In northwestern Italy’s Piedmonte region, Barbera is the everyday wine for family dinners. Barbera is the second-most planted red grape in Italy. It’s planted in other parts of the world also, most notably California where Italian immigrants settled, but other parts of the globe too.
Inside Piedmonte, Alba, Asti and Monferrato are the DOC or DOCG regions for Barbera. In the DOCG region of Alba, for some of the best Barolos, the Nebbiolo grape gets the best vineyard sites. Barbera is relegated to the leftover vineyards. This was the natural order for Piedmonte, where Barolo is king with wines that are aged and sold for big bucks — Barbera is the family-friendly dinner wine.
I first tasted the memorable Cigliuiti Barbera d’Alba one hot Northwest summer day many years ago. It became my summer wine, the wine to drink with the tomatoes fresh from the garden. Barbera is gorgeous with juicy red fruits and herbs and natural, lively acidity even in hot climates. For me, it was synergistic with tomatoes. Tomatoes dressed with a little chopped onion, balsamic vinegar, a shave of Fontina and a drizzle of olive oil is my choice for an accompaniment to the wine.
My great affection for Barbera led to Barbera being introduced to the “Blind Wine Group” I formed. The group recently blind tasted eight Barberas, seven from Alba and one from Washington.
Here’s how it works: Everyone brings a bottle of Barbera and a plate of appetizers. The host brings two of the same Barbera. Bottles are brown bagged, numbered and served. Tasters are looking for the duplicate wine.
The structure of Barbera comes from its crisp acidity, which keeps it fresh and cuts through rich fatty foods. If the acidity is out of whack, Barbera can be harsh. But given a tomato, the wine is perfect.
Wines we tasted are as follows:
- Michele Reverditto Barbera d’Alba 2010: very balanced, aromatic with cherry, cedar; medium-full bodied, tart cherry flavors with a pleasant bitter herb finish.
- Bricco del Tempo d’Alba 2010 DOC: Lots of fruit on the nose, great taste of bright red fruits with an earthy finish.
- Viberti Bricco Airolia d’Alba Superiore 2010: Bricco is Italian for hilltop where this vineyard is situated. Grape and almond aromas with grapey and cherry flavors that finish long and smoothly.
- Maccario DOCG Barbera d’Alba 2011: Dark ruby color with a red fruit based aroma with a floral hint. It’s smooth with black cherry and vanilla flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol.
- Renato Ratti DOCG Barbera d’Alba 2010: Rich in body and in color, warm and robust, pleasantly tart. Spent six months in French oak barriques which concentrates the flavors.
- Podere Ruggere Corsini Barbera d’Alba 2010: Juicy, rich, purple red with bright plum flavors in a mouth-filling style. Very lively acidity.
- Maryhill Columbia Valley Barbera 2008: Vanilla and spice balance the tart cherry, red berry fruit flavors. Full bodied with a smooth finish.
- Maccario DOCG Barbera d’Alba 2011: Aromas of cherries and violets, velvety mouthfeel, concentrated bright cherry and blueberry flavors.
The favorite of the tasters was the second bottle of Maccario with the Reverditto a point behind. Four of us picked the duplicate wines, including yours truly.
Other cheeses to try with fresh tomatoes and a glass of Barbera would be Cambozola made from cow’s milk that’s a blue veined soft-ripened triple cream cheese.
Gorgonzola is the classic Italian blue veined cheese, made from unskimmed cow’s milk. The crumbly texture and tang sing with the fresh tomatoes.