Let's give thanks for Barbera
Here's a topic that does double duty for the holiday season: Barbera ("Bar-BARE-ah"), a workhorse grape of Northwestern Italy, makes a good and usually affordable option at any time of year. And, it occurred to me during a recent tasting, it ought to go very nicely with turkey and the other goodies that adorn the holiday table.
Northwestern Italy's Piemonte region, Barbera's native home, is practically awash with the stuff, which makes up about half of all the red-grape vineyard plantings there. It came to California with immigrant winemakers in the 19th century and is also planted in Washington State, although Barbera needs a cool growing climate to show its best, and much of the California crop ends up blended anonymously in inexpensive "jug" wines.
At its best, though, from Italy or the New World, Barbera can make a hearty, quaffable red wine that's affordable and easy to drink. So, along with Dolcetto (another Piemontese red grape that we'll examine more closely one day soon) it's a favorite wine for everyday drinking in the region that's better known for Barolo and Barbaresco but saves those fancy, pricey items for special occasions.
Barbera, like Chianti and quite a few other Italian reds, gains its affinity for food through a sharp, snappy acidity that both cleanses and provides a fresh balance. Moreover, while heavy on acid, it's typically light in tannins, lacking the puckery tannic astringency that works with rare red meat but can come across as harsh and even bitter in other food contexts. This relatively unusual high-acid, low-tannin flavor profile makes it a winner with poultry, from roast chicken to duck to Thanksgiving turkey!
WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON BARBERA?
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Cantine Sant'Agata 2001 "Baby Barb" Barbera d'Asti ($11.99)
Nicknamed "Baby Barb," the importer says, because it's made to drink fresh and young and comes straight from the grape without any oak, this is a benchmark expression of Barbera. Inky dark blackish-purple in color and ripe in aroma, it breathes sweet red cherries and spice. Juicy tart-cherry fruit and a lemon-squirt of acidity make for a fresh, mouth-watering flavor that goes very well with food. U.S. importer: John Given Wines Co., Manhasset, N.Y. (Nov. 22, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Try it with Thanksgiving turkey, although we found it a stellar match with something more downscale: Old-fashioned beef-and-pork meatloaf loaded with onions and bell peppers.
VALUE: Still a good value at this price, but I've seen it on the Web for a couple of dollars less.
WHEN TO DRINK: A year or two on the wine rack won't hurt it, but it's best to enjoy Barbera while it's young and fresh.
WEB LINK: You'll find the importer's fact sheet here:
Bera 2002 Barbera d'Alba ($12.99)
Dark garnet in color, its aroma is on the shy side, fresh black fruit with a pleasantly earthy note. Much more forward in the flavor, as you would expect of a young Barbera: Simple but fresh and juicy plum flavors are laced up with Barbera's trademark lemon-sharp acidity. U.S. importer: Pellegrini Wines Inc., South San Francisco, Calif. (Nov. 14, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with the earthy, robust flavors of pork chops braised with porcini and juniper berries.
VALUE: Appropriately priced. (For what it's worth, the local price of this wine has stayed the same since the 1997 vintage, purchased in 1999.)
WHEN TO DRINK: Not meant for aging, although a year or two won't do it any harm.
WEB LINK: A Piemonte producers' Website has information on Fratelli Bera, in Italian only, at
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles and features that I hope you'll enjoy:
Bucko's Wine Reports: November new releases
Wine Lovers' Voting Booth: Irritating wine bottles
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
A taste of Nouveau (and more) (Nov. 21, 2003) http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor1/tswa031121.phtml
Feasting with wine (Nov. 19, 2003) http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor1/tswa031119.phtml
What's Nouveau? (Nov. 17, 2003) http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor1/tswa031117.phtml
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Pounding chicken (Nov. 20, 2003)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Nov. 24, 2003