Respect is rarely automatic, not always deserved and not taken lightly. Barbera has lacked respect in the wine world because it was said to be too acidic, too rustic, too coarse, lacking flavour and compromised too easily. Barbera's only apparent redeeming quality was its cheapness or more modestly put, its value. Perhaps it has had a bad reputation because it is a primary Piedmont resident in Italy's northwest wine region, where the other two grape varietals, Nebbiolo and Dolcetto, overshadow the lowly Barbera in respect and admiration. It i grown in other Italian wine regions, in fact, after Sangiovese, Barbera is the second most planted grape in the Italy. However there is no correlation with that fact and that people love and praise their Chiantis, their Brunellos, and their Barolos more. While Barbera has been sneered at, spat upon and spurned, bottles of it are commonly found as the basic table wine in modest Italian restaurants. Barbera may be underrated, but it's the everyday underrated drinking wine at the heart of Italian Life.
The wines people think of when Piedmont is discussed are Barolo, Barbaresco and Dolcetto. Barbera's reputation for creating lackluster character, dearth of flavor and biting acidic wines has started to wear off. The wines deserve a chance. In general, the best Barberas are found in the Piedmont.
Without question Barbera's will probably never rise to the stature of Barolos or Brunellos, but winemakers are getting wiser in their approach to and handling of the grape. They are planting the vines in better sites, reducing yields and paying more attention to wine production. Longer aging in oak has proven effective to enhance Barbera's spartan character, bring out flavor, and build balance in structure.
For decades Barbera has suffered under neglect and lack of attention, but the new style is bringing out the richness in the fruit that in turn balances the grape's inherent acidity. The result is a Barbera that many years ago would not be recognized. Ironically, in the Piedmont Barolo's gets the accolades but Barbera outplants the Nebbiolo grape by about fifteen times. Part of the reason might be attributed to Barbera's hardy knack to grow profusely in places other grapes whine and moan and then wither and die.
There are five D.O.C. in the Piedmont for Barbera but there are only two that should get your attention, the best to check out are:
Barbera D'Alba Barbera D'Asti
Contrary to Barolo or Barbaresco, a Barbera wine is not a dark and sinister purple but a brighter ruby red. Also, Barbera has negligible tannins and does not age as well. It's probably a good idea to drink the wine when it's fairly young, say within four to six years of the vintage date. As it ages, the color will turn to garnet with brownish edges. Regarding its flavors, when expertly done, Barbera shows modes of black cherries, black berries, currants and plums.
There are essentially two types or styles of Barbera, the pre and post wines. The pre is made in the tradizionale method before theaccademico metodologia influenced how the wine is made. Like all Italian politics, there is always opposition. The pre Barbera is simple in structure with spare fruit character that is accentuated with an sharp acidic tang. This is not a knock on the wine but rather an acknowledgment of its nature. The post Barbera will exhibit more extracted fruit, density, and an indication of oaky tannins to provide a counterweight to the fruit's natural acidity.
Agostino Pavia & Figlia.
A straight forward Barbera that will show balance of berry fruit, acidity, depth and a dearth of tannins. Shall we say, "Large-Pepperoni and mushrooms, extra cheese."
Clerico is located in Monforte d'Alba, producing mostly Barolo wines. He also makes an outstanding Barbera from three vineyards and ages in French oak. Clerico wines are highly prized as his full-bodied Trevigne.
The "Ciabot du Re" is the one to look for from Fratelli Revello. It's released after two years of harvest and shows more depth in fruit and structure than the Barbera d'Alba that only ages one year.
Michele Pasquero and his wife, Annette Hilberg, promote biodynamic farming at the Pasquero winery to produce excellent wines with Barbera and Nebbiolo. The Barbera d'Alba is a younger wine with fresh fruit intensity. The Superiore exhibits more complexity of raspberry, violets, and smooth texture.
Look for the Rhino on the label. Winemaker Giorgio Rivetti made his reputation on a Super-Piedmont, particularly on his Monferrato Rosso Pin wine blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera.
As you may suspect, another family owned estate, since 1886. Conterno is known more for its various Barolos, but they also have a solid and flavorful Barbara d'Alba Ginestra with traditional Barbera tang.
Paolo Scavino is a modern and one of the most respected winemakers in Italy. His Barolos are big giants that command attention, praise, and high prices. Barolos typically need years to soften to a drinkable state. Scavino's are soft and lush with months and actually drinkable. If Scavino makes Barbera, I want to try it.
The Prunotto wine estate began after World War I, in 1923, led by winemaker and founder Alfredo Prunotto. Currenty owned by the Tuscan wine company, Antinori.
The best Barberas will probably come from Barbera d'Alba or Barbera d'Asti and these wines are predominantly made from 100% Barbera grapes. In other areas it tends to be blended to offset some of the grape's natural limitations. Many are excellent Barolo producers also make Barberas. If you fancy a particular winery and their Barbera, research if they also make a Barolo...and vice versa. Regarding price, the tavola version will run about $20-$35 but the complex Barberas that express themselves with their hands like a true Italian will cost between $35-$85. Barbera has always been a wine that has been some what of a mystery to me. Hopefully it wont be like that for you. Trying to find some quality Barbera d'Alba's in australia is a difficult task. Many Chain style stores stock a poor range of crappy flabby uninteresting wines. The internet however can bring many of the elegant indulgent flavours directly into your front door. Don't be shy get online and give it a try see what you can find and try. After all the alluring thing about wine is the hunt finding that bottle that captures everything your looking for!