto). Traditionally, Barbera is the wine used for popular celebrations, as the Piedmont region’s other well-known wine, Barolo, was usually produced in small quantities. Barbera’s abundance made it the go-to wine for the people whenever they wanted a good party!
When serving a Barbera wine, it is important to consider that due to its high acidity, it is best served slightly warm. For more full-bodied bottles, 15-17 degrees Celsius are desirable. For a younger, fruitier wine, 13-15 degrees Celsius are preferable, especially if the wine is sparkling. Barbera wine is a classic, easy to drink wine that can be served every evening. Pair a Barbera with a pasta and tomato dish, or even with a pizza (for any non-beer drinkers!).