Barbera is an often overlooked red wine variety that is extremely food friendly. It’s rich, ruby color can be a bit misleading because while it looks more similar to a Syrah, it drinks more like Pinot Noir (think higher acid, lower tannin, and juicy red fruit and earthy notes). It is indigenous to the Piedmont region in Northern Italy but is grown around the world. Italy accounts for about 80% of production of Barbera in the world. In the Piedmont region, where it hails, it is overshadowed by the world famous, and much higher priced, Nebbiolo wines Barolo and Barbarbaresco. Unlike these wines, Barbera is ready to drink without prolonged aging. It is also the third most planted red grape variety in Italy, behind Sangiovese and Nebbiolo. As a result of the wine’s high level of production, affordable pricing, and being very approachable, Barbera earned the moniker ‘the people’s wine’.
The most well known Barberas are grown in the DOCG recognized area of d’Asti and the DOC area d’Alba but it is grown in other areas as well. While Barbera has been around for centuries, it was primarily used for jug wines until more recent times when winemakers decided to elevate the quality of the wines produced with it. The techniques utilized made it more palate friendly and easy drinking. This helped improve its reputation. Following that, the Italian government began recognizing these improvements and designating areas as DOCs and DOCGs. Then, in 1985, Barbera lost a lot of the recognition it had gained. Methanol is a naturally occurring alcohol in wine but only up to a very minimal amount. A wine producer in Piedmont that were adulterating their wines with almost 20 times the maximum amount allowed by law. This unfortunately killed more than 30 people and resulted in a loss of business instead of the boost in business the producer was seeking.
The wine I selected to drink this week is La Spinetta Ca’ Di Pian Barbera D’Asti. I picked a nice comfort food to pair it with, a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. The Barbera was a medium ruby with long trickling legs. It smelled of toasted wood, blueberry, blackberry, cranberry and anise. When I sipped it, the significant level of acid cleansed my palate. It was comparable to the acid level in the tomato sauce so neither overpowered the other. The fruit notes were delightful with the tomato sauce. After a couple sips, the high alcohol content became quite apparent as my face began to flush. I used spicy pork meatballs but they didn’t exacerbate the burning effect of the alcohol. The pork was a fattier blend of meat but the acidity in the wine and tomato sauce limited the perception. After enjoying my sip of wine, the finish evolved to show a blackberry bramble earthiness component that was a welcomed surprise. This is a great wine to have around on a Tuesday night with tomato based pizza or pasta, meatloaf, or a fatty cut of game meat.