is believed to have originated in the hills of Monferrato
in central Piemonte, Italy where it has been known from
the thirteenth century. Documents from the cathedral
of Casale Monferrato between 1246-1277 detail leasing agreements
of vineyard lands planted with "de bonis vitibus barbexinis"
or Barbera, as it was known then. However, one ampelographer,
Pierre Viala, speculates that Barbera originated in the
Lombardy region of Oltrepa Pavese. In the 19th and 20th
century, waves of Italian immigrants brought Barbera to
the Americas where the vine took root in California and
Argentina among other places.
Recent DNA evidence suggest that Barbera may be related
to the French-Spanish vine Mourvedre. In 1985, the
Piedmont region was rocked by a scandal involving Barbera
producers illegally adding methanol to their wines,
killing over 30 people and causing many more to lose their
sight. The bad press and publicity saw a steady decline
in Barbera sales and plantings, allowing the grape to be
eclipsed by the Montepulciano grape as Italy's second most
widely planted red grape variety in the late 1990s.
Barbera vine is very vigorous and capable of producing high
yields if not kept in check by pruning and other methods.
Excessive yields can diminish the fruit quality in the grape
and accentuate Barbera's natural acidity and sharpness.
In Piedmont, the vine was prized for its yields and ability
to ripen two weeks earlier than Nebbiolo even on vineyard
sites with less than ideal exposure. This allowed the Piedmontese
winemakers in regions like Alba to give their best sites
over to the more difficult to cultivate Nebbiolo
and still produce quality wine with Barbera that could be
consumed earlier while the Nebbiolo ages. Harvest for Barbera
usually takes place in late September-early October, usually
two weeks after Dolcetto has
been picked. In recent times, winemakers have been experimenting
with harvesting Barbera later at higher sugar levels to
produce heavier, more fruit forward wines. In some vintages,
these producers may even harvest their Barbera after Nebbiolo.
can adapt to a wide range of vineyard soils but tends to
thrive most in less fertile calcareous soils and clay loam.
Sandy soils can help limit the vigor and yields. The grape
rarely thrives in very alkaline or saline soils. Like many
grape varieties with a long history, the Barbera vine has
seen mutation and clonal variation arise with different
clones of the variety found in Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna
and the Mezzogiorno. The different clones can be identified
by the size and shape of their grape clusters with the smaller
cluster clones producing the highest quality wine. In recent
years, viticulturalists have been working with clonal selection
to increase Barbera's resistance to the leafroll virus.
A white grape mutation known as Barbera Bianca has
also been identified.
working with Barbera have a variety of ways to deal with
the grape's high levels of tannins and acidity. The most
common has been through blending with varieties lacking
those components and creating a softer and potentially more
balanced wine as a result. In the 1970s, the French enologist
Emile Peynaud recommended that Barbera producers use small
oak barrels for fermentation and maturation in order to
add subtle oak spice flavors and limited levels of oxygenation
to soften the wine. The added oxygen would also limit the
reductive quality of Barbera and limited the occurrence
of off-odors of hydrogen sulfide that would occur in some
examples. The polysaccharides
picked up from the oak, was found to increase the richness
of Barbera. At the time,
his recommendation met some resistance from the tradition
minded Barbera producers but the success of the "Super Tuscans"
which introduced new oak barrel treatment to Sangiovese
caused many producers to reconsider. In addition to the
subtle oxygenation and spice notes, oak imparts to the wine
ligneous wood tannins which give structure to the wine without
adding as much astringent bite as the tannins derived from
the phenolic compounds of the grape. This, coupled with
reduced maceration time contributed to the production of
softer wines. Lower yields and harvesting riper grapes with
more fruit and sugar has been found to be a better balance
for Barbera's high acidity.
Italy is the viticultural home for Barbera, but Italian
immigrants spread it through much of the New World, where
its acidity is valued in blended wines for the 'freshness'
it imparts. Barbera is found in the northwestern part of
Italy, particularly in Monferrato, and to a lesser extent
further south. Nearly half of all grape vine plantings in
Piedmont are Barbera. It likes the same conditions as Nebbiolo,
but the latter is more profitable, fetching nearly twice,
so is grown on the best sites.
The earlier-ripening Barbera is grown on the cooler lower
slopes below the Nebbiolo, and other secondary locations.
This explains why relatively little Barbera is grown around
Alba, where the wines are entitled to the appellation Barbera
d'Alba. Thus the best known Barbera is the DOCG of Barbera
d'Asti. The Barbera del Monferrato DOC - which tends to
be somewhat sparkling (frizzante) - is seldom exported.
came to Australia with cuttings imported from the University
of California, Davis in the 1960s. It has been grown for
~25 years in the Mudgee region of New South Wales, with
later plantings in a number of wine regions, including the
King Valley in Victoria as well as the McLaren Vale and
the Adelaide Hills regions in South Australia. John Gladstones,
in his book Viticulture and Environment, includes Barbera in maturity
group 5, which means that it will ripen at about the same
time as Shiraz and Merlot,
and that it should theoretically find a successful home
in many Australian wine regions. Barbera went
to Argentina with Italian immigrants. It is quite widely
grown, but is used mostly for blending. As in Argentina,
Barbera was brought by Italian immigrants to Brazil.
