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The Barbera Grape


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About Barbera

(Synonyms: Barber a Raspo, Barbera a Peduncolo, Barbera Amaro, Barbera Crna, Barbera Forte, Barbera Mercantile, Barbera Nera, Barbera Nostrana, Barbera Riccia, Barbera Rissa, Barbera Rosa, Barbera Vera, Barberone, Barbexinis, Besgano, Cosses Barbusen, Gaietto, Lombardesca, Perricone, Pignatello, Ughetta)

Background

Map showing the Piedmont region of Italy

Barbera is a red-wine grape originating in the Piedmont (Italian, Piemonte) region of Italy, which remains its principal source, though it is now widely grown around the world. It is not a world-class wine, but is a sturdy, workmanlike red that can nevertheless on occasion approach greatness; it is often said, only partly in jest, that Barbera is what the Piemontese drink while they wait for their Nebbiolo to mature.

Barbera is a classic high-acid wine, to the extent that that quality needs moderating if the wine is to be well-made. But it is also naturally a very low-tannin wine. In modern times, there has been a substantial move toward aging Barbera in oak, to help with those issues and others. Also, vineyard practices, especially holding yields down, have helped the grape move up the quality ladder.

In the Piedmont, the two principal areas for beter-quality Barberas are Alba and Asti, and fanciers will argue over which is superior (meaning they are probably on a par). Buyers of Italian Barbera will usually sek a Barbera d'Asti or a Barbera d'Alba. (Wikipedia asserts that "The wines of Barbera d'Asti tend to be bright in color and elegant while Barbera d'Alba tend to have a deep color with more intense, powerful fruit.")

While Barbera is grown in widely scattered areas throughout the world's wine regions, it is taken seriously as to quality and quantity chiefly in California. There, while it was long a "jug wine", it has for some time been treated by many winemakers as a potentially high-quality wine. Plantings in the Pacific Northwest—Oregon and Washington—are to date generally less successful. Barbera, with its acids, ages very well.

"Bare" (unoaked or only lightly oaked) Barbera tends to a definite nose and taste of a cherry-like quality; oaked Barbera picks up the usual mild vanilla tones of oak, as well as some darker-fruit qualities (it moves, that is, from cherry toward plum). Because Barbera is so acidic, there is a tendency on the part of vineyardists to let it hang long, so as to develop more sugars to balance the acid, but care must be taken not to overdo it; Barbera made from grapes left too long on the vine tend to an undesireable slightly sweet or raisiny quality. Barberas can be made anywhere from medium-bodied up to quite big and heavy.

Factoid: Recent DNA evidence suggest that Barbera may be related to the French-Spanish vine Mourvèdre (Spanish, Monastrell).


Some Descriptions of Barbera Wines


Some Barberas to Try

(About this list.)

Moderately priced Barbera is definitely a buyer's market: our biggest problem was to cut back the list of candidates to a manageable size. There do tend to be more Asti bottlings available in our price range, but some fine-looking Albas showed up as well.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.

Barberas d'Asti
La Spinetta "Cà di Pian" Barbera d'Asti

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• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

I'd like to first suggest that before you consume this wine that it be properly decanted for a few hours before pouring it. I found it to be very much a wine that improves with being aerated at this particular stage in it's life. Once properly oxygenated the wine improves at least ten-fold. On the nose I get aromas of dark chocolate covered cherry, black plum, meat, spicy oak, earth/soil, and some rustic and earthy blackberry notes. It's a very complex effort on the nose and one that I wouldn't mind smelling over and over as it unfolds. On the palate I get some tart blackberry flavors that combine with secondary notes of dark chocolate, tar, and leather. It has a very tart mixed-berry complexity and is nice and dry on the finish. This is most definitely above-average Barbera, and one that I believe is a perfect value and a serious candidate for my everyday table wine of choice. 89+ points

There are different expressions of the [Barbera] grape. It can be young and fresh, full of bright cherry flavor .  It can also be a bit more serious, round with blackcurrant and plum notes, especially if it has been aged in oak barriques. La Spinetta’s Cà di Pian Barbera d’Asti 2009 falls toward this latter style. It’s aged in new and used French oak for 12 months and has a darker fruit profile full of dried plum and black cherries. It’s still soft and round, though, and extraordinarily easy to drink.

