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Barbera grape gets deserved attention

Barbera grape gets deserved attention

I keep my eye on grape varieties getting attention and for selfish reasons am always looking for great value wines I can add to my everyday drinking shopping list. Barbera is such a grape.

In the past, most of us only thought of this grape as a blending partner, overshadowed by the famous Barolo wines of Italy. But over the past decade we are seeing this grape stand on its own as a sought-after wine. Why have American consumers been left out on this wine? The simple answer may be the Italians were keeping this secret to themselves, keeping almost all of the wines produced for local consumption.

This grape grows throughout the world, but most famous are the vineyards of Piedmont, Italy, that for centuries have produced the most concentrated and complex examples. It’s considered the “workhorse grape” for Italian winemakers because of its hardy growing traits that thrive in most soils and climates.

Most think of Piedmont for the famous nebbiolo grape used in the coveted Barolo and Barbaresco wines. But barbera is known in this region to locals as “the people’s wine” as almost half of the everyday house wines or table wines in Italy are made from this grape. It is the third most planted grape in the entire country and almost 1,000 years older than the well-known cabernet sauvignon.

Because barbera is very low in mouth-drying tannins but high in acidity, it is a dream for wine and food pairing. It’s one of the Italian grapes I have found that simply matches with almost any food. It can be deceiving because the wine is very dark in color and most are expecting a tannic full-bodied style similar to cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, but the taste is generally light and refreshing. It has flavors of cherry, strawberry and raspberry when it’s young, and as it ages can deliver the undeniable “truffle” aromas and flavors reminiscent of the great wines of Piedmont.

The best examples are from the town of Asti. This town has been producing affordable barbera for centuries. Look for the name Barbera D’Asti on the label.

THE VALUE

  • 2016 Araldica Albera Barbera D’Asti, Italy (about $12 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2011 Michele Chiarlo Barbera D’Asti, Italy (about $22 retail)
Barbera wines earn their place at the table

Barbera wines earn their place at the table

The grape variety barbera (bar-BEAR-uh) plays second fiddle to the more famous Barolo Italian grape. But over the last 20 years we’ve seen this grape receiving attention and Babera wines earn their place at the table. Once regarded as an ordinary everyday drinking wine, barbera grows around the world, but it is the vineyards of Italy’s Piedmont region that for centuries have produced the most concentrated and complex examples of this grape.

Here’s some trivia about this grape that makes for an interesting dinner conversation (at least for wine geeks). Barbera is thought to be nearly 1,000 years older than cabernet sauvignon. Researchers have found the grape can be traced as far back as the 7th century.

As with many a great dinner conversation, there is also a tale of scandal. A 1986 Time magazine article reported on a wine scare across Europe precipitated by the illegal use of wine additives. Eight Italians were found dead and more than 30 hospitalized after drinking Odore barbera. The wines were found to contain 5.7 percent methyl alcohol; the legal limit was 0.3 percent. Methyl alcohol is generally used in industrial applications including antifreeze, solvent and fuel. The scandal resulted in regulations that require all exported Italian wine to be carry a government certificate of purity.

Barbera can be refreshing in its youth with cherry and raspberry flavors or aged into a serious full-bodied style with a plummy spice taste. When made with care it can even deliver the undeniable “truffle” aromas and flavors reminiscent of the great wines of Piedmont.

This grape is often overlooked in food and wine pairing. As with most Italian grapes, its high acid content and soft tannins make it an almost perfect match with most foods.

THE VALUE

  • 2014 Paolo Marcarino Piemonte Barbera, Italy (about $14 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2011 Michele Chiarlo Barbera D’Asti, Italy (about $21 retail)