The Best of Barbera Wines

The 'Beaujoulais of Italy' is a high-acid, but easily paired, wine

Barbera elicits the most remarkable reactions from people. Those who are more accustomed to modern wines only recall the worst of the wine’s history. The thin, incredibly high-acid examples seemed better suited for use in the garage as a solvent than for use near a dinner table.

On the other hand, many traditionalists seem fixated on moaning about the newer style of barberas. These wines are softened through ripeness and rounded through oak aging, not to mention infused with distracting vanilla and toasty spice flavors.

The truth, as is normally the case, lies between these two extreme expressions of barbera. As I see it, barbera is a wonderfully versatile wine that is low in natural tannin and high in acid, making it ideal for use at the table. It is not the most intensely flavored wine, which is why so much effort has been expended on trying to amp it up. This creates the question of whether the wine really needs so much amping. In my opinion, the answer is no.

Lighter-bodied, fresh, and fruity barbera serves a purpose that is hard to satisfy with other grapes. It is the beaujolais of Italy, much to Dolcetto’s chagrin. Ready for pizza yes, but also a roasted chicken, pork chops, or even Asian food. My favorite pairing is olive oil-laced grilled vegetables. Barbera is fun, flexible, and affordable, a wine that more people should open their minds to. After all, many wines have shaken off their sometimes well earned reputations for excess. Perhaps it is now barbera’s turn.

2010 Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa Barbera d’Alba 13.5% $28

Smells a little gassy and a little grassy with candied plum and black raspberry notes gently emerging on the nose. Rather light and fresh in the mouth, this shows lovely crisp and finely textured tannins, balanced by assertive yet not sharp acidity. In the mouth, the flavors are on the subtle side, with some earth-backed cherry and raspberry fruit. A really fine, long finish shows cherry pit fruit, a light dusty mineral tone, and a hint of dried lime peel on the finale. Very elegant and well balanced if subtle. 90pts

2010 La Casaccia Giuanin Barbera del Monferrato 13.5% $14

Very perfumed on the nose with lovely suggestions of herb stems, candied flowers, ginseng, and earth accenting the black currant fruit. Elegant in the mouth with lovely balance and fine richness to the fruit, which show early signs of damson plum and wild black cherry before revealing a little touch of roasted hazelnut on the mid-palate. This leads to more floral and ginseng-like accents on the back end. The finish shows lovely purity of fruit and a bright, zesty character. Lacks just a touch of complexity but is absolutely lovely. 89pts

2009 Coppo L’avvocata Barbera d’Asti 14% $14

Fresh and wonderfully textured in the mouth with cool flavors of raspberry and wild cherry with a hint of mulberry. The acidity here is bright and fresh but well integrated with the fruit. There are fine-grained tannins adding a little extra cut to the palate. The purity of the fruit here is lovely and the finish is long and very precise, with a strong mineral vein adding a nice, almost medicinal tone to the fruit. Excellent persistence and balance make this a winner. 88pts

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— Gregory Del Piaz, Snooth