2000 there were 70,000 acres (28,300 hectares) of Barbera
planted, making it the third most widely planted red grape
variety in Italy. At its highpoint in the late 20th century,
there were over 123,500 acres (50,000 ha) planted but fallout
from the "Methanol scandal" of the 1980s and the lack of
a driving worldwide market caused those numbers to decline.
In the Piedmont region Barbera is widely grown in Asti and
Monferrato regions. While there is no officially defined
Classico region, like Chianti Classico, the region
of the Asti province between the towns of Nizza Monferrato,
Vinchio, Castelnuovo Calcea, Agliano, Belveglio and Rocchetta
is considered among locals to be the "heart" of Barbera
in Piedmont. In 2001, the town of Nizza was officially recognized
as a sub-region within the greater Barbera d'Asti DOC. Being
one of the warmest areas in Asti, Nizza has the potential
to produce the ripest Barbera with sugar levels to match
some of the grape's high acidity.
The wines of Barbera d'Asti tend to be bright in color and
elegant while Barbera d'Alba tend to have a deep color with
more intense, powerful fruit.
In the Alba region many of the best vineyard sites are dedicated
to Nebbiolo with Barbera relegated to secondary location,
which limits the quality and quantities of the wines labeled
with the Barbera d'Alba DOC. In the Monferrato DOC, Barbera
is blended with up to 15% Freisa, Grignolino and Dolcetto
and can be slightly sparkling.
of Piedmont Barbera is found throughout Italy, often as
a component in mass vino da tavola blends. In the
Lombardy region, it is seen as a varietal in OltrepÃ² Pavese
with wines that range from slightly spritzy to semi-sparkling
frizzante. Elsewhere in Lombardy it is blended with
Croatina and as part of a larger blend component in the
red wines of Franciacorta. Southeast of Piedmont, Barbera
is found in Emilia-Romagna in the hills between Piacenza,
Bologna and Parma. As in Lombardy, Barbera is often softened
by blending with the lighter Croatina as it is in the Val
Tidone region for the DOC wine of Gutturnio. In Sardinia,
the grape is used around Cagliari in the wine known as Barbera
Sarda and in Sicily, the grape is used in various blends
under the names Perricone or Pignatello made
near Agrigento. Barbera was
an important grape in re-establishing the wine industry
of the Apulia and Campania regions following World War II
due to its high yields and easy adaption to mechanical harvesting.
Today it is a permitted variety to be blended with Aglianico
in the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita
(DOCG) wine of Taurasi though it is rarely used.
of Italy, Barbera is rarely found in Europe except for small
plantings in Greece, Romania, and the coastal region of
Primorska in Slovenia. Outside of Europe, there are some
plantings in Israel.
The influence of Italian immigrants has led to a scattering
of Barbera plantings in South America, notably in Argentina,
Brazil, and Uruguay.
In Argentina, there are nearly 2470 acres (1000 ha) planted,
mostly in the Mendoza and San Juan provinces. Australian
wine producers have found some success with Barbera in Victoria,
while South African producers have begun widespread plantings
of the grape in the warm climate regions of Malmesbury and
Barbera is one of the most successful of the Piemontese
grapes to be adapted in the state, with over 8000 acres
(3200 hectare) of plantings. It is widely planted in the
Central Valley, where it is a blend component in mass-produced
jug wines. In recent years, the fashion of Italian grapes
has caused more California winemakers to look into producing
high quality varietal Barbera. Plantings
in the cooler regions of Napa and Sonoma have produced some
In Washington State, producers have been experimenting with
plantings of Barbera in the Red Mountain, Walla Walla, and
Columbia Valley AVAs. So far these very young vines have
produced fruity wines with strawberry notes and limited
complexity and aging potential.
many grapes that are widely planted, there is a wide range
of quality and variety of Barbera wines from medium bodied,
fruity wines to more powerful, intense examples that need
cellaring. Some characteristics of the variety are more
consistentâ€”namely its deep ruby color, pink rim, noticeable
levels of tannins and pronounced acidity. The acidity
of Barbera make it a valued plantings in warm climate regions
where acidification is usually needed. The color of Barbera
makes it a value blending grape and it was historically
used in the Barolo & Barberesco region to add color
to the naturally light Nebbiolo grape.
use of oak for fermentation or maturation can have a pronounced
influence of the flavor and profile of Barbera. Barrel influenced
Barbera tend to be rounder, richer with more plum and spice
notes. Wines made with older or more neutral oak tend to
have more vibrant aromas and cherry notes. While some producers
delay harvest in order to increase sugar levels as a balance
to Barbera's acidity, over ripeness can lead to raisiny
Science of Wine Aroma
the Acids in Wine
(Tannins) in Wine
The Basic Wine Pairing
Science of Food and
a Wine Sommelier
Robinson (ed) The Oxford Companion to Wine
Third Edition pg 62-63 Oxford University Press 2006
Jancis Vines, Grapes & Wines pg 145-147
Mitchell Beazley 1986
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Australia, GPO Box 419, Adelaide SA 5001.
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Clarke Encyclopedia of Grapes pg 41 Harcourt
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Essential Guide" pg 62 University of California
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Centre for Biological Diversity (IBV) of the Federal
Agency for Agriculture and Food (BLE), Deichmanns
Aue 29, 53179 Bonn, Germany. http://www.genres.de/idb/vitis/.