Piedmont may be famous for its Nebbiolo-based wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, but the inhabitants of this region in Northwest Italy don't drink these big, tannic wines on an everyday basis. When it comes to a weekday dinner's accompaniment, they usually turn to Barbera (when not drinking the other everyday wine of the region, Dolcetto.) With this in mind, it's no surprise that this fruity and acidic wine has a reputation for food friendliness that extends beyond Italy. Just like the Italians, we can't drink big wines every night either.
Barbera is certainly planted in greater volume in Piedmont than Nebbiolo. While the best hillside vineyards may be reserved for Nebbiolo, the adaptability of the Barbera grape encourages widespread cultivation. Even in a marginal harvest, Barbera vines can be relied upon for consistent quality and yields. Indeed, highly acclaimed Barolo and Barbaresco estates produce some of the most desired Barbera wines as well. Even if the grape doesn't have the same stellar reputation, it will still benefit from careful production techniques. Accordingly, we've been pleased by recent trends, which have producers cutting yields to increase concentration and making greater use of small French oak barrels. These two steps work in concert with each other; the wood, on its own, helps balance the acidity of the wine and contributes some tannic structure, but without increased concentration, the oak would overwhelm and dry out the fruit in the wine.
There are two primary DOCs in Piedmont, Barbera d'Alba and Barbera d'Asti. The wine of Asti tends to be fruitier, but less structured than the wine of Alba, and tends to see little oak treatment during vinification. Alba derives its fame from the Nebbiolo producers along the hillsides that surround the town. Barbera D'Alba reflects this proximity. Compared to Barbera d'Asti, Barbera D'Alba can be a more highly concentrated and structured wine. Thus it draws greater benefits from barrel treatment. We like the wines from Elio Altare, La Spinetta, and Vietti.
There is also a small amount of Barbera planted in California, but the demand remains somewhat limited. Here, look to wines from the Sierra Foothills, where the higher elevation and granitic soils seems to provide an appropriate growing location.
Again, the low tannins and high acidity of Barbera make it a flexible wine that goes well with multiple types of food. We especially like it paired with tomato dishes, like pizzas and pastas, as the acidity of the wine matches that of the tomatoes. Even richer meat dishes and hard cheeses will work well too.