Barbera | Red wine grape variety, one of Italy’s 10 most planted grape varieties, cultivated in most regions there, especially in the Piemonte (Piedmont) region in the north west of the country where it was first mentioned in 1798. Yet scientific studies have yet to prove Barbera’s relationship with any other Piemontese variety.
The name | Various theories. It may derive from the word ‘barbaro’ due to its dark, savage colour. According to Wine Searcher, Barbera was first cited in an official document in 1798, by Count Giuseppe Nuvolone-Pergamo of Scandaluzzo, deputy director of the Società Agraria di Torino (Agrarian Society of Turin), who is credited as creating the first definitive list of Piedmont’s wine grape varieties.
Where grown | Mainly grown in Piedmont which is considered the best area for Barbera wines, in particular from around Alba, Asti and Alessandria. Large plantings are also found in Lombardia (Lombardy), Emilia-Romagna and Sardegna (Sardinia).
Wines | Emilia-Romagna: Gutturnio DOC. | Lombardy: Oltrepò Pavese DOC. | Piemonte: Barbera d’Asti DOCG. | Barbera del Monferrato DOC. | Barbera del Monferrato Superiore DOCG. | Barbera d’Alba DOC. | Nizza DOCG.
Outside Italy | Barbera is grown in Argentina, Australia and California.
Viticulture | A prolific producer able to give respectable quality even at high yields. Barbera likes heavy clay soils leaving better, more calcareous soils to Nebbiolo.
Clones | Being widely planted, Barbera has been subject to plenty of clonal research. Of note are AT 84, CVT-ALL 115, CVT AT 171 which show slightly lower total acidity levels, compared to BA-AL-128, BA-AL-132 from the Alessandria province which usually show higher average acidities.
Wine style | Barbera’s hallmarks are its deep ruby-purple colour, very moderate tannins, and unmistakable high acidity that make it such a food-friendly option. Typical flavours include red and black cherry, and underbrush. ‘No real pretensions to age,’ (Oz Clarke, 2015, p38).
Food match | ‘Barbera works with roast duck or pork as it cuts the fat. Much depends on whether the wine was oaked or not. Much better not, although ageing in large oak vats works. Barbera really does not work with shellfish,’ says former restaurateur Roy Richards (perso).
Wine styles | Dry, still red. Wide range from light and moderately interesting, to serious and red-fruit driven, to fuller, oaky versions with a fuller more tannic mouthfeel and notes of chocolate and vanilla.
See Ian D’Agata, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014).
Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p.82.
Oz Clarke 2015, Oz Clarke Wine A-Z (Pavilion, 2015), p38.