♣ International Wine Cellar (November/December 2013), 91 points

♣ Wine Spectator (March 31 2013), 90 points

Showier aromas of black cherry, plum and licorice, plus a chocolatey ripeness. Rich, plush, seamless and sweet, delivering glossy, chewy dark fruit flavors. Finishes subtle and impressively long, with very fine-grained tannins.

The 2009 La Spinetta 'Ca di Pian' is a voluptuous, sexy Barbera with intense aromas and flavors of blackberries, plums, spices, cedar box, leather and eucalyptus. This is full-bodied
and richly textured with a firm structure and a long finish. The 'Ca di Pian' spent 12 months in French oak, 6 months in steel and an additional 2 months in bottle before release, but it will be at its best [as of 2013] after another year or two in bottle.

Very pure, offering black cherry and wild berry notes augmented by balsamic and earth accents. Intense, with fine grip and a lingering aftertaste of menthol and tobacco.

[T]his 2007 Barbera d'Asti has a blast of fresh raspberry and cherry with a pleasant, toasty vanilla quality from barrel ageing.

Pronounced fresh plums, berry and rose aromas - a real fruit feast. Cool blue fruit characters come through with a touch of sweet plum to finish.



Renato Ratti "Battaglione" Barbera d'Asti

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• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Renato Ratti Battaglione Barbera d’Asti is a perfect example of quality and approachability. Made by one of Barolo’s celebrated producers, the wine is textbook Barbera, delivering bursting flavors of cherries, strawberries, blackberries, and vanilla. It’s a fruit-forward wine that is incredibly easy to drink. While the tannins are present, they’re wonderfully subdued, allowing the lush fruit to shine through. I recommend serving the wine with a slight chill, even in winter.

Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, tar, and hints of citrus peel. In the mouth, cherry, cassis and citrus peel mix with dark earth and muscular tannins. Excellent acidity. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5.

Exceptional, and rich with the same unique brawniness you find in Piedmont’s cuisine. The aromas are hearty and fluent in the language of comfort: cured meat, fennel and tinges of tobacco overlaying a deep sour cherry fruitiness that is accentuated by swaths of acidity but not muddled by tannin. On the palate, it presents an herbaceous woodsiness that completes the picture. Lingers for a long time on the finish and improves with air. Truly a remarkable wine. ★★★★★ (out of five).

Rich and powerful with dark berries, plums, cassis and a distant note of herbs and a slight tartness on the long finish, it can go the full distance and is a champion with a cheeseboard.

[T]his was a really wonderful surprise. When we’d visited this very modern winery (with some of the most stunning views from the tasting room) the wines had impressed but not ‘wowed’ – but this bottle (and another subsequently drunk) actually had a ‘wow’ factor; clearly they’d benefited from a little greater age. So there really is sense in laying down wines till they are ‘ready’.

[T]his Asti bottling is built for power from a south-facing site (an exposure that is almost always reserved for Nebbiolo in the districts surrounding Alba). A year’s worth of time in oak has layered gutsy wood tannins atop the grape tannins, but the ripe, flavorful fruit powers right through them, providing a lingering sweetness that makes for a long, impressive finish. 90 points.



Vietti "Tre Vigne" Barbera d'Asti

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Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Vietti's '04 Tre Vigne Asti, made from a blend of three Asti vineyards, has aromas of black cherry and black pepper, lively acidity, and a leaner style than his Barbera d'Alba Tre Vigne. Just a touch of oak tannins. Fine value. Drinking Vietti's Alba and Asti Barbera Tre Vignes [listed farther below] together will give you a good idea as to which style you prefer. I prefer the Asti. 91 points

Vietti's 2003 Barbera d'Asti "Tre Vigne" is the more powerful sibling of the Alba wine. Glorious mixed flavors of red fruits, mineral, brown sugar and graphite lead into dusty tannins; it's clearly a wine that will age will for another five years or more.

