Barbera, good wine for the holidays

Barbera, a fun little red grape.  Known for many centuries as the ‘peasant’s wine’ in the famed region of Piedmont, located in the NW section of Italy.  While it only sits second place to Italy’s most widely planted red grape: Sangiovese – many know Barbera as a very popular easy-drinking red.

When I teach classes, I like to put Barbera in the Pinot Noir category as far as weight.  It has a lighter styled body to it.  Easy to drink alone, but also so wonderful with fall foods – mushrooms, poultry, pork – great braising food.  Can be meaty depending on the producer you pick.

Tonite I sit with a wine that my good friend, Anissa, slipped me last night after a class that she and I had taught at Pairings Wine Market www.pairingsfoodandwine.com The two of us have taken on a series of classes coined:  Girls Gone Wine – with a collection of fun, funky, unusual varietals – yet easy to drink wines that come in a mini-class form.  For more info on our next class go to Amusée’s Event Page www.amuseewine.com/html/wine_events.html or Pairings ‘What’s Happening’ section.

The wine from Pairings Wine Market: Bricco Buon Natale Barbera, from Santa Barbara County.  The Winemaker, no shy guy – Jim Clendenen from Au Bon Climat.  The wines from his portfolio are a nice array of fruit driven beauties from some pretty famous vineyard sites – some of his fruit comes from one of my favorite winery’s backyard, Talley.

Getting back to Barbera, the grape as it traditionally from Italy – should taste like Italy.  Now, I realize we’re dealing with a hotter climate in S.B. – so it won’t taste like Piedmont – but we’re losing the integrity of the grape a bit when we grow it in climates that it is not ‘from’.

One of my favorite ‘traditional’ Barberas is from an old school producer, Sergio Baralehis Barbera, from his property set in the heart of BAROLO (no, Barolo is not a grape) – Piedmont – is one that is rich in deep, dusty earth – irony and a bit succulent.  Red fruit galore but also fat with minerality.  Stinky, earthy, meaty – all at once.  A dream!  (And, sorry – pretty darn rare.) *Good tip for enjoying it table side in south Mpls – Blackbird Cafe in S. Mpls – soon to have it on the bottle list… www.blackbirdmpls.com

The wine I am having tonite – as it comes from Santa Barbara – is good.  Don’t get me wrong.  Nice, rich, a bit chocolatey and just a nice bottle of wine.  And, really quite nice for the $10-$15 that you’d find it for on the shelf.  But, expressive of Barbera…hmmm.

I have to say- I’m a traditionalist.  I like grapes generally, from where they are born.  For instance:  Riesling from Germany, Pinot Grigio from Italy, Sangiovese from Chianti and Barbera from Piedmont.  When you go more traditional, the grapes speak more to the soil, the components of what made them so damn good and why I keep going back for more.  Now, there’s always exceptions – Riesling can be quite nice in Washington.

Getting down to what it’s worth… I would definitely pick this up for the holidays – because my first thought goes to the price.  How can you go wrong for the price point?  It wouldn’t break you and you’d be happy with it in your glass.

On a side note, there is one gentleman that does a pretty phenomenal job with an old world grape here in the U.S.  His name:  Fred Peterson.  Winemaker and owner of Peterson Winery – Dry Creek, CA. His wines are absolutely soul-ful.  His dirt is expressed through every wine he puts out and most importantly – his heart is in every bottle.  Love those wines.  For more info on Mr. Peterson’s Dry Creek Sangiovese www.petersonwinery.com Trust me, when this guy says ‘Old School’ he means it!

As for our homework tonite, the Bricco Buon Natale Barbera, I like it and I would definitely buy it at the pricepoint that it’s at.  No questions asked.  A great wine for a good family holiday gathering.  But the dirt – the dirt is what it’s lackin’.  Salut!

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  • Here at Cooks of Crocus Hill, Leslee Miller brings an entertaining and informative energy to our wine classes. She is an extraordinarily competent sommelier, with a passion for her craft, in a profession riddled with pretenders. As a chef, she is my most valued resource when it comes to wine and food. Mike Shannon
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    Cooks of Crocus Hill
    Edina, MN