The Italian red grape variety, Barbera, is often cited as the most planted grape variety in Italy as it extends well beyond its ‘homeland’ of Piemonte and is even planted as far south as Sicily! Unlike Nebbiolo, which is a remarkably demanding variety in terms of aspect and altitude, Barbera is comparatively easy to grow hence its widespread plantings. It is an adaptable variety, capable of being grown successfully on a variety of different soils. In its simplest form Barbera is a straightforward quaffer – juicy red fruits and bright acidity, but it is capable of far greater expression and complexity. It is in Piemonte that we find the highest quality examples – some of which emanate from vineyards that could legally be devoted to Barolo!
Within Piemonte, we have two contrasting appellations, Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba. Barbera d’Asti is produced on the hillside vineyards surrounding the town of Asti; Barbera d’Alba is produced from vineyards surrounding the town of Alba but also the vineyards of the Langhe, so it overlaps with the production area for Barolo and Barbaresco. The styles also vary, with Asti showing perhaps a livelier, fresher nature and Alba tending towards a bolder, more generous fruit profile.
In terms of production, Barbera enjoys warm summers that boost its ripe profile – it is a vigorous vine that needs yield control if it is to produce a noteworthy wine. It ripens around two weeks earlier than Nebbiolo so is less susceptible to any inclement late season conditions. The variety offers exuberant, generous deep berry fruit, underscored by marked vibrancy. It is comparatively low in tannin and therefore lends itself to ageing in new oak, during which it picks up some additional structure. While the best examples are capable of ageing over a decade and beyond (I have tasted 20 year old Barbera d’Asti before that have been sublime), it is nearly always approachable in its youth and can be consumed just three or four years after vintage.
Even today, the variety has a tendency to be overlooked, yet the best examples are highly appealing, combining a ripe, juicy fruit profile with surprising elegance. As mentioned, Barbera enjoys warmer conditions and therefore the range of wines we have tasted, and purchased, from the impressive 2015 and 2016 vintages, are among the best I have encountered for Barbera in recent years.
Below you will find a number of Barbera that we carry in stock, along with my own notes. Critics are not normally comprehensive in their coverage of Barbera and many haven’t released notes on the new vintages featured here – I have included notes from Antonio Galloni of vinous.com where possible.
2015 Barbera d’Alba, Morassina, Giuseppe Cortese
£100 per 6 bottle case in bond
One half of Cortese’s Morassina is aged in French oak barriques of which 30% is new oak, the rest is aged in large oak botti. New to Atlas, the estate of Giuseppe Cortese is based in Barbaresco, with the cellars backing onto the Barbaresco Cru vineyard of Rabajà. Their Barbera ‘Morassina’ is a single vineyard wine produced from the Tri Folera hillside.
Deep and bright in the glass, the aromas here are just beautiful – juicy blackberry fruit, freshly picked, gently scented, with a hint of background toast. The palate doesn’t disappoint either with a flowing, silky touch to a more-ish deep, rich, juicy berry fruit with hints of spice and creamy vanilla. There is no heaviness here just an overriding impression of ripe fruit – pure and beautifully expressed. A real surprise and my first tasting of the single vineyard Morassina. Drink : 2019 to 2025 (SL)
2015 Barbera d’Asti Superiore, La Crena, Vietti
£150 per 6 bottle case in bond
Half of Vietti’s La Crena vineyard in Barbera d’Asti was planted in 1932 and it boasts terrific intensity.
Juicy dark fruits – loganberry, blackberry – almost black forest gateau touches, with a certain glossy, creamy quality. It finishes with a complex savoury nuance and a bright acidity. Very long and stylish with no harsh edges at all. Drink 2021-2030 (SL)
92+ Antonio Galloni, vinous.com
The 2015 Barbera d'Asti La Crena is dense, powerful and packed with fruit. An intense, dark wine, the 2015 has layers of mineral and floral notes in the background that need time to emerge. It would be a shame to open the 2015 anytime soon. I always find La Crena only truly blossoms with time in bottle. Here, too, the style seems a bit laid back relative to the recent past. Drink : 2022-2030.
2016 Barbera d’Alba, Vigne Scarrone, Vietti
£170 per 6 bottle case in bond
£60 per single magnum case in bond
Vietti’s Barbera d’Alba ‘Scarrone’ comes from a vineyard in Castiglione Falletto that could have been planted with Nebbiolo for Barolo. Fruit from the younger part of their holding is employed in this wine - it was planted in 1989.
Deep in the glass, the aromas here are captivating, like a summer berry compote with juicy, wonderfully ripe blueberry and blackberry to the fore. This is refined with a layered textural impression with such an abundance of juicy fruit characters allied to notes of dark liquorice and spice. Deep and rich without ever losing its poise, this shows a rounded, plush personality with only the barest trace of new oak perceptible – pure fruit all the way. Finishes fresh, taut and energetic. Stunning Barbera as one might expect of the vineyard and address. Drink 2021 to 2032. (SL)
2016 Barbera d’Alba, Scarrone Vigna Vecchia, Vietti
£220 per 6 bottle case in bond
A rare wine indeed, this comes from the same vineyard as the example above, but in this case, the older section of the vineyard, before the Currados added to their holding. This section was planted in 1918 hence the ‘Vigna Vecchia’, old vine designation.
Just when I thought the Scarrone couldn’t get any better, I tasted the old vine example. Incredibly deep fruited, this possesses such a stunning intensity to the blueberry, loganberry and blackberry mélange on the palate. Juicy, vibrant with a sublime lightness of touch. Very pure and precise, beautifully underscored by a life-giving acidity – a really special sense of balance is on show, perhaps magnified in 2016. Such focus and energy. Long and flowing in style with a certain seamless, glossy mouthfeel and a subtle tannic grip on the finish. Wow. Drink : 2022 to 2034. (SL)
2016 Barbera d’Alba, Vigna Martina, Elio Grasso
£120 per 6 bottle case in bond
Aged for 18 months in French oak barriques, of which 50% are new, Grasso’s Vigna Martina has long since been among my preferred examples of Barbera. It is produced from vines approaching 40 years of age on the east and west-facing slopes surrounding Grasso’s Barolo Gavarini vineyard.
The 2016 shows a really lifted, perfumed accent to its deep berry fruit , with notes of vanillin in the background. There is a marked lip-smacking, freshly crushed quality to the fruit – vibrant and so juicy with notes of stone fruit – damson and plum. This shows a touch of grip presently, with plenty of energy and direction. The oak is really well integrated here as it is with so many 2016 Barbera. Make no mistake, this is a rich wine, but it is deceptive and carries its richness with ease. Very fine Barbera indeed. Drink : 2021 -2031. (SL)
So, there you have it; a range of top class Barbera from talented growers in two exceptional vintages for Barbera and the region.