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?
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.