After Dolcetto lets continue our journey in the Piedmont grapes and excellent wines. This time is Barbera's turn.
This the way Ian D'Agata introduces Barbera.
Barbera is one of Italy’s five most-planted native grapes, and the third most-common red grape, found in almost every region of the country. It is also one of the fifteen most-planted grape varieties in the world. The origin of its name is unclear: Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti feels it’s a derivation of barbaro (barbarian) due to its deep red color, while others believe the origin is vinum berberis, an astringent, acidic, and deeply hued medieval drink.
Though Barbera is viewed as an archetypal Piedmontese variety, the lack of historical information on Barbera’s presence in the region prior to the eighteenth century makes it hard to believe the grape has always resided there, or that it really derives from domesticated wild vines growing in Piedmont. In fact, DNA profiling (Schneider, Boccacci, and Botta 2003) has shown that Barbera does not share close genetic ties to any other Piedmontese cultivar, which would be highly unlikely had Barbera truly been on Piedmontese soil for millennia.
In the "Vino Italiano" Joe Bastianich and David Lynch introduce Barbera in this way.
Thought to be native to the Monferrato hills, near Asti and Alessandria, barbera is equally at home on the slopes of the Langhe, near Alba. Aside from the DOCs of Barbera d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba, and Barbera del Monferrato, the grape factors into other lesser-known appellations, such as the Rubino, Gabiano, and Colli Tortonesi wines of the extreme southeast. Barbera is the most heavily planted red grape in Piedmont, accounting for more than 50 percent of DOC red wine production in the region. Without a doubt, it is the most adaptable and vigorous of Piedmont’s three main red grapes, a fact that has led to an almost impossibly broad range of styles. Even within its specific DOC zones, barbera tends to vary widely, from bright and cherry-scented, firmly acidic, and a little rustic to more rich, robust, and silky smooth. A lot of this depends on where its growers choose to plant it, but it is also the product of changing winemaking practices. Of course, this is true of any wine, and barbera is an interesting case study in how a wine grape reacts to different soils, climates, and techniques. Barbera’s constants are a high level of natural acidity and a relatively low level of tannin, although the grape generally produces wines of a deep ruby color. The variables are the levels of fruit extraction in the wine, and the degrees to which tannins have been added through aging in oak barrels. “If you taste a tannic barbera,” says Bruno Ceretto, coproprietor of the Ceretto estate in Alba, “it’s because the winemaker has either used a lot of new oak or is blending it with some other more tannic variety. Barbera on its own gets a bite from acidity, but it doesn’t have tannin.”
Barbera gained ground after the phylloxera crisis when growers were keenly focused on productivity and versatility. But it has other virtues as well. Late ripening, Barbera retains acidity even when fully ripe. In fact as we said, acidity is the hallmark of this grape, along with deep color, bright red cherry fruit and low tannin. In the past, especially in the hills of the Langhe, the durable and easy-to-grow barbera was often used used as “filler” in vineyard sites incapable of maturing the more stubborn, weaker, and later-ripening nebbiolo. So it was often only natural that barbera wines were relatively light, acidic, and even a little rough around the edges.
Bastianich, Joseph; Lynch, David. Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy (Kindle Locations 3019-3021). Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony. Kindle Edition.
Barbera is simple, refreshing and fruity. It is very food friendly and compete with Dolcetto as Piedmont go to, every day wine.
However in the 80s , Barbera has gone through a important transformation. Lower yields, harvested fruit that is fully or even over ripe and the introduction of small oak barrels have turned a quaffable wine into a fine one.
Barbera has an incredible affinity to oak, especially new barriques. The oak adds the tannins that Barbera lacks, tames its high acidity and improves its overall structure and balance of the wine. The flavors/aromas of toast and vanilla marry nicely with the grape primary aromas and flavors and the wines are rounder, softer more complex and age-worthy.
The best expression of Barbera is in the hills of Monferrato where it is considered its king of the grapes. While in the Langhe, a Barbera D'ALba DOC is made by grapes planted only in sites where Nebbiolo grape would not perform well. So intuitively if we have to chose a Barbera in a wine store the best choice would be the wines from Monferrato, Barbera d'Asti DOCG.
Barbera d'Asti DOCG
With more than 20 million bottles of wine produced every year, Barbera D'Asti volumetrically out-ranks all other Piedmont reds. It is the second-largest Piemontese appellation after (ASTI DOCG). Unlike the Langhe where Nebbiolo is given the best sites, Barbera takes priority in Monferrato.
