Barbera (bar-BEAR-a)


Barbera, the most widely planted red grape in the northwestern Italian region of Piedmont, rose to prominence there after phylloxera. Genetic research suggests it probably originated someplace else and was brought to Piedmont. Its parents are not known. Even though nebbiolo (the grape used to make Barolo and Barbaresco) is more renowned, it’s barbera, not nebbiolo, that Piedmontese winemakers invariably drink with dinner. Beginning in the mid 1980s the quality of barbera rose dramatically. By planting it in better sites, limiting the yield, and aging the wine in better barrels, Piedmontese winemakers began making superbly mouthfilling, rich wines packed with flavor. Top barberas also have a natural vivacity—a precision and vibrancy that comes from the grapes’ relatively high acidity. Today, all of the great barberas come from Piedmont, and the grape is rarely planted elsewhere, though there is a small amount grown in northern California. A century ago, Italian immigrants in California planted it in poor, usually hot areas, hoping to make a hearty, low cost red wine. After a brief resurgence as part of the “Cal-Ital” movement of the early 1990s, barbera sadly began to decline in importance.

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