Soft and juicy with black fruits and fine-grained tannins that make incredibly drinkable wines that are outstanding value.
A full-bodied red with a gorgeous deep hue, barbera has been filling the fertile slopes of northern Italy for centuries. It is Italy’s third most planted grape (after sangiovese and montepulciano), although it doesn’t quite share the reputation of the other two, nor the less planted but more revered nebbiolo variety. Happily this lack of esteem makes barbera great value for money – you can get a good quality bottle for half the price of an average nebbiolo. Over 80% of the world’s barbera vines are planted in Italy, and only a handful of hectares are devoted to the grape in Australia, so finding a local 100% varietal can be tricky. But if you do, you might be pleasantly surprised by the experience.
It’s been said before that barbera doesn’t taste like it should. The wine is an inky purple, along the lines of a durif/petite sirah, which would generally denote a bold, tannin-heavy drop. But barbera is more medium-bodied than full, and is oddly lacking in tannin (the grippy feeling of wine best described as like putting a teabag in your mouth), giving it an almost fruit juice feel. The flavours of barbera are also more characteristic of a lighter coloured wine than a deep – strawberry, cherry, raspberry and other ripe fruits are the dominant flavours, while nutmeg, vanilla, clove and spice add some depth of character. There is also a cutting acidity to barbera that turns the initial fruity sweetness into a zesty tartness at the back of the mouth.
Like all red table wines, zero residual sugar is added to barbera during the production process, making it a dry wine. But in winemaking talk the term dry simply means that the wine has had less than 5g of residual sugar added. What many wine drinkers mean when they ask for a sweet red wine is a fruity red wine, and the dry-sweet spectrum should not be confused with the earthy-fruity spectrum, on which barbera sits firmly at the fruity end. All this is to say that if you’re looking for a red table wine with a fruity punch, barbera is an excellent choice. If you’re looking for a truly sweet red, grab a port.