Although less well-known than its fellow Piedmontese wine greats, Barbera is a fine expression of just what this region is capable of, as Paul Pettengale discovers…
Piedmont is an absolute star in the vast world of wine. Some of the greatest wines on the planet originate there ? notably the ?king? and ?queen? of wines, Barolo and Barbaresco (both red) and the oft-overlooked, but nonetheless fantastic, Gavi di Gavi (a white). The reds mentioned require bulging wallets to appreciate, however, making them very much tipples for a special occasion. So where do you turn if you?re after a quality Piedmont red that won?t cost the earth? Look no further than the towns of Asti and Alba, the Monferrato hills and the Barbera grape variety.
Although grown across Italy (indeed, it?s the third most-planted red grape variety in the country), Barbera is at its best within its viticultural home. Usually grown on the cooler, lower slopes of the rolling Piedmontese hills (below the growths of the highly prized Nebbiolo), the vines produce grapes that are low in tannins and fairly high in acidity. The wines produced as a result are far lighter than its Barolo and Barbaresco cousins; they can be drunk younger and with a wider variety of food types. Fresh, lively and quaffable, Barbera is a delightful alternative to the heavier wines in Piedmont.
But things are changing. Some producers are using late harvesting and aging in oak to produce wines of more depth. More character, one could argue. The wines, especially the rarer wines made with grapes grown around the town of Alba, are drawing ever-increasing interest (and therefore, inevitably, ever-growing price tags). Although they?ll never fully challenge a Barolo or Barbaresco for power and aging potential, they make a welcome, less intimidating alternative. All drink well with the distinctive foods of the region ? veal and game especially.
Italia! discovery of the month
From Liberty Wines
It?s not often with Italian wineries to encounter a ?new kid on the block?, but that?s very much the case with Vigne Marina Coppi ? a company that was established as recently as 2003. Concentrating on crafting wines with Barbera, Nebbiolo, Croatina and Fresia grape varieties, the Coppi family comprises a mother, father, son and wife team. Output is extremely limited, but on tasting this Barbera it?s abundantly clear that quality is very, very high.
Interestingly, oak isn?t employed in the creation of this wine. Aging takes place over ten months in stainless steel tanks (with a further eight months spent in the bottle prior to release), resulting in a wine that, although big, bold and powerful, retains balance and a crisp, refreshing acidity.This Barbera is deftly floral on the nose ? not something you encounter a great deal. This is a ?float like a butterfly, sting like a bee? number, one with both subtlety and power, and definitely one of the best Barberas we?ve ever encountered.
From Great Western Wine
Although any wine that tops the ten pound mark may be considered a tad pricey, this one, from Fontanafredda in Alba, is an absolute bargain. Very, very rarely will you pick up such quality at this price point. A rich, deep red colour is matched by a wine with real clout. Warming and heavily spiced on the nose it features forest and bramble fruit with stunning intensity. It has a cherry finish topped off with a touch of cigar box and chocolate. Lovely.
Roasted red meats, especially pink veal, beef and lamb.
From Liberty Wines
Bruno Rocca took over his family winery in 1978, thoroughly modernising production (which is mainly Barbaresco) and introducing Barbera to the portfolio. And what a Barbera this is! It?s another example of a wine with a rich, complex style, benefiting from a full 16 months in oak (and a further six in the bottle prior to release). It?s a bounty of dark cherries, plums and damsons with plenty of warmth and an excellent, long finish.
Winter stews, roasted game and rare steaks. Great with lamb, too.
From Berry Bros & Rudd
Whereas many Barbera wines from around Asti are lighter in style, this one bucks the trend. It?s not as heavy as some of the wines from Alba, but thanks to a few months spent in old, used barrels, it has plenty of blackcurrant and raspberry fruit and great intensity. It?s a single vineyard wine ? hence its name which translates as ?on its own? in Piedmontese dialect ? with stature and poise typical of such (relatively rare) wines.
Slow roasted pork belly on a bed of herbs with delicately spiced polenta.
You can always count on the buyers at Waitrose to bag top class wine at extremely reasonable prices, and this Barbera is no exception. It?s an earthy, robust expression of the grape variety with dark forest fruit aromas and a delicate cherry taste countering the more robust dark plum and sloe fruit. It retains an elegance and poise however, making it superbly balanced with a sturdy, wooded finish.
Rump steak, bashed out nice and thin and flash- fried. With chips.
Grown in the Monferatto hills, south of Asti, the grapes that find their way into this wine are harvested by a cooperative of producers. Il Bello is typical of wines from the Asti (rather than Alba) subzone ? bright red in colour, it?s lighter and fresher though well rounded with dark cherry and plum fruit flavours. It has a zippy acidity to it (and virtually no tannin at all), making for an easy-drinking everyday wine at a great price.
This would work with tomato-based pasta dishes. Or, indeed, pizza.
From Great Western Wine
The real art of creating a truly great Barbera is achieving balance. The grape variety is naturally quite acidic, but it lacks the tannic structure of, for instance, Nebbiolo. So it can end up lacking in substance. This wine from Parusso achieves the balance perfectly thanks to an aging process that involves nine months in small oak barrels. Big, bold flavours of forest fruits and raspberries give it plenty of interest, as does the lovely lingering finish.
A rack of lamb served with rosemary and garlic- roasted potatoes.
The little sweet one
Piedmont is understandably famous for Barolo and Barbaresco wines, and Barbera is gaining in popularity outside of Italian shores. But one grape variety from the region that shouldn?t be overlooked is Dolcetto. Translating as ?the little sweet one?, this grape usually makes a Piedmontese winery?s ?basic? wine. The everyday table wine you?ll encounter in carafes in the local trattoria. Purple/red in colour, Dolcetto wines are rustic in style and match most types of food well. Although they vary considerably between producers, Dolcetto wines are punchy, fruity and ever so slightly sweet. Sadly they?re rarely encountered in the UK or the US, though they?re worth looking out for through specialist Italian wine importers.