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Bahr-Beh-Ruh Barbera is a red wine grape, native to the Piedmont region in northern Italy. It’s primarily a cool climate grape, but does better in hot climates than its fellow Piedmont grapes, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto. It is often relegated to less-than-premium vineyard sites, because Nebbiolo grapes are far more profitable and grown in the best possible conditions. Barbera is a delicious grape in its own right, and has found considerable success as a single-varietal in recent years. It is believed that Barbera originated from the Monferrato sub-region of Piedmont, and it is still most commonly found in Piedmont. However, it is also grown all over central Italy, and in more limited quantities in Slovenia, the USA, Australia and Argentina. Barbera grapes are known for being vigorous, and usually require some pruning to keep them in check. They are dark, often appearing black, medium-sized and bunched tightly. Barbera grape skin is neither thick or thin, leading to wine that is surprisingly low in tannins for red wine.
Barbera Tasting NotesBarbera is a light to medium-bodied wine, often eclipsed by its more serious Piedmont neighbor, Nebbiolo. It is high in acid, and usually contains low to medium levels of tannins. Barbera is vividly dark in the glass, with a pink rim, but this is contrasted by its juicy, light taste. A Barbera wine usually contains between 13% and 15% ABV. Its profile is usually dominated by dark fruits, with floral and herbaceous elements – it is better described as juicy and vibrant, than earthy and meaty. When tasting a Barbera, try to find notes of blackberry, plum, sour cherry, violet, lavender and star anise. Barbera is frequently aged in oak, which can add some notes of vanilla and spice.
Barbera StylesAlthough the most common expression of Barbera is light and dry, it is made in several different styles and used in many blends. The traditional method of making single-varietal Barbera uses less oak-aging, resulting in lighter fruity and juicy wines. A more modern take on the wine involves plenty of oak-aging, which can have a big effect on Barbera’s profile. It becomes more round in the mouth, with enhanced spicy notes and plum, reminiscent of Merlot. Barbera can also be found in a slightly fizzy style, known as frizzante. It can be difficult to find, as it is made in specific locations and is rarely exported. You’ll find frizzante versions of Barbera in its region of origin, Monferrato, as well as Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardy, and Primorski, just over the border in Slovenia. Barbera is grown in hotter climates too, most commonly in New World regions such as California and parts of Australia. New World Barbera leans towards being full-bodied, and shows a more intensely fruity profile. Blends Made From Barbera In Piedmont, Barbera was frequently used to add some extra color to Nebbiolo, particularly in the Barolo and Barbaresco regions. It is also used to make red blends in Franciacorta, Lombardy, along with the light red grape Croatina. However, the most common use for Barbera in blends is for less serious table wines. In cooler climates in Italy, this is largely due to it’s high yields. However, in hotter climates like in California, Barbera is valuable for it’s high-acidity, adding some backbone to red table blends, where acid would usually have to be added artificially.
Barbera ClassificationsAt home in Italy, Barbera can be found at all levels of wine classification. However, there are a handful of DOC and DOCG wines that have become almost synonymous with the name of the grape. Barbera D’Asti is the best known iteration of Barbera. It is a DOCG wine, hailing from the province of Asti, which must be made from at least 90% Barbera. It is a fresh, acidic wine, which comes in oak-aged and more traditional styles. Within the province of Asti, there is a sub-region of Nizza, which also produces Barbera DOCG wine. These must be 100% Barbera, and at least 13% alcohol. In the hills where Barbera was born, they produce Barbera del Monferrato DOC. Monferrato also contains a separate DOCG appellation, where Barbera del Monferrato Superiore is made. Both of these wines must contain at least 85% Barbera. The last significant Piedmont Barbera is Barbera d’Alba, which is made in a DOC level appellation. It contains riper and fuller fruits than Asti wines, which are it’s main rivals in terms of popularity. These wines must contain at least 85% Barbera.
When To Drink BarberaDue to its high yields and easy cultivation, Barbera was the most popular table wine in northern Italy for decades. It was an everyday wine, and although it is taken more seriously now, it is still extremely food-friendly and a wine for almost any occasion. It’s a great match for any meaty dish, and can cut through plenty of fat. If you’re vegetarian, maybe consider pairing it with tomato-rich pasta, like a bean bolognese, or bruschetta. Piedmont locals love to drink it with their appetizers. You can drink Barbera straight away, or decant it for up to an hour, it’s up to you. To enhance its fruity profile, it is recommended that you serve Barbera at slightly below room temperature 55-64ºF (13-18 ºC).
Best Years To Drink BarberaYour typical Barbera is made to be enjoyed early. With its relatively low levels of tannins, it can age for approximately 2-4 years in a cellar. There are some examples of oak aged Barbera (adding some oaky tannins and structure to the mix) that can last longer, up to 10 years. However, very few oaked Barberas actually improve after 10 years of aging. Most of the time, the oaky characteristics just become more and more prominent, so generally speaking, you should drink your Barbera within a couple of years.
Barbera Average PricesDue to its popularity as an everyday wine, it’s possible to experience the taste of Barbera for very little money. Some of the best rated Barbera’s are within the $20 – 50 range, but there are DOCG wines up for grabs for as little as $3. The most expensive bottle we could find was a Barbera d’Alba made by Roberto Voerzio, on the market for $152.
Barbera Nutrition FactsA glass of single-varietal Barbera will contain approximately:
- 125 calories
- 4 grams of carbohydrates
- 0.1 grams of protein