Barbera is Taking on Airs

Once a trusty table wine and sidekick, Barbera is now pushing for a starring role!


I got so excited about dolcetto this year, see my report on The Return of Dolcetto, that I almost forgot about Barbera! 
I love Barbera. It’s a rich wine, though too often spoofed up with too much oak, but when you find an example that focuses on the fruit you get a wine that is bursting with mouth cleansing acids, rich with plummy fruit, and lightly tannic at best. The downside to Barbera? The alcohol tends to be pretty high. That’s due to the grape’s inherent acidity, which can produce overly acidic wines when the fruit is not fully ripe or the yield is too high.

Those battery acid barberas are something many of us of a certain age vividly remember. It was generally due to the high yields back in the day, when wine was cheap and farmers cared more about yields than quality.

Today we live in a different world and not only do producers simply lack the demand for such high production wines, but consumers can easily find out what's a good example of a wine and what’s a bad example, and often those two bottles are essentially the same price! On the other hand, really good Barbera has joined the ranks of the expensive wines in many case, though the accompanying quality is usually there. $50 bottles of Barbera, who'd've thought?

Fortunately you don’t have to break the bank to great a fabulous bottle of Barbera and those gentle tannins make Barbera a wonderful wine with a little chil. I’ve always loved a cool bottle of fresh Barbera paired with great, farm fresh vegetables simply grilled and served on grilled European Rye bread (Silver Bell’s from Queens is the best!) then drizzled with the best Olive oil you can find. It’s a simple dish but the slightly vegetal undertones often present in barba marry perfectly with the veggies and the acids in the wine join the fats in the oil to create a symphony in your mouth. All the grilling also helps to temper and evidence of barrel ageing should there be any.

I will come out and say that I do not like new oak with barbera, though a little bit can help add some tannin to the wine which can improve mouthfeel for those used to more muscular wines. For me the oak just gets in the way, though ageing in larger, neutral oak can have a wonderfully effect on Barbera, adding a subtle softness to what is inherently a taut and edgy wine. Of course oak ageing makes Barbares a better wine if you’re pairing it with a fatty steak or such fare, but that is not the role Barbera plays in my life.

For me it’s all about the acid, which is why so many people enjoy barbera so much with high acid dishes such as pasta in red sauce. As you’ll see from my notes I prefer Barbera when it is elegant and fresh, which does not mean simple and light. A gentle hand can produce Barbera that is downright Burgundian! Yes barbera, the battery acid of yore is now elegant. Give a few bottles a try. Pasta, grilled veggies, even some meaty fish can make Barbera shine, and offer a hint as to why demand for these wines is continuing to push up pricing. One last note. Barbera also ages. It won’t make old bones like Barolo for example but give a good Barbera three to five years in the bottle and you’ll find a wine that has lost some of it’s early fruit but replaced it with the leathery, spicy, earthy character so common in Piedmontese wines. I prefer my Barbera roughly during this period as it combine the brilliant fruit found in the young wines with all the nuance and detail you might expect to pay more for.

Having said that. many of the wines in this tasting represent the creme de la creme of Barbera, and they don’t come cheaply. The wine world is a odd place where wines get priced to match demand and demand usually, but not always, follows critical acclaim more than anything else. Barbera, and dolcetto to a certain extend, have benefitted from the incredible increase in attention to and appreciation of Barolo and Barbaresco over the past decade.

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14 Top Barbera Values Tasted 5/2014

Cappellano Barbera Barbera d'Alba (2009)
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Elio Grasso Barbera d'Alba (2011)
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Burlotto G.b. Comm. Barbera d'Alba Aves (2012)
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Guido Porro Barbera Barbera d'Alba Santa Caterina (2013)
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Brezza Barbera d'Alba Superiore (2011)
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E. Pira & Figli Chiara Boschis Barbera D' Alba (2012)
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Burlotto Barbera d'Alba (2012)
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Ferdinando Principiano Barbera d'Alba Laura (2012)
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Oddero Barbera d'Asti (2011)
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Massolino Barbera d'Alba (2012)
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Prunotto Barbera d'Asti Fiulot (2012)
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Coppo l'Avvocata Barbera d'Asti (2012)
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Oddero Barbera d'Alba DOC (2011)
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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Seabrooker
    167088 56

    Having been to Allesandria a few years ago, I share your love of these Barberas. But you're missing the generation of Barbera growers in the Sierra Foothills of California - Cooper, Runquist, Wilderotter, Perry Creek and Windwalker are all great examples. They use little oak, allowing the balance of fruit and acid to be just right. They may be hard to find, but they are worth seeking out.

