Barbera is one of Italy’s five most planted grapes and the fifteenth most planted varietal in the world. In California, Barbera is characterized by high acidity and fruity exuberance with medium tannins and a spicy finish. A charming and quaffable varietal, Barbera pairs well with fatty fare that serves to balance the buoyant acidity.
Here are capsule reviews of Barbera you may find along the Wine Road.
The 2015 Amphora Barbera from Clarksburg AVA in Amador County is dark and savory with a fresh floral nose of violets, and spicy note of fennel bulb. On the palate a dance of licorice, black fruits and blueberry jam, with a smooth plum finish. At first sip it reminded me of Cab Franc, but quickly opened into its full Barbera expression with bright acidity and medium tannins that deliver a mouthful of deep lip smacking flavor. Pair with Ragu alla bolgnese over egg noodles.
When I was a kid there was a commercial with the line “Mamma Mia, that’s one spicy meatball.” This 2019 Colagrossi Barbera, Pauli Ranch, Mendocino made me exclaim “Mamma Mia that’s one spicy Barbera!” From start to finish it exudes plucky acidity with good tannin structure and savory rich flavors that open with plum and licorice and then develop further to reveal notes of mocha, tobacco, blackberry and fruitcake—like a classic pannetone. It glides to a long spicy finish with a hint of juicy sour cherry. Pair with cheesy sausage and pepper pizza.
Right out of the gate, the deLorimier 2018 Barbera will capture your attention and captivate your palate with vivid flavors and taut grippy tannins. As the tannins soften they dovetail with the bright acidity to deliver a smooth Sen–Sen like flavor profile with a profusion of licorice, vanilla, lavender and luscious blackberry. Bright, balanced and enjoyable sip after sip. Pair with Eggplant Parmigiana.
The Peterson 2018 Barbera from Tollini Vineyard, Mendocino is lively, fruity and fresh with notes of cherry, mulberry and chaparral on the nose. Flavors of plum and blackberry slowly build and gather momentum as they race across the palate and stick the landing with a long spicy finish. Bright and bouncy, pair this Barbera with something creamy and earthy like truffle mac and cheese.
The Portalupi 2020 Barbera is grown in Amador County, a hot spot for Barbera that hosts an annual festival in celebration of the grape. On the nose you’ll find scents of cherry, violets and strawberry. On the palate it springs to life with vivid acidity and lush notes of blackberry and black cherry. Secondary flavors of plum, mocha, vanilla, spicy fig and licorice coalesce with a spicy finish supported by supple tannins. Pair with a simple charcuterie plate of salami and creamy rich cheeses.
The Ramazzotti 2019 Barbera, from Dry Creek Valley, has an enchanting nose of vanilla and mocha reminiscent of the dust at the end of a box of Count Chocula cereal—soft and wonderful! On the palate it has all the earmarks of classic Italian style Barbera with great acidity and loads of licorice, black plum, strawberry, cherry, and an earthy note of tobacco. The initial grippy tannins mellow with time in glass. Easy to love and fun to drink, pair with a creamy mushroom risotto.
The Seghesio 2019 Barbera from Alexander Valley is pert and alive with an aromatic nose of cherry, lavender and strawberry. A fresh purity of flavor predominates across the palate with notes of vanilla, nutmeg, plum, blackberry, and dried strawberry. Juicy and bright it has a persistent oomph and grip with medium tannins, high acidity and a long spicy finish. Pair with classic Spaghetti and Meatballs or Chicken Cacciatore.
Harvested from the 130-year-old Planchon Vineyard, this 2021 Carole Shelton Barbera D’ Oakley is blended along with vineyard mates, Zinfandel and Merlot. The nose is a soft bouquet of mocha, dusty blackberry, nutmeg and earthy tobacco. Tart and bright with zingy acidity it’s flush with flavors of black and red cherry, plum, licorice, leather and black pepper. The tannins transform from grippy to silky with a long spicy finish. Enjoy with pumpkin sage ravioli.
The Taddei Wines 2018 Barbera from Pauli Ranch, Mendocino has a nose comprised of licorice, black pepper, cherry, plum, blackberry pie and vanilla with a touch of clove that makes me think of Chowards’ Violet Scented Gum. On the palate notes of prune, plum, iris, mocha, violets, spicy carnation and a pleasing note of minty graphite, much like garrigue. Great overall balance and tannin structure with a light grip and long finish of spicy-herbal-menthol-cherry, (think Ricola) that is quite delicious and intriguing.