BARBERA grape in a nutshell
  • Barbera is a black grape variety producing deeply-colored red wines.
  • It has dark skin and is indigenous to Piemonte where most Barbera grows.
  • It appears in around 35 appellations across Italy, producing single-variety wines and blends.
  • Barbera d’Alba DOC, Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG and Nizza DOCG are some of its most celebrated appellations.
  • In Piedmont, it is often unfairly overshadowed by Nebbiolo.
BARBERA wine in a sip
  • Barbera displays sweet red cherry, plummy fruit, herbs and spice, and has a medium to full-bodied structure with low tannins and high acidity.
  • It pairs well with fatty foods, with younger versions matching pizza and lasagna, while semi-hard cheese, roast chicken and pork ribs go well with more ambitious ones.

What is Barbera ?

Barbera is one of a trio of signature Piemonte grapes along with Nebbiolo and Dolcetto.

This black grape is famed for its appearance in Barbera d’Alba and Barbera d’Asti wines but it also produces fresh, quality wines across the rest of Piemonte and beyond. Other Italian regions for Barbera include Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Barbera was Italy’s third most-planted grape following Sangiovese and Montepulciano.

Barbera often finds itself in the shadow of its Nebbiolo. This state of affairs isn’t fair because Barbera has a great deal to offer so overlook it at your peril! Earlier-ripening than Nebbiolo, it is much less tannic but even higher-acid, allowing the production of an immense variety of different wines. Once deemed a workhorse grape because of its vigor and resistance to fungal disease – making it easy for vintners to work with it – Barbera can give world-class wines if yields per hectare aren’t too high and vinification is carried out properly.

What are the origins of Barbera?

As with most Piedmontese grapes, the history of Barbera gets lost in the mists of time. The name appears for the first time in the 18th century but the variety is believed to be considerably older. The name may derive from “Barbarians” or from typical Piedmontese surnames like Barberis or Barberio. Monferrato is likely to be the area where it was born.

Where is Barbera grown?

Barbera d’Alba DOC and Barbera d’Asti DOCG are the star wines made from this grape but stunning examples appear all over Piemonte. However, it appears in around 35 appellations across Italy, producing single-variety wines and blends. Piedmont is where the lion’s share of total plantings lies, and lesser-known appellations deserving attention include Nizza DOCG, Canavese DOC, Barbera del Monferrato DOC as well as Barbera del Monferrato Superiore DOCG. Elsewhere in Italy, notable appellations include Oltrepò Pavese DOC in Lombardy and Colli Piacentini DOC in Emilia-Romagna.

Barbera shall not be confused with Barbera del Sannio, also known as Camaiola, which is a different grape that is only grown in the Sannio subregion of Campania.

Beyond Italy, Barbera is also cultivated in Greece, Slovenia, South Africa, Australia, California, and Argentina.

What does Barbera taste like?

The key feature of a Barbera-based wine is a glass-staining, purple-ish color that takes years to develop even the slightest garnet hue.

The aromas vary considerably: a youthful Barbera with little or no oak aging usually displays intense fruity aromas of red cherry and blackberries mixed with herbs and spice, anticipating a mid-weight palate with high acidity, almost no tannins, and loads of plump red and black fruits. Barbera del Monferrato and entry-level Barbera d’ Alba are generally representative of this fresher and brighter style.

Barrel-aged versions are richer, headier, and also slightly more tannic because of the wood tannins. Often made with riper grapes, the aromas veer towards cherry syrup, plums, chocolate and balsam herbs, and alcohol levels can be even higher than those of a top-shelf Nebbiolo – ranging from 13.5% to over 16%. Aged for at least 18 months prior to release, including 6 months in oak, Nizza DOCG is the benchmark wine for this style of Barbera.

Does Barbera age well?

The aging potential of Barbera is often underestimated. While the simplest and most affordable versions are best enjoyed within two to three years from release, high acidity allows the most ambitious versions to age gracefully. These wines retain their fruity exuberance over time while developing more complex aromas of undergrowth, tobacco, and tar.

What is Barbera similar to?

Finding a similar wine to Barbera isn’t easy. Merlot and Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo have a comparably dark color and offer a similar mix of plummy fruit, herbs and chocolate but they are not as high-acid and tend to be more tannic.

What foods does Barbera pair with?

In spite of its dark hue, Barbera is a deceptively light-tasting wine. The fruit-forward profile combined with low tannins and high acidity make this wine an ideal match for fatty foods.

Lighter styles pair well with a wide variety of simple dishes, including pizza margherita, potato gnocchi with mozzarella and tomato sauce, lasagna, and amatriciana pasta.

Fuller-bodied styles go well with roast chicken, pork ribs, stewed oxtail, and osso buco. Light tannins, high acidity and lovely fruit concentration also allow them to match semi-hard cheese like seasoned Pecorino or Comtè.


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