Barbera is a red Italian grape variety, and the third most-planted red variety in Italy (after Sangiovese and Montepulciano). It produces good yields and is known for deep colour, low tannins and high levels of acidity (which is unusual for a warm climate red grape).
Century-old vines still exist in some areas - producing long-aging, robust red wines with intense fruit and complex tannins. The best known appellation is Barbera d'Asti in the Piedmont region.
When young, the wines offer a very bright aroma of fresh red and black berries. In lighter styles you find notes of cherries, raspberries and blueberries; and notes of blackberry and black cherries in wines made from riper grapes.
Many winemakers use oak barrels, which provide increased complexity, aging potential, and hints of vanilla. Barbera is believed to have originated in the hills of Monferrato in central Piedmont, Italy (around the towns of Asti and Alba), where it has been known from the thirteenth century.
Documents from the cathedral of Casale Monferrato between 1246-1277 detail leasing agreements of vineyard lands planted with 'de bonis vitibus barbexinis' or Barbera, as it was known. In the 19th and 20th century, waves of Italian migrants took Barbera to the Americas where the vine took root in California and Argentina.
Upgraded to its DOCG classification in 2008, by regulation this wine must consist of at least 85% Barbera and the remaining 15% can comprise of Freisa, Grignolino and/or Dolcetto. The wine must not be released until March 1st of year following harvest and must be at least 11.5%.
There is also a 'Superiore' designation which requires a minimum of twelve months ageing with at least six months in oak. This is a particularly age worthy wine with the potential to age up to eight years. Aged Barbera is denominated as 'Barbera Superiore' and is sometimes aged in French barriques to become 'Barbera Barricato'.