The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Finding a Summer Red in Barbera

Posted on | July 13, 2010 | Written by Janice Cable | 2 Comments

As we slide into the warm belly of the summer, I’m searching for a good summer wine. These hot days call for a picnic in the park, a day at the beach, or a clambake with friends—and wines whose friendly dispositions don’t require reflection, intellect or patience. I want no brooding Barolo or demanding Dolcetto. I want an easy-going bottle whose refreshing zing will take the sting out of the sun, and whose happy palate will make summer food sing.

And yet, there’s a rub. I’m not a huge fan of white wines. I get the beauty of the white, intellectually; I can appreciate the white wine’s crisp lines, elegant layers, and wafts of almond, citrus, lily and salt. But I’m not always in the mood for white, and to be honest, I’m an unapologetic carnivore. Enter Barbera, a red and one of the best underdog wines (and I do love underdogs).

A grape of astounding flexibility and breadth, Barbera is one of the two most planted red wine varieties in Italy (the other is Sangiovese). Barbera grows throughout Italy, but mostly in Piemonte, where it appears in eleven DOC designated areas. Barbera earned the nickname “the people’s wine” because of its high popularity and historically low cost. Low in tannins but very high in acidity, Barbera is a fruit-happy ruby-red wine. Barbera’s structure comes from its tangy acidity; therefore, Barbera complements a wide range of summer food, though it stands up especially well with grilled steak—yummy, yummy hot-off-the-grill, sizzling and delightful steak. An added bonus, Barbera stands on the value-conscious side of the aisle.

A red with jaunty acidity, lots of flavor,and low cost that complements meat? I’m all in.

The Wall Street Journal’s Lettie Teague puts the wine in perspective: “Barbera has always been considered a bit of a consolation drink. It’s the wine most drinkers turn to while waiting for the region’s greater wines to mature—or one’s fortunes to improve. And yet Barbera at its best is charming and graceful.” The people have spoken, and they have said, “Barbera.”

This weekend, I’m lucky to be heading to Fire Island where the sun, the sand, the salt, a gorgeous patio and a fabulous grill await me. I’m not packing much, but I’m definitely bringing a couple of bottles of Barbera, perhaps the Hilberg Barbera d’Alba Per Allesandra. It’ll go great with my vintage Norma Kamali bathing suit and my rack of lamb.


2 Responses to “Finding a Summer Red in Barbera”

  1. Kerry-Jo
    July 13th, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

    Barbera and Fire Island! What could be better?

  2. Nicola
    July 16th, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

    The reds of Jura in France can also be perfect summer reds. I had a trousseau the other evening; it was interesting in its structure and composition. At the same time, it was also refreshing, and can be served slightly chilled to enhance this attribute.

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