Italy's third most planted variety ranges from pale, fruity pizza-pasta jug wine to serious, brooding hearty fine wines. Italy remains the homeland of this stylish grape.
E. Pira's Barolo & Barbera bottles
Barbera is a red Italian wine grape variety that, to the surprise of many is the third most-planted red grape variety in Italy (after Sangiovese and Montepulciano). It produces good yields and is known for deep color, low tannins and high levels of acid (which is unusual for a warm climate red grape). Century-old vines still exist in many regional vineyards and allow for the production of long-aging, robust red wines with intense fruit and enhanced tannic content. The best known appellation is the DOCG Barbera d'Asti in the Piedmont region. When young, the wines offer a very intense aroma of fresh red 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. Many producers employ the use of toasted (seared over a fire) oak barrels, which provides for increased complexity, aging potential, and hints of vanilla notes. The lightest versions are generally known for flavors and aromas of fresh fruit and dried fruits, and are not recommended for cellaring.
The Barbera vine is very vigorous and capable of producing high yields if not kept in check by pruning and other methods. Excessive yields can diminish the fruit quality in the grape and accentuate Barbera's natural acidity and sharpness. In Piedmont, the vine was prized for its yields and ability to ripen two weeks earlier than Nebbiolo even on vineyard sites with less than ideal exposure. This allowed the Piedmontese winemakers in regions like Alba to give their best sites over to the more difficult to cultivate but ultimately finer Nebbiolo and still produce quality wine with Barbera that could be consumed earlier while the Nebbiolo ages. Harvest for Barbera usually takes place in late September-early October, usually two weeks after Dolcetto has been picked.
Outside of Italy, Barbera is rarely found in Europe. The influence of Italian immigrants has led to a scattering of Barbera plantings in South America, notably in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. In Argentina, there are nearly 2,470 acres (1,000 ha) planted, mostly in the Mendoza and San Juan provinces. Australian wine producers have found some success with Barbera in Victoria. While South African producers have begun widespread plantings of the grape in the warm climate regions of Malmesbury and Paarl.
In California, Barbera is one of the most successful of the Piemontese grapes to be adapted in the state, with over 8,000 acres (3,200 ha) of plantings. It is widely planted in the Central Valley, where it is a blend component in mass-produced jug wines. In recent years, the fashion of Italian grapes has caused more California winemakers to look into producing high quality varietal Barbera.