The everyday reds of Northern Italy are famous for pairing with everyday foods that can be tougher to find a wine for. Barbera has the unusual combination of rich, concentrated flavor with high acidity, and its lower tannin might just make it the perfect ‘pizza’ wine. How has California appropriated one of Italy’s most casual contributions to wine?
Pour yourself a glass of Barbera and you’ll see an inky purple wine tumble out, rich in polyphenols (that is the good stuff from the skins) and surprisingly high in natural acidity (great for food). A traditional Northern Italian table wine, Barbera has transplanted to California with great success, and its for the same reason that some other grapes fail to make great wine here. California has a long warm growing season, causing the grapes to ripen extremely well and often too much if the growers leave them too long on the vine, causing a tradeoff between ripeness, and acidity (as one rises the other declines). Barbera has naturally high acidity to balance out the ripeness that California’s perfect weather provides. So rather than getting over extracted jammy wines, you get a tasty ripe red with perfect balance, not to mention food pairing gold! This makes Barbera one of the few ‘old-world’ grapes that end up doing better in California than their original home.
Food pairing suggestions: Most CA Barbera is going to be bigger in body and fruit than their Italian counterparts, but it still complements the acidity of tomato sauce really well, either in pizza or a hearty ragu.
So lets take a look at my favorite Barbera wine grown and produced right here in California.
Unti Estate Barbera 2012
Cellar rating *2-7 years 90pts
Unti Vineyards has made a name for itself growing Rhone varietals up here in Northern California but they also are one of the few producers going all in on Italian varietals, making stellar Sangiovese and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Their Barbera is thick in the glass, deep dark red and purple fruits leap off the surface. The palate is far more muscular than a Piedmontese Barbera, but the acidity leads to a clean lightweight finish. Its has a touch of complexity with some earth and cola on the nose, and a bit of spice from the modest use of French oak.
2012 was a prosperous year for wine making in California. The long growing season never got too hot leading to a bumper crop that maintained exceptional quality. This couldn’t have been a better year for Barbera, and this Unti bottle shows it well.
As for food, try it with the biggest, spiciest, most loaded pizza you’ve ever had!