Barbera D'Asti DOCG, in particular the superior version, is among Piedmont's finest Barberas. However the wine growing area is quite large as the number of producers. As result there are quite different styles of Barbera on the market. The majority are made for early consumption. These wines are aged in stainless steel which maintains Barbera refreshing acidity and bright primary grape aromas.
The most modern style of Barbera is made using new, small oak barrels that add tannin, texture, richness and well integrated oak flavors. As result, Barbera has acquired a new identity and reputation for producing series and fine wine.
Clearly, the flavor profile of Barbera D'Asti varies according to the wine making techniques employed, but they all share a deep ruby purple color, intense aroma of sour red berry fruit, high acidity and low to moderate tannins.
Within Barbera D'Asti DOCG area the town of NIZZA is considered an historic area of production of Barbera. Pizza intact was elevated to its own DOCG status in 2014. It has a warm mesoclimate and traditionally delivers the ripest fruit each harvest. The wines are made with 100% Barbera with a minimum aging of 18 months and six in oak. The Riserva must age 30 months of which 12 in oak.
5 Things About Barbera That Will Surprise You
1000 years older than Cabernet Sauvignon?
Ampholographers suspect the origin of Barbera goes as far back as the 7th century. Compare that to the more popular Cabernet Sauvignon that has only been around since the 17th century.
Wrought With Scandal!
In 1986, Time reported a scandal. Eight Italians were found dead and 30 more were hospitalized after drinking Odore Barbera. This media alert quickly unravelled the scary truth about illegal wine additives all over Europe in the 1980’s.
Bubbly Barbera–Only in ItalyThe Colli Piacentini DOC in Emilia-Romagna Northern Italy have several lightly sparkling Barberas that have a simliar freshness to Lambrusco or Beaujolais. They are very rare outside of Italy.
Smaller Clusters Make Better BarberaBarbera is a very vigorous grape variety that can produce high yields (up to 5 tons/acre) and grows well in sandy soils. The best Barberas, however, tend to be from well-pruned vineyards and smaller grape clusters.
More Oak?There is a move to spend a little more money on oak aging wine. This technique is commonly practiced in Amador and Sierra Foothills in California. Barbera wines from this area verge on jammy with rich vanilla and spice flavors.
Wines and foods that are single-noted can be made whole when put together. With Barbera wines try rich dark meats, mushrooms, herbs, herbaceous cheeses like blue cheese, higher tannin foods like root vegetables & braised greens. The idea here is that the bright acidity in the wine will make a rich fatty or high tannin dish complete.
Match the flavors within Barbera to make them stand out. Try sour cherry, sage, anise, cinnamon, white pepper, nutmeg, citrus and the Morrocan spice blend called Ras el Hanout.
Monferrato’s regional dishes include: tajarin pasta, Guinea fowl and porcini stew and carne all’albese (a Piemontese version of steak tartare with parmesan, olive oil and rocket) The tajarin pasta is pictured above with shaved truffles.
Giacomo Bologna, Braida Bricco dell' Uccellone
A village which is at the centre of the world
It all began with the nickname “Braida”, which was acquired by the great-grandfather Giuseppe Bologna who was a champion in playing “pallone elastico” on town and church squares, a typical sport of the Piedmont region. Giacomo Bologna inherited both vineyards and nickname from his father, but above all an unconditional love for his land and wine.Since 1961 until today Braida has been the amplified and faithful image of the philosophy of Giacomo and Anna, their prospect of life, earth, wine and friendship.
Raffaella and Giuseppe Bologna, both oenologists, are the third “Braida” generation and are united by the initial dream to elevate the Barbera grape into a noble status which for some would seem to be reserved only for international varieties.
Barbera d’Asti d.o.c.g.
temperature controlled maceration with careful cap management for 20 days.
15 months of ageing in 225 lt. oak barrels followed by 12 months in the bottle.
intense ruby red with purple hues. Notes of red berries, mint and vanilla. The bouquet is rich, aromatic and complex with a remarkable intensity and multilayered concentration. The wine is generous, voluptuous and full-bodied with a multidimensional structure, perfectly balanced between the grape characteristics and high quality oak, with a persistent long finish. Heavy meat dishes, roasts, also seasoned meat dishes and aged cheeses.
