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Barbera cluster.Barbera

Barbera is an ancient variety with its historical roots in Italy, where today it remains the second most widely planted red variety, after sangiovese.

The highest quality Barberas come from the Piedmont region, where it is the most widely planted variety, with fifteen times more acreage is devoted to it than to nebbiolo. Often barbera is blended into nebbiolo to bring softer mouthfeel and deeper color to the latter.

The grape even lends it name to many Italian vineyard classifications. Barbera d'Asti and Barbera del Monferrato each produce about three times as much wine as Barbera d'Alba. Barbera-based Colli Tortonesi is produced in such small quantities it is rarely found outside its own region. Barbera is also produced in Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Sardinia.

Apart from Italy, barbera is grown in Argentina and Slovenia and is the fifth most widely planted variety in California, where it was introduced in the 1880s, by John Doyle, an early proponent of increasing California wine quality.

Barbera vines are popular with growers, strong, vigorous and reliably productive in a wide variety of soils and also highly resistant to fungal diseases. The barbera vine is even less affected than other varieties by such recurring notable dangers such as hail and frost. The fruit is naturally high in acid, which it retains very well, even in hot climates. Barbera grapes are also high in anthocyanins, but only low to moderate in tannin content.

The resulting wines are deep, purplish black in their youth, but tend to early browning and lightening as they age. Tannin from oak aging can help somewhat to stabilize color.

Although normally indistinct in aroma, when cultivated in temperate areas and cropped for quality, Barbera can exhibit an attractive ripe aroma of red fruit, currants or blackberries that can be enhanced by vanilla, smoky or toasty notes added by barrel aging. On the other hand, neutral aroma, high color and acidity are all good characteristics for blending with other grapes and this is how Barbera is most frequently used. Non-specific vinosity, combined with tartness and lower tannin also helps wines made with high barbera content to enhance enjoyment with a wide variety of foods.

*Typical Barbera Smell and/or Flavor Descriptors
*Typicity depends upon individual tasting ability and experience and is also affected by terroir and seasonal conditions, as well as viticultural and enological techniques. This list therefore is merely suggestive and neither comprehensive nor exclusive.

Varietal Aromas/Flavors:

Processing Bouquets/Flavors:

Fruit: currant, blackberry

Oak (light): toast, vanilla, cream

Floral: (atypical)

Oak (heavy): smoke, oak, tar

Herbal: (atypical) Spice: anise, licorice

Flavor: tart

Bottle Age:

Most California Barbera is grown in the Central Valley and finds its way into generic or proprietary blends. Barbera raises the quality and brings balance to inexpensive red wines. The Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, Santa Clara and Sonoma, where very warm days are moderated by cool nights, produce some of the state's best varietal bottlings of Barbera.

Jim LaMar

1. Jancis Robinson (ed), Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition, (Oxford University Press: London) 2006

2. L. Peter Christensen, Nick K. Dokoozlian, M. Andrew Walker, James A Wolpert, et all. Wine Grape Varieties in California (University of California, Agricultural and Natural Resources Publications: Oakland) 2003

3. Benjamin Lewin, Wine Myths and Reality, (Vendage Press: Dover, DE) 2010

4. Erika Montovan, Piedmont Wines/Barbera, I vini del Piemonte (winery consortium website) 2015

5. Steven Spurrier & Michel Dovaz, Academie du Vin, Complete Wine Course (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York) 1983

6. Charles Sullivan, A Companion to California Wine: An Encyclopedia of Wine and Winemaking from the Mission Period to the Present (University of California Press: Berkeley) 1998

7. Jancis Robinson (ed), Jancis Robinson's Guide to Wine Grapes, (Oxford University Press: New York) 1996


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Page created August 25,2002; Updated November 13, 2003
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