If you like Scarpa, chances are you are a barbera wine drinker. Since its our specialty, let’s explore the grape starting with a proper introduction.
Ready to learn about barbera wine?
We’ve put together a series to explore this robust, tantalizing Italian red wine. This post covers:
- the barbera grape,
- origin and history,
- grape and wine characteristics,
- food and wine pairings and consideration.
What is Barbera? A snapshot of one of the best Italian wines
Barbera is indigenous to Italy’s north, specifically the Monferrato wine region in southwestern Piedmont with recordings of the grape dating back to the 16th century.
While Barbera grapes are first noted in the Monferrato, they have no genetic relation to the primary Piedmont red grapes of dolcetto and nebbiolo. Ampelographer Pierre Viala, speculates that barbera comes from Oltrepò Pavese in Italy’s Lombardy region.
Barbera Grapes: The Facts
- The Vines: Barbera is the most widespread red grape variety cultivated in the Piedmont region covering approximately 30 percent of its 43000 hectares of vines.
- Barbera Grapes: The grape is highly adaptable and relatively heat tolerant making it popular in New World wine regions as well as Italy (more below).
- Taste Profile: High acidity in the barbera grape gives the wines a bright, fresh taste profile showing ripe, vibrant fruits, and very little tannins.
- Ageability: Acidity is a component of ageability making barbera wines cellar-worthy. However, since young barbera wine drinks so easily many don’t even think to let it hold.
Types of Barbera Wine
In general, barbera in Italy is a still, single-variety wine. However usage varies across the country and the world. As a blending grape, it lends acidity and color. In addition, some great metodo classico sparkling variations exist in the Monferrato as well as the Langhe. In the past, frizzante versions were also widely produced and consumed as a traditionally low cost wine.
The two best known wines produced with the barbera grape are from Alba and Asti in the Piedmont wine region. These neighboring areas have a handful of different styles and production methods for this Italian red wine favorite. However, the differences can be generalized as follows:
- Barbera d’Asti wines tend to be more rustic, showing lively femininity, intensity, complexity, and dark fruits. These wines benefit from cellaring, particularly when aged in wood, which builds up structure and tannins.
- Barbera d’Alba wines have lower acidity, more finesse and elegance, and show floral notes like violet and darker fruits.
Barbera wines outside Piedmont and the Monferrato wine region: In Italy a small amount of barbera wine can be found in the Italian wine regions of Emilia-Romagna, Puglia, Lombardy, and Sardinia.
As noted, warmer New World regions have taken a shine to it, using it in different ways:
- South Australia producing varietal wines.
- Argentina using it as a blending grape.
- California’s Central Valley using barbera wine grapes for bulk production.
- California’s Sierra Foothills making oaked varietal barbera wines.
Barbera food pairing:
The food-friendly acidity of barbera makes it popular for a wide range of dishes – traditional Italian and a vast range of international cuisines. We’ll get more into that as well as provide recipes to try at home. But, some barbera pairing favorites at Scarpa include:
- Fresh-dough pasta: be it tajarin or tagliatelle, egg-based is traditional. Serve with a bolognese sauce or any type of meat or vegetarian ragu
- Risotto: especially truffles, pumpkin, roasted carrot or a risotto al barbera.
- Charcuterie and cheeses: Get creative! If you are in the region, try some Castelmagno.
- Barbecue: Smoke and char is magic with barbera wines. The palate-cleansing acidity is a perfect match for the heat, fat, and complex flavors of a good barbecue sauce or dry rub. A younger drinking, steel-aged barbera pairing is great with lighter grilled foods – think chicken, rabbit (traditional in Piedmont), and sausage. For richer red meats, try a barbera with a little age and some wood aging.
- Fatty fish: Not many people think of it, but oily, fatty fish are great barbera pairing thanks to the acidity. Think salmon or cod.
- Vegetarian ideas: Melanzane al parmigiano and dry curries make great vegetarian favorites for the fruity barbera pairing.
Got any questions on barbera grapes and wine? Drop us a note below!
Coming up next in our Barbera Wine Series: Piedmont styles and production methods, plus a breakdown of DOCG aging requirements .