Believed to be around since the 7th century, Barbera doesn’t appear in writing until 1798, when it was documented by the director of the Agricultural Society of Turin. This makes Barbera about 1000 years older than Cabernet Sauvignon! While Barbera’s parentage is unknown, it is believed to be a natural cross between two different varietals. Barbera tends to be rich and light-bodied with notes of cherry, raspberry, plum, nutmeg, and hints of leather and herbs. This grape sings alongside Moroccan fare, mushroom pizza, and grilled vegetables.
With vines spread across almost 63,000 acres in the world, of which Italy accounts for a little over 80% of those acres, it’s no surprise that Barbera is Italy’s third most planted grape after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Mainly grown in Piedmont, where Barbera is believed to have originated from, it is considered the “people’s wine” because of its everyday affordability while still being a stunner. Whereas Nebbiolo, Piedmont’s most famous and popular grape, tends to be pricier and saved for special occasions.
While Barbera is planted in low slopes and valleys within Italy (the warmer spots saved for Nebbiolo), Barbera is a pretty adaptable grape. So when Italians migrated to places like California, Australia, and Argentina, they brought Barbera with them, where it also thrives in smaller amounts. New World Barberas tend to be fuller bodied and fruit forward with notes of cherry, blackberry, strawberry, vanilla, and anise. While Old World Barberas are fresher with ample acidity and notes of violet, smoke, cherry, graphite, and minerality.
Looking to indulge? Here are some wines to try:
Grape Photo Courtesy of UC Davis