Want a new summer red? Try Barbera

Wednesday, June 20, 2018 2:15 PM

Summer is here. For many, the switch from red to white is a normal transition. For others, however, red wine is an all year enjoyment.

Regardless of whether it’s red, white or rosè that typically coats your summer glass, there is a great summer red wine that must be tried.

Barbera is indigenous to Piedmont in northwestern Italy. This once-overproduced grape variety has been rediscovered, and thanks to restraining yields, the variety has been gaining in popularity and quality over the past 30 years. Known as the “people’s wine” of Piedmont, this late-ripening grape offers affordable, early drinking opportunities. Barbera is often confused with the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, which are made from the nebbiolo grape and are far more austere than wines made from Barbera.

Two predominant subregions in Piedmont are renowned for growing Barbera: Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba. This translates to Barbera from Asti and Barbera from Alba. Which subregion produces the best Barbera is the subject of much debate, but with better viticultural practices, lower yields and the addition of barrel aging, both areas are capable of producing age-worthy structured wines.

For summer reds, entry-level Barbera from either Asti or Alba are typically unoaked, which enables the wines to be considerably lighter, more acidic and refreshing. Pinot noir-lovers often can be impressed by Barbera’s vibrant, silky nature. The unoaked versions have little to no tannin, which makes these great afternoon sippers. The bouquet offers notes of raspberries, blueberries, licorice and violets, The palate will be impressed by the light to medium body, refreshing acidity and a long silky finish. Excellent as a cocktail wine, these versatile wines pair well with an array of foods as well. These entry-level gems can be found starting at $10.

The next tier in quality is referred to as Barbera Superiore. This designation is indeed superior – if you prefer a fuller wine with an entirely different character. This designation requires a minimum of one year in either a French oak, Slovenian oak or Chestnut barrel before bottling. This radically alters the wine and allows for greater longevity, complexity and body. The addition of barrel aging assists in subduing the youthful wine’s acidity by slowly oxidizing through the breathability of the wood. Moreover, the wine slowly concentrates and takes on the typical oak influences of cocoa, baking spices, light tannin and vanilla. The result is full-bodied wine that makes for excellent grilled meat accompaniments or winter cocktails.

These higher-quality bottlings also allow for additional life in bottle, with great vintages allowing for more than 10 years of cellaring. Of course, any barrel-aged wine takes on additional expense from the barrel itself, in addition to consuming cellar space. The “superiore” wines typically begin at $20 and can reach upwards of $50 depending on producer, vineyard and vintage. A great experiment to understand how wood affects wine would be to try both an entry level Barbera from either Alba or Asti alongside a “superiore.” For some, the preference will be the unoaked versions, while others will prefer the barrel aged wines.

Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at