Barbera, Who? Story of an Italian Grape Named Barbera
Did you know that every region in Italy produces predominant varietals of wine? Every. Single. Region.
If you did happen to already know this tidbit of information, then hats off to you! Forgive my inapplicable intro. But for those of us who normally stick to France, Spain or the New World categories, let us look at why this fact is special.
In every other wine-producing country, there are areas of wine production: Bordeaux in France, Rioja in Spain, and even Walla Walla in Washington. But, in Italy, life and wine and go hand in hand. Sure, there are the more well-known areas that get attention from an International standpoint (ahem, Chianti, anyone?). Despite the major players, ANY Italian province you travel to has their own mark on the wine world.
Perhaps this is why Italians never need a reason to pour a glass at any time of day. It goes with lunch or a business conversation. It even goes with tending to the garden at 11 am. You get the drift. Wine is life in Italy, just as it is interwoven into the very landscape this culture of people occupy.
Wine of the people
With that being said, let’s take a look today at one varietal in particular: Barbera. To do so, we’ll need to take a trip to Northern Italy, the towns of Alba and Asti specifically. There is no better Italian grape to speak of when discussing the importance that is wine to these people, for the name actually is known as “wine of the people”. How fitting, eh?
When speaking in International terms, Barbera is often cast in a sort of shadow, considering its neighboring varietal, Nebbiolo, is globally famous for producing show-stopping wines from the town of Barolo. And if Nebbiolo is the prototype for a wine that is age-worthy, Barbera is certainly be the poster kid for a wine that is beautiful when consumed young. Great news for us impatient folk!
You’ll certainly find red fruits such as cherry, strawberry and underripe plum when engaging in a sip of Barbera. However, don’t expect a New World approach on fruit. These wines are equally, if not more, herbaceous than fruity! Violets, nutmeg and clove can be expected with touches of subtle vanilla from the neutral oak they traditionally see.
The last piece of advice, friends, is to keep in mind that when it comes to labeling their bottles, Italy likes to put their varietals before the region they hail from. So looking for Barbera d’Asti or Barbera d’Alba will keep you from standing in the aisle at the store for too long. We don’t want you looking dazed and confused, now do we?
Alright champs, go get ‘em! And invite me along when you crack a bottle, would you? Because I for one would like to embody the resolve of the Italians in never needing a reason to indulge in a glass of vino. Who’s with me?!
Samantha Stowell began her adventure with wine 4 years ago after quitting her corporate life as an interior designer. After completing the Advanced Level 3 WSET course, she traveled to McLaren Vale, Australia to work for Mollydooker wines. Since returning, she has been the sommelier of a wine bar in Downtown Santa Ana, CA, helping to develop their wine program and is currently the resident sommelier at Yves’ Restaurant & Wine Bar in Anaheim Hills, CA.