We’ve got one word for you when it comes to the holidays, and it’s short, sweet, and easy to remember: BARBERA. It’s not a new tune we’re whistling to, but it’s one that we are going to expand, because with this little word you can make a big difference over the holiday season.
After the traditional fish dinner of Christmas Eve, Italian-style Christmas meals are centered around some sort of meat, much like the food that is served at many American tables, many of which will feature as a centerpiece a hefty roast, basted with its own juices and sitting tall amount mounds of comforting foods. These substantial foods call for substantial wines, and international grapes such as Cabernet, Syrah, Zinfandel, or Merlot may be brought forth for the holiday toast. This wine will not be decided upon without some sort of heated discussion amongst advocates of each grape varietal, and ultimately ends in at least one unhappy camper who sips their glass spitefully while the others gloat. But what if we told you that there is a grape that makes wines everyone loves, even the food?
“Barbera is the official Italian wine for food,” Luca Currado Vietti says in this video interview with Wine Spectator centered on the Barbera grape. Often taking back seat to its bigger and “more impressive” brother, Nebbiolo (the grape used to make the lauded and very age-worthy Barberesco’s and Barolo’s), this varietal is often robbed of the spotlight it deserves. But its stellar acidity and pleasant fruitiness that pairs with a wide variety of foods – and its agreeable price point – make it a perfect wine to serve multiple bottles of at a holiday feast.
Asti vs. Alba
A pilgrimage to the wine store with a small note on which “Barbera” is written might result in a confusing encounter once facing the wines. Some Barbera’s are labeled Barbera d’Asti while yet others are denoted as Barbera d’Alba. Be careful in your selection! Arbitrarily grabbing one of the shelf is not necessarily going to get you the same wine in the bottle – it’s a matter of place where the grapes are grown, and as we know all too well, location and terroir changes everything in Italian wines.
Barbera d’Alba is grown in the region where Barolo’s and Barbaresco’s reign, means it might not always get the prime growing spots, but is grown in the high-quality soil that makes the age-worthy wines. The climate is quite humid and sees a decent amount of rain, and the naturally acidic, fruity wines also tend to show a floral character with smooth tannins. The wine is full, but also bright and refreshing.
Barbera d’Asti, on the other hand, is often made of grapes who don’t compete quite as much with Nebbiolo for the prime growing spots, and whose weightiness and texture are greater than those of its sibling in Alba. These wines often have less of a floral flavor and much more of a concentrated dark fruit flavor, bringing a defined texture that might be described as “taut” and whose flavors will please the palates of the lovers of the big, black-fruit tasting California, Spanish, or South American reds.
Barbera has a wide range of choices out there, some of which are bottled to impress and others which are pleasant table wines at an unbeatable price. Here are some of our favorites, most of which you can get at a local wine store or specialty shop:
1) Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti DOCG: with a dark, rich color paired with a bright, balanced taste and approachability, this wine will please both the Asti and the Alba fans. And at an average of $13, you can buy enough to save some for the unexpected holiday gift exchange.
2) Castello di Neive Barbera D’Alba DOCG: We are slightly obsessed with this producer, who consistently makes some of the best terroir wines of the territory. If you’re feeling fancy, try their Barbaresco, which also sells for a very reasonable price.
3) Bruno Rocca Barbera d’Asti DOCG…will knock your socks off. Flexing its muscles while still being balanced and elegant with a floral juiciness, its high acidity might just make you and your dinner guests strike the harp and join the chorus.
Will you be drinking Barbera this holiday season?