Serve at 17-18 °C.
Vietti La Crena, Barbera d'Asti Superiore Nizza DOCG
The history of the Vietti winery traces its roots back to the 19th Century. Only at the beginning of the 20th century, however, did the Vietti name become a winery offering its own wines in bottle.
Patriarch Mario Vietti, starting from 1919 made the first Vietti wines, selling most of the production in Italy. His most significant achievement was to transform the family farm, engaged in many fields, into a grape-growing and wine-producing business.
Then, in 1952, Alfredo Currado (Luciana Vietti’s husband) continued to produce high quality wines from their own vineyards and purchased grapes. The Vietti winery grew to one of the top-level producers in Piemonte and was one of the first wineries to export its products to the USA market.
Alfredo was one of the first to select and vinify grapes from single vineyards (such as Brunate, Rocche and Villero). This was a radical concept at the time, but today virtually every vintner making Barolo and Barbaresco wines offers “single vineyard” or “cru-designated” wines.
Designation: Barbera d’Asti D.O.C.G.
Grapes: 100% Barbera
Winemaking: The grapes are selected form the single vineyard La Crena in Agliano d’Asti planted in 1932 with 4.800 plants by hectare. The production per hectare is about 20 hl. The must rests for 21 days in stainless steel tanks for the alcoholic fermentation at 26-32°C (78-89° F) with 2-3 daily fullages in the electro pneumatically system, “délestage” and numerous air pumping-over. Immediately after the alcoholic fermentation the wine is moved into oak barrels for the malolactic fermentation.
Aging: After the malolactic fermentation, the wine is moved into French oak barrels and big Slovenian oak casks for 16 months. Then it is assembled in steel tanks until the bottling. Bottle unfiltered.
Description: Rich ruby purple color with concentrated ripe aromas of red raspberry and cherry with a touch of vanilla, toast and spice. On the richer side of Barbera with lush fruit, well balanced acidity, good integration of oak and a long lingering finish.
Food Pairings: Hearty stews, seasoned pasta and poultry with rich sauces, game, roasted red meats and sharp cheeses
Alcohol: 14.00% Alc. by vol.
Total Acidity: 5.70 g/l
Coppo Pomorosso, Barbera d'Asti DOCG
The history of Coppo winery is inextricably wound with the wine history of Piedmont. It is closely linked to the development of the city of Canelli, known as the capital of Italian sparkling wine and one of Italy’s most important viticultural centers today.
Coppo’s history is one of tradition and courageous vision for the future, of sacrifice and innovation. It is a story of the unconditional love that Coppo has for their vines’ origins, for varieties that have always been cultivated in Piedmont, and for old family traditions.
The origins of the winery date back to 1892. For over 120 years, the family has remained the sole owner. Since the very beginning, the Coppo family has managed estate vineyards and bottled their own wine under the name of Coppo, making it one of the oldest family-run wineries in all of Italy.
This wine owes its name to a red apple tree that grows on top of the hill where the vineyards are cultivated. This is without a doubt the most prestigious Barbera from Coppo, and contributed substantially to the rebirth of this variety. Pomorosso, produced only during years of exceptional vintage, comes from three vineyards located in Agliano Terme. The soil is marine sediment and rich in minerals, which gives the wine finesse, minerality, and longevity.
Name origin: this wine takes its name to the presence on the top of the previous vineyard of a red apple tree
Appellation: Barbera d’Asti d.o.c.g.
First vintage produced: 1984
Grape variety: Barbera
Production area: south of Asti
Exposure: south – south est
Soil composition: calcareous clay marl, the soil skeleton reveals the presence of gypsum, iron conglomerates and a modest amount of calcium carbonate
Vineyard altitude: 200 m s.l.m.
Training system: Guyot
Vineyard density: 5.500 plants per hectare
Harvest: selection in vineyards of the healthiest, ripest grapes hand collected in 40 lb picking baskets
Vinification system: maceration with skin contact with short and soft pumping over the skin cap
Malo-lattic: totally carried out
Aging: 14 months in french oak barrels
Color: dark purplish red
Nose: intense cherry, blackberry and violets notes
Taste: well structured and round
Pairings: braised veal with Barbera, pheasant “in salmì” (cooked in spices and wine, Piedmontese style), aged cheeses
Serving temperature: 18° C.