    Aug 20, 2014 at 1:57 PM

  • Thank you, "Seabrooker!" My sentiments exactly. . and, it ain't just "sentiment!" The Barberas of the Sierra Foothills ARE THE EQUAL OF ANY IN THE WORLD!! And, at as much as half the price of the wines on Mr Dal Piaz' list of "values." ! [By the way, "price" is NOT my only criteria!]

    I'd like to add a couple more to the list: Il Gioiello/Morse (Estate Barbera @ $22) and Iverson (Estate Barbera @ $28) The offerings of each winery can easily be found online. . .

    I'll admit to being somewhat of "cheerleader" for the wines of Amador County's Shenandoah Valley. . .However, my valuations are based on more than 50 years of fairly close familiarity with the wines of mid- and northern California. . .ranging from Napa & Sonoma to the wines of Mendocino.

    I'd also like to add that the wineries noted above have excellent "other" reds: Zinfandels; Petite Sirah; Syrah; Montepulciano; Aglianico; Sangiovese; and, Mourvedre. . .In addition to the "standard" Cabernets, etc. . .And, just because they haven't been mentioned here, there are a number of other excellent wineries in "the Valley" <smile> [And, I apologize to my many winemaking friends for not naming all of you!]

    Disclaimer: I am not employed by any of the aforementioned wineries! I just like to share when I find a "good thing!" And, I drink virtually ALL of the wines I've lauded. . .Just check out my personal "wine room". . .You're all invited! <smile>

    Aug 20, 2014 at 3:37 PM

  • Snooth User: MrWino101
    1501408 89

    Love the Barbera! There are several great ones coming from Amador County, and one especially great vineyard. The next time you have a chance try Dick Coopers, known as the Godfather of Barbera. His fruit is know far and wide as arguably the best around. Jejj Runquist produces an outstanding juice, also from Coopers fruit, as do a couple others. Another one, and my favorite, is from the fruit from Anne Kramer's Shake Ridge vineyard just out of Sutter Creek. You can find that bottle of gold at her Yorba Wines in Sutter Creek.

    Aug 20, 2014 at 5:16 PM

  • Snooth User: Seabrooker
    167088 56

    From my vantage point of the SC Lowcountry, I'm also an Amador County cheerleader. The two areas couldn't be more different, but so be it. Dick Cooper has indeed grown great Barbera grapes for years - it is wonderful he's now releasing under his own name. We discovered Amador County some 12 years ago - I had business in Stockton and Ione - and we continue to buy our reds from there, almost exclusively. Try Convergence's Primitivo and Petite, Jeff Runquist's 2009 Reserve Barbera may have been the best, but Jay Wilderotter continues to put out the the best range of reds - Mourvedre, Zin, Petite, Barbera, Tempranillo. We'll be back there in December.

    Aug 20, 2014 at 6:00 PM

  • Man-o-man! The 1988 Louis Martini Barbera at around $5 a bottle was probably the best Barbera coming out of Northern California that year--and better than most of the Italian 'barbs available here at the time. I can't remember though, where the vineyards were in Sonoma/Mendocino? Does anyone know if those vines were preserved by the Gallo Co.?

    Aug 20, 2014 at 6:36 PM

  • Snooth User: MrWino101
    1501408 89're right! Dick (actually Mike Roser) does a fantastic with his fruit. I believe the first bottle I bought there was around 2002. There are several cowboy type stories about Dick and Darrel Corti that have been floating around for years, about Dick and his Barbera, and how he got started with some cutting from Montevina. I have noted the link below, or you can check out Mike Dunne's blog for the story. It's a good story!

    Aug 20, 2014 at 6:55 PM

  • Rick. . .If memory serves, in the early 60's, we would "splurge" on a "classy" bottle of Louis Martini Barbera. . for $1.49. . .About the ONLY Barbera available back then; but, I can't say where it was grown. In the early 70's, I seem to recall a Cline Barbera from near Brentwood (Contra Costa County) that was also quite good. . for about $3.49. . .Back in those days, I don't recall Ernie & Julio EVER producing anything other than "Vino de Tavola" etc. . .