As always, plush; marked earth and black fruit aromas and flavors.

It is ruby purple in color, with ripe red cherry aromas and hints of mineral and vanilla. A soft dry, medium bodied red wine with refreshing acidity, a perfect pairing for food. Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne is well balanced with good integration of oak, good complexity and a finish of more red cherries. Aged for 12 months in French and Slovenian oak casks, then in stainless steel for two months before bottling. This wine is unfiltered to retain its complexity.

A medium-bodied, well-balanced wine with notes of dark, red fruit and a bit of spice.

Lighter garnet hue with ample aromas of gentle cedar, slight licorice, sweet vanilla and cherry fruit. Palate--Lovely integrated flavors of cherry, white bread, green herbs and a beam of caramel or maple that is subtle but delightful. This is a really nice wine for the price ($15) and well constructed with a ready to drink presence.

Good dark color, with a hint of animal and a note of licorice over black currant and blackberry on the nose that follows through on the palate with lovely ripe fruit and just a kiss of oak. Full-bodied, with excellent structure and a somewhat opulent, almost velvety texture; already drinking beautifully [2005 vintage in 2008], with great promise for further development over the next three to five years.

Italy is a huge source of reasonably-priced, food-friendly wines. This juicy, delicious 2010 Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne, with its tangy taste of smoke, licorice and sour cherries is one of them. So it’s no surprise that it was one of the most-poured-wines-by-the-glass listed in Wine & Spirits Magazine’s 2013 restaurant poll.

Pleasing, long-lasting flavors of plums and spices. 2½ *



Barberas d'Alba
Elio Altare Barbera d'Alba

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Some quotations and facts about this wine:

The nose showed red berries, savory spice, tomato leaf and tobacco. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with a zing of acidity, showing intense cranberry, herbs and bitter notes. The finish was medium-long with tart red fruits that saturated the palate. (89 points)

The 2014 Barbera d'Alba is supple, juicy and immediate, with plenty of dark red/bluish fruit, sweet spices and flowers. Silky and beautifully expressive in the glass, the 2014 will deliver considerable drinking pleasure over the next few years. 89 points. [Vinous Media]

♣ Some points given: 2010, 89 @ Wine Advocate; 2011, 90 @ Wine Advocate, 90 @ Vinous Media; 2012, 90 @ James Suckling.

The 2015 Barbera d'Alba is a joyous bottle of wine! Dark red and bluish-hued stone fruits, lavender and sweet spices add complexity, but it is the wine's engaging, supple feel that makes it impossible to resist. 89 Points. [Antonio Galloni, Vinous]



Vietti "Tre Vigne" Barbera d'Alba

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• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Good dark color, with earth, sticks, black currant and blackberry on the nose; a little less ripe in the mouth than the ’05 Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne, with a little more earth, mineral and underbrush. Sleek, yet full bodied, well structured, long on the finish, and while not “rustic,” perhaps a little less “modern” than the Vietti Barbera d’Astis.

With lots of super-ripe dark blackberries and plum, some earthiness, and a bit of smoky leather, this wine has a lot of amazing depth, especially at this price point . . Though it’s a bit tart on its own, it’s a great wine to pair with food…

Vietti's standard Barbera d'Alba, made from a blend of three Alba vineyards. Concentrated red and black fruit flavors, round, with just a touch of oak tannins. A good Barbera, but for me, Vietti's Tre Vigne Asti is even better. 89 points

This bottle had been open for a while before it was poured for us. Fantastic strawberry scents show in the glass accompanied by cherries, a touch of candy, and stones resting in dark earth. The wine is gentle and floral on contact with the palate. The tannins quickly exhibit a wonderful round texture. The strawberries from the nose deliver on the palate, and they are as good as the scents suggested. A touch of candy transitions into cherry liqueur toward the finish and some very nice mineral sensations are firm on the mid palate. Wonderful fruit sits high in the experience, and it lingers long on the finish. 91+

If I had to choose one from among Vietti's less-expensive wines, the nod would go to the Tre Vigne Barbera d'Alba. In 2004, ripening conditions returned to normal after the devastation (from hail) of 2002 and the desiccation (from heat) of 2003. This is pure joy, with varied fruit flavors that defy description. A great food wine. (Unique).

