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The many wines of the Barbera grape…light summer drinks to intense meaty reds

By Julia Jenkins, 21st August 2017

The many wines of the Barbera grape… from light summer drinks to intense meaty reds

Barbera is an Italian grape variety that has been planted in Italy for many centuries and many vines are over one hundred years old and are still producing fruit. It is thought to have originated in the northern Italian wine region of Piemonte where it is still extensively grown in the Monferrato Hills and is also widely grown throughout Lombardy especially in the Oltrepo Pavese area. After Sangiovese (the main Chianti / Tuscan grape and Montepulciano) it is the 3rd most planted variety in Italy and accounts for 50% of Piemonte’s wine production.

In Piemonte and Lombardy the Barbera grape produces a diverse range of wines of varying styles from light low tannin wines with high acidity through to deep concentrated and complex wines that age well and require time to show their true colour. It is mostly sold as Barbera del Piemonte but the better quality wines are to be found under the Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d ’Alba DOCG labels and the recently defined DOCG of Nizza Wines making top quality Barberas.

When young, the wines offer a very intense aroma of fresh red cherries and blackberries. In the lightest versions notes of cherries, raspberries, and blueberries and with notes of blackberry and black cherries in wines made of more ripe grapes. Often, they are sold simply as Piemonte Rosso and are very easy drinking and summery with light tannins and fresh acidity and delightful when slightly chilled.

Wines with better balance between acid and fruit, often with the addition of oak and having a high alcohol content are more capable of aging; these wines often result from reduced-yield viticultural methods. The Araldica Ceppi Storici Barbera is a great example. It has warm, spicy aromas of blueberries and plums, with subtle, smoky notes. The palate is rich and generous with juicy cherry and lots of plum fruit, and there are meaty, spicy notes underlying these notes. It comes from 40 year old vines in vineyards in the Monferrato hills in Asti in Piemonte the complexity is gained from aging in French oak barrels and large traditional Piemonte oak vats for twelve months.

Some of the top quality Barbera wines have great aging potential as the fruit has concentrated characteristics such those grown by the excellent producer Marchese di Gresy. They produce a wine called Monte Colombo Barbera d’Asti has full aromas of red berry and cherry fruit and liquorice, enveloped in sweet toasty vanilla oak. The palate is generous and rich, showing concentrated soft black fruits and smoky spicy, chocolatey notes. The richness of fruit and spicy oak is carefully balanced by the high acidity of the Barbera grape. This wine is matured for eighteen months in French barriques followed by a further six months in bottle before release and ages well.

In the 19th and 20th century, waves of Italian immigrants took Barbera to the Americas where the vine took root in California and Argentina as well as in Australia where the Coriole family established their vineyards in McLaren Vale in South Australia and produce a lovely Barbera wine with juicy blue and red fruits with fresh ripe acidity and low tannin.

If you like Italian food then the Barbera was made to accompany some of the best antipasto, pasta and meat dishes.

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