    Aug 20, 2014 at 6:58 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 9,017

    I love hearing about old vineyards. If anybody could remember the name of vineyards from which the Martini or Cline Barberas were sourced you can check at


    to see if the Historic Vineyard Society has identified it (them) for preservation attempts.

    You Gold Country/Sierra Foothills guys are way out of my league, but I have to agree that my Barbera experience from that area has been terrific.

    Aug 20, 2014 at 7:48 PM

  • Snooth User: vjg6014
    1480272 48

    There is only one place in the world that makes great Barbera,that is Piemonte.This is the only true expression of the grape.At the very top is Giacomo Bologno.He proved a long time ago that Barbera can be an elegant wine.Elio Grasso makes an excellent(relativity)inexpensive Barbera(25 dollars).He uses Barrique to soften the acidity.If you ever want to see and taste Barbera at its best,try any of Giacomo Bologno's wines.Truly fantastic...Trust me,all others outside of Piemonte are amaeteurs...

    Aug 20, 2014 at 7:53 PM

  • My first introduction to Barbera was from a little winery in Templeton CA named Bella Luna, their winemaker Kevin has a true talent for getting the best out of the grapes, my first sip I was in love, relatively inexpensive too.

    Aug 20, 2014 at 8:02 PM

  • Snooth User: vjg6014
    1480272 48

    I'm suggesting to anyone out there to expand their horizons concerning Barbera.Once you do,you will know and understand what I'm saying.Certain regions in the world have the ideal weather/conditions/terroir for particular grapes.Piemonte is one of those places for Nebbiolo,Barbera,and Dolcetto.No other place comes close w/these grapes.I stand by my comments...

    Aug 20, 2014 at 8:14 PM

  • Snooth User: RUS
    119003 277

    Barbera is great. No need to spend nearly the amount of most of these bottles.

    Aug 20, 2014 at 9:38 PM

  • Snooth User: vjg6014
    1480272 48

    This attitude is precisely what I'm getting at.If all you've had was Calif.Barbera,I can understand your reasoning.Taste some of the wines from Piemonte,and you will understand my point.They are worth the money,every dollar...

    Aug 21, 2014 at 2:02 AM

  • Barbera must be an easy grape to work with. And I have found good tasting down to about $ 13 US Dollars for commodity types from Asti and a little higher from Alba. Even had some NJ friends who bought the grapes, did the processing in their basement , including adding some oak chips. After a few months in the bottle, the wine competed quite well with the above low enders from Piedmont.

    Aug 21, 2014 at 7:42 AM

  • Anyone that says that the best barbera only comes from California or the best barbera only comes from Piemonte is either hardheaded or lazy. They are very different wines. There are very nice examples from both regions .At the Barbera Festival people had a chance to try the Vajra Barbera d'Alba, a beautiful wine, and the Unti Dry Creek Valley, a beautiful wine (yet very different). From Amador there was a buzz at the event about the Amador-Foothill (oakless) and the Fiddletown Cellars (with a flavor profile similar to some of the internationally styled Astis I've had).

    Aug 21, 2014 at 10:50 AM

  • Snooth User: RUS
    119003 277

    vjg - Although I haven't had it recently, Pico Maccario Lavignone seemed to offer a lot of Barbera for the money (approx. $13). If you drink wine nightly with dinner and you're not wealthy, price is an issue.

    Aug 21, 2014 at 11:22 AM

  • Hey Brian--Yeah, no Gallo action with Barbera that I remember either; I only mentioned them because I understood they bought Louis Martini lock,stock, and barrel later on--so what did the Gallo Co. do with those wonderful Barbera vines around the North Coast?
    And we all know Piedmontese Barbera is great; and Cal has different and wonderful versions as who's complaining?

