Wine 5: Barbera (and pizza)

I have never been to Italy, but after this week’s wine, I feel as though I must….and soon! In addition to the beautiful land, language, and culture that is Italy, this country grows an abundance of unique grapes used in wine-making. The varietals all sound cool, but truthfully, whenever I see these listed on wine menus, I just don’t know where to begin. Enter barbera (pronounced ‘bar-BEAR-uh’).

Barbera has been widely grown in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, and though it was first written about in the 1600s, it’s actually thought to have originated way earlier in the 7th century in the Montferrato hills. Keeping that in mind, it isn’t surprising to learn that most people drink barbera when dining out in Piedmont. The “local stamp of approval” makes this a no-brainer to try!

fullsizeoutput_1ecfFull admission: the inspiration for this particular post came from Wine Folly’s instagram post that found me nodding my head along with the caption…. pizza….YES…. red wine….YES! I don’t think I have ever turned down the opportunity to have pizza. In fact, if someone were to ask me if I could eat only one type of food for the rest of my life, what would it be? The answer would, undeniably, be PIZZA!

So my level of excitement about finding this particular pairing was high, and it just felt right, you know?

A little background about our featured wine this week:

  • Two places within the Piedmont region who produce high quality barbera are Alba and Asti.
  • Barbera is typically low in tannins (meaning you won’t feel too much of a dryness or puckering in your mouth after you drink it, and that’s partially due to the grapes’ ripeness, but also because certain grape varietals automatically have a different amounts of tannin) and high in acidity (meaning there can be a tartness associated with its flavor).
  • Typically recommended to be drunk within 2-4 years of its vintage.
  • Barbera can get into that beautiful, deep purple color, and traditionally yields juicy flavors of dark cherry, plum, blackberry, with secondary flavors of lavender or violet, vanilla, or nutmeg.
  • Because barbera is typically aged in neutral oak barrels, it’s not expected that any of the secondary or tertiary flavors within the wine itself are a result of the barrels, but from the soil/conditions under which the grapes are grown. If a wine is aged in new oak barrels, the wine pulls flavors from the barrels, so you may get a strong sense of vanilla, baking spice, and – you guessed it – oak! But we’ll delve deeper into oak aging in a future post.
  • Barbera has received the DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status, which essentially means that there are a bunch of laws that require anything which obtains this status to be entirely produced in said region, under specified methods, and meeting a particular standard. AKA, it pretty much ensures you’re getting a good product. You’ll find those extra seals on your bottles of wine from these DOC/DOCG vineyards to make sure nothing else was modified after inspection. It’s also cool to note that the various statuses may actually indicate the percentage of that type of varietal which must be included to call it that varietal, and also dictate the ABV percentage! Did you know that even though you drink a “cabernet sauvignon” it can also have “cabernet franc” or another varietal blended with it? Check your bottles!!

Okay I’m ready to have a drink – you too? Let’s get popping!

I visited Total Wine and found one of their staff who was super passionate about barbera; he said he personally favors the d’Asti over the d’Alba, so I opted to shift from Wine Folly’s inspiration post. He also highly recommended Mauro Sebaste, who he says produces wines which are produced and sold at the perfect intersection of cost and quality. So, I picked up a bottle of 2015 Mauro Sebaste Valdevani Barbera d’Asti for $16, with an ABV of 14%.


As recommended, I drank this at room temp. Here are my tasting notes:

Appearance: A medium garnet red, which was fairly transparent. A bit surprising, as I expected this to be a bit more purple in color, and a bit more opaque.

Nose: Cherry, lots of cherry, with a dusting of baking spice. I did catch some floral notes, but I just don’t know the scents as well to be able to discern what it was. Violet is what initially popped in my mind, so I’m calling it!

Taste: This wine was so fresh and bright in character. The cherry flavor shone through, and while it had a bit of tartness to it, likely due to the high acidity, it wasn’t overpowering. It was like a ripe red cherry – not sour and not black cherry. I’d imagine the fact this wine has aged about 2.5 years or so is why it tasted juicy and fresh, but not tart. While drinking on an empty stomach, I thought this was a “hot” wine, meaning you could tell it was a higher ABV. Again, not overbearing, but definitely present. All the flavors I smelled were what I tasted, and though it was more light to medium in body, the flavors on the palate had a certain depth to them which I really enjoyed.

Overall thoughts: This wine is definitely one I’d buy again – and I’d be interested to try the barbera d’Alba from the same producer! – as it was an easy drinker and didn’t impart too many lingering flavors which may compete with certain foods. I highly recommend venturing to this Italian varietal, if you haven’t already.

Hopefully this post has introduced you to a safe option on wine menus, and you feel confident to try this one out. As it pairs pretty well with a great variety of foods and flavors, helping to round out your meal’s taste, you’ll likely feel an accomplished wine connoisseur, if just for the night. 🙂

Alla tua salute (to your health) and Ciao!

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