Barbera…the Rising Star

by Monica Bennion on June 15, 2015

2015 Barbera FestivalAs a Scott Harvey Wines fan, there’s no doubt that you and your family and friends have enjoyed a glass or two (ok, maybe more like a couple of cases) of Scott’s award winning Amador County Barbera.  But what is it about this spectacular and still unheard of variety that has everyone hooked at first sip?  In this blog we will outline a brief history of Barbera and discuss some of the nuances that make Barbera the rising star of Amador County.

Although still an unheard of variety to many in the United States, Barbera has been referenced as early as 663AD.  Originating in the Piedmont region of Italy, Barbera was well established by the 13thcentury, and is the second most planted grape in Italy, next to Sangiovese.  Despite the fact that Barbera grows and thrives in Italy, it has not always had a great reputation in the Mediterranean.  Lesser produced varieties of Nebbiolo and Dolcetto won the respect and admiration of wine lovers in Italy, and left Barbera “on the table,” so to speak.

Barbera is, by nature, an acidic grape, and if not grown or produced properly it can present as tart, acidic and lacking in character and flavor.  Before proper production, it seemed Barbera’s only redeeming quality was its “value.”  In short, it was inexpensive and easily accessible, making it a great wine to use in blends.  Today, Barbera is shedding the underrated reputation and is making a name of its own.  You can find high quality hand crafted Barbera in stores, cellars and restaurants, here at home and internationally.  Heck, it even has its own festival every June in Amador County.

Barbera was imported to the United States by John Doyle of Cupertino Winery (later Las Palmas Winery), and following prohibition, in 1954, Louis Martini was the first to produce a wine labeled as Barbera.  Since then Barbera has continued to grow.  In 1982, there were nearly 1,900 acres of Barbera grapes growing in California, 50 acres of that was in Amador County.  25 years later, Barbera solidified its presence with an increase to over 7,500 acres in California; over 150 of those acres were in Amador County.  Today, nearly 200 California wineries produce Barbera, many of the award winning ones coming from Amador County.

You won’t find Roman ruins of ancient civilizations or gondolas floating down the river, but the strong presence of Italian heritage in Amador County has made wines like Sangiovese, Barbera and Zinfandel signature trademarks of Amador County.  This can be attributed to the fact that the climate in Amador County is very similar to that of the Piedmont region of Italy.  The  temperatures are generally moderate and provide nice heat during the days and the Sierra Nevada Mountain breeze in the evenings.  The precipitation needed, at least 23 inches of rainfall, usually occurs during the winter months, giving the grapes the necessary water to thrive in the warm temperatures of the summer.  In addition to the climate and precipitation, Barbera is also adaptable to many soil types, but thrives best in soils usually considered “poor” or in the case of Italy and Amador County, decomposed granite and volcanic soil.  Barbera is a hearty grape, resistant to pests, disease and mildew.

Barbera is a very distinct wine, in both aroma and taste.  The rich, cherry nose along with the balanced acidity and low tannins makes this wine easy to drink and much easier to pair with a wide variety of foods.  Barberas from Amador County are usually defined by their notes of ripe black cherry, lush plum and a hint of spice.  As Barbera ages, the appearance can change from that of a rich ruby color to that of a garnet.  Barbera can usually reach its peak within 6-8 years of bottling, although a well-made Barbera can age as long as a 10-15 years.  But who wants to wait that long?  Bera Ora! (Translation…Drink Now!)

Barbera is the go to wine to pair with practically any food or meal.  The acidity in Barbera allows it to create a “clean palate” with each sip.  Foods rich in fat and acidity love to be coupled with a Barbera, allowing for each bite to taste like the first and each sip to remind you why you love this wine.   We recommend that you pair Barbera with tomato based foods, such as lasagna, ravioli, spaghetti, and well, pretty much anything Italian.  Barbera, however versatile, does not usually stand well with most seafood and salads that are dressed in vinegar.  Barbera will also pair well with your favorite pizza, grilled meats and barbecued chicken.  This is the perfect variety to take to a dinner party or your favorite restaurant.  Visit our Recipes Page to view delicious and adventurous recipes that pair with your favorite Scott Harvey Barbera.

Vivere ogni giorno!  (Live every day!)

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