    Aug 21, 2014 at 12:52 PM

  • My husband and I have been Barbera fans for years - so glad to see that you are giving this varietal some love! As a California resident, I was dismayed to see that you didn't include any of the excellent Barberas from the Sierra Foothills, and Amador and El Dorado County, California. I'd like to add three great ones for your consideration:

    Boeger 2010 Barbera, El Dorado County, CA
    Easton 2010 Cooper Ranch Barbera, Sierra Foothills, CA
    Scott Harvey 2010 Amador County Mountain Selection Barbera

    Aug 21, 2014 at 4:20 PM

  • Snooth User: vjg6014
    1480272 48

    It never ceases to amaze me how people can read into a comment concerning ones tastes and experiences.If what you like is Sierra Foothills Barbera,Almador County,Dry Creek Valley,etc...Thats fine,if that's what you like/enjoy.Right on.All I'm saying is expand your tastes and knowledge w/this indigenous grapes from hence they came.Its like someone never tasting a good/or great red Burgundy,thinking that Calif,Pinot Noir is all there is.We all have our likes/preferences as we develop our palate over the course of our wine experiences.What you liked in your 20's,will change/evolve in later life.It certainly has for me.When I look back and see how far I've come to this time in life,I'm proud of the fact that I wanted to know as much as possible for my wine pleasure.My motto is,"Wine can make a bad day good,and a good day better"...

    Aug 21, 2014 at 7:25 PM

  • Snooth User: teddz
    880703 39

    Enjoy those $38 barberas!

    Like RUS, I'm enjoying my $13 barbera: 2009 Carlo Boffa Buschet. Crazy good, but perhaps a lucky find.

    Aug 21, 2014 at 7:54 PM

  • wow - my first post on here and I get a scolding. Hey vjg6014, I have "expanded my tastes and knowledge"...a lot. I have been to Italy and I have tasted several of these wines. All I was saying is - if you are writing a story about Barberas, a token mention of some great California ones was worth posting about. I do not work for any wineries, own any grapes or vineyards. I do know my Barberas..and I like most of them. I can find a lot of them for less than $20 too.

    Aug 21, 2014 at 8:08 PM

  • Snooth User: vjg6014
    1480272 48

    This is to "flying girl",have you tried any Piedmontese Barberas?Lower end(25 dollar),to higher end Giacomo Bologno ?This is my point,if you haven't,then you have absolutely no idea what I'm trying to say.All others pale in comparison.I don't work for any winery/publication,etc...All I'm saying is Calif.(I lived there from 1973-1985)climate/terroir is not in any way conducive/and or similar to NW Italy.Therefore the grapes due to a difference to climate and soil produces(mutates) to something very different.This is not criticizing you,it's stating a fact.You can drink the same grape(varietal) from different regions of the world and be very,very different.Now,of course after tasting different regions,you eventually prefer one over the other then,thats what you like best.So be it.In my 40 year journey developing my palate(and still learning),I have found that beyond a shadow of doubt,that Giacomo Bologno is at the head of the class.

    Aug 21, 2014 at 10:26 PM

  • Hi vjg6014, I said it before and I will say it again, I have tasted Piedmonte Barberas. I have been to Italy and tasted many wonderful Italian wines. I am not a climatologist so I can't argue the variances in climates. I know that palates are as varied as the people that possess them, and not everyone enjoys the same thing, or has similar tastes. I have been tasting wine for 30 plus years, and I agree - my tastes have evolved. These California grapes here have been here since the Gold Rush, and in my opinion, they make some damn good wines. Again - only one woman's opinion (p.s. to my knowledge, no one has died or lost their vision from from drinking a California Barbera)

    Aug 22, 2014 at 12:29 PM

  • Snooth User: vjg6014
    1480272 48

    I'm glad you've tried Piedmontese Barberas,like I've said before Giacomo Bologno transformed everyone's perception of Barbera.Beyond the every day drinking wines.He proved Barbera can also be elegant.My point is,his wine portfolio is second to none.Calif.wines in general are still in grade school.There are exceptions to the rule of course.That can't be denied.However,over all they are oaky,over rated,over priced.I clearly said,if that's what you like,and/or prefer,then right on,go for it.In my opinion,they cannot compare.As for no dying,or going blind,really now lets not go there.I understand you were making a funny statement.Gold rush wow(1849)ancient history by Calif.standards,Huh...Try 3000 years of wine making in Italy.

    Aug 22, 2014 at 7:31 PM

  • Hi, Gregory, this is the link to my commentary to your excellent article in my blog Vino al vino:

    Aug 26, 2014 at 4:04 AM

  • Snooth User: RUS
    119003 277

    Franco, no English version icon?

    Aug 31, 2014 at 3:58 PM

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