Grown mainly in Northern Italy, it gives origin to no fewer than seven DOC wines, three of which in Piedmont - Barbera d'Alba, Barbera d'Asti and Barbera del Monferrato. Its main characteristic is the high level of acidity, even when it is fully ripe. Wines made with this grape are characterised by a purplish red colour and are full-bodied, with aromatic fruit and a high acid content. Barbera can be found all over Italy. In its native region, Piedmont, it is usually vinified as a single-grape wine. It is an extremely vigorous variety which does well in sandy soils and clay. However, numerous producers think that it can give extremely elegant results in lime-rich soils at temperate latitudes. Its medium-high acidity, colour density, medium-low tannins and extreme versatility have meant that, in the past, producers have presented it in a variety of different types: semi-sparkling, novello and even as a white wine. We find the first mention in the 6th century, in the cadastral registers of Chieri and Nizza, but it was Gallesio who gave it the name Vitis vinifera montisferratensis, characterising it as a typical grape of the Monferrato district, where there are over 20,000 hectares of Barbera vineyards, at altitudes between 200 and 500 metres, and the largest town of which is Asti. According to a recent interpretation, its name originates from a combination of the word “barba”, used to describe its complex system of roots, and the term in local dialect “albéra”, which indicates the woodland area where vines were planted in place of the trees. The regulations state that Barbera d'Alba must have a minimum alcohol content of 12% and envisage no minimum ageing, leaving it to the producer’s discretion. If the alcohol content is at least 12.5% and the wine is aged in oak or chestnut barrels for at least 12 months, it can be classified as “superiore”. Barbera is a medium-late ripening variety which slots perfectly into the Langhe winegrowing calendar. The grapes ripen towards the end of September/beginning of October, just after Dolcetto and just before Nebbiolo. The yield in the vineyard – according to the production regulations – is a maximum of 10 tonnes, but high-quality productions can have yields of as little as half this. Barbera is, in fact, a grape variety which tends to produce large quantities of grapes, making it essential to work meticulously in the vineyard to limit production in order to produce high-quality wines.
Wines made with Barbera are often characterised by an evident purplish colour when young. In both Barbera d'Asti Superiore and Barbera d'Alba, the colour is deep, bright ruby red, with a rather reduced transparency. As it ages – following the normal evolution of red wines - ruby red and garnet shades develop. Barbera always offers a generous bouquet, particularly exuberant in its red and black berry scents, along with flowers. Wood aside, Barbera is an explosion of fruit, especially cherries, plums and blackberries, as well as raspberries and blueberries, while the most characteristic floral sensation is that
of violets. Ageing in wood, whether in large barrels or barriques, conveys complexity to the wine, enriching it with tertiary aromas, spicy and complex scents, such as vanilla, cocoa, chocolate, tobacco, cinnamon and sometimes black pepper, as well as a pleasant balsamic sensation, often recognisable as menthol. As time goes by, the sensations of fruit that develop in wines made with Barbera grapes as they develop and age, also in the bottle, are transformed into jammy versions of the same fruit. Even the more complex aromatic qualities continue to evolve, often developing scents of leather and tar.
Barbera is a grape which produces wines that are often considered to be rustic. This characteristic is due mainly to the variety’s marked acidity, which is such as to make the wines quite harsh. Not very rich in astringency, Barbera is aged in wood to convey “soft” tannins capable of balancing the grape’s evident acidity. It has a very good sugar content, resulting in wines with a quite considerable alcohol content, often in excess of 14%.