Italy’s indigenous grape varieties exceed 200, yet today only a fraction is made and promoted.
Barbera is one of the more famous red grape varieties of Piedmont located in the northwestern corner of the country.
This dark-berried, high-acid, productive, and versatile grape variety, originally from Oltrepo-Pavese in Lombardy, grows best in Piedmont. It ripens two weeks after dolcetto, but well before nebbiolo, the most famous red grape variety of this province and responsible for Barolo and Barbaresco wines.
From a popularity perspective its only serious contender is sangiovese in Italy. Barbera yields dark, cheery fruit smelling, “juicy”, full-bodied wines with vivacious acidity.
from around the town of Asti is marketed as Barbera d’Asti. Other quality barberas are Barbera del Monferrato, – del Dogliano, and – Barbera dei Colli Tortonesi. Each displays different flavours and textures.
By 1990 there were 50,000 hectares of barbera vineyards in Piedmont, Lombardy (Oltrepo-Pavese), Campania, Emilia Romagna, Basilicata, Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily. All except those from Piedmont go into bulk wines and blends.
In the U. S. A Thomas Jefferson in Monticello Estate, Virgina in the 1770’s, and the first in California’s Barelli Creek Vineyards in 1881 planted the first barbera vines.
In California mostly Italian immigrants in the hot, flat and extensive Central Valley yielding “jug quality wine” grapes planted barbera.
Some growers experimented with sangiovese, nebbiolo and barbera in the Napa Valley and Sonoma County, but none yielded memorable wines.
Yet, of the three grape varieties, barbera has the best potential in California’s Central Valley, as the grape has the ability to adapt to different terroirs more than any other Italian variety. Sangiovese outside of Tuscany never yields excellent wines, and the same is true for nebbiolo outside of Piedmont.
Presently there are 4000 hectares of barbera in California and it seems the American palate is ready for the dark, juicy, cherry-aroma exuding full bodied barbera wines, if only wineries would prepare well conceived, financially backed marketing plans to support the wine.
The following California barbera brands are worth looking for Il Podere delle Olivos, Bricco Buon Natale Barbera, Santa Barbara, Montevina Barbera Amador County, Barbera Barelli Creek Vineyard, E and J Gallo.
Elsewhere in the world, barbera is planted extensively in Argentina with satisfactory results.