In the glass this [wine] is an obvious ruby red colour with hints of violet also showing. A degree of discolouration is just evident towards the rim of this [wine] that indicates the time spent in oak by this wine. On swirling, the legs of this [wine] are found to be fairly pronounced, with a declared alcoholic content of 14.5% abv. This is the upper limit for what you would expect to see from the alcoholic content of Barbera d’Alba. On the nose, this [wine] is pronounced. Ripe red cherry and slightly more tart dark cherry notes mingle amicably in the bouquet of this [wine], with a touch of oak providing the backdrop. Once in the mouth, this [wine] is a more meaty and weighted style of Barbera than Barbera d’Asti (as is typical of the Barbera d’Alba classification) and red fruit again reigns. Mixed cherries, plum and a fewer darker forest floor fruits predominate. The oak influence upon this [wine] is subtle but slightly sweet and the hallmark acidity of the Barbera grape runs through the palate of this [wine] and pushes the fruit briskly towards the finish. The tannin structure of this [wine] is chunky, but not too overt. On swallowing this [wine] slightly tart fruit and a note of kirsch remains.

In the nose you’ll find black fruit, green herbs, earth and chocolate. In the mouth there is Barbera’s acidic trademark, with density of flavor and a fair amount of tannin very long.

Ruby purple in color, the wine had soft tannins (the oak) and a nice finish. This medium red wine would be an excellent choice for pasta or light meats.



Barberas, Other
Villa Sparina Barbera del Monferrato Superiore
(Some listing show the "Superiore", some don't; but it seems to all be the same wine.)

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• This wine's CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

Villa Sparina’s Barbera Del Monferrato Superiore 2012, is a very nice example of a modern take on Barbara. While the wine maker does not use oak to add tannins they do allow the malolactic fermentation… This rounds out what can otherwise be an acidic variety into a wine that makes a nice sipping wine as well as going great with food. The bright cherry notes are underlain with the flavors of plums and even a bit of cedar. Barbara’s are general very food friendly. This one would be great with a plate of cheese and charcuterie.

Wonderful aromas of dried cherry, fresh flower and stone. Full to medium body, bright acidity and a terracotta finish. I really like the dusty texture and freshness. [James Suckling]

[Google-translated from Italian:] Intense ruby ​​red color that results from the complete and perfect ripening of the grapes. Narrow, wide and deep nose with hints of black cherry, mint, pepper and vanilla. In the mouth it sticks in elegance, with full flavor, rich, soft and enveloping And with a fruity taste.



Charles Smith K Vintners "CasaSmith Cervo" Barbera
(This wine can be listed as by "K Vintners" "Casa Smith", or Charles Smith; best look for just "Cervo Barbera" from Washington State.)

• Retail offers of this wine listed by 1000 Corks
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• This wine seems to have no CellarTracker review pages.
• This wine's Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.


Some quotations and facts about this wine:

♣ This is a relatively new wine and has almost nothing about it on the web save by the maker. Wine Enthusiast gave it a 91, but there are no other ratings yet. Regard it as a good possibility, though not a proven one yet. (It is, at this writing, widely available at around $20, give or take a hair.)



For a Splurge

A definite splurge, but a safe recommendation, would be the Giacomo Conterno Vigna Francia Barbera d'Alba, a critics favorite. (This wine used to be labelled as "Cascina Francia Barbera d'Alba".)

• That wine at 1000 Corks
• That wine at Wine Searcher
• Its Wine Searcher "Tasting Notes" page.
• Its CellarTracker pages.

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