Origins of the vine and grape
The barbera grapes are anciently and traditionally grown in central Piemonte, Italy. Barbera grapes are supposed to have ancient origin like many other grapes. It is, however, found to be documented since 17th century. In an official document, in 1798, the wine was cited by Count Giuseppe Nuvolone-Pergamo of Scandaluzzo, deputy director of the Società Agraria di Torino (Agrarian Society of Turin) (Barbera Wine, n.d.). There are documents in the city hall of Nizza Monferrato that also mentions about the growing of this variety of grapes in 16th century (Sonkin, n.d.).
Barbera is a dark-skinned grape. The red grape variety is found in several Italian wine regions, including its native Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Puglia, Campania and even the island regions, Sicily and Sardinia. It is the fourth largest grown variety in Italy (Sonkin, n.d.). Presently it is one of the most widely planted grape and accounts for over 50% of the annual DOC red wine production and 35% of the vineyard area.
Apart from Italy, Barbera grapes are not much grown in other parts of Europe. Greece, Romania, and the coastal region of Primorska in Slovenia are the places in Europe where there are small plantings.
Barbera wine grapes have travelled many countries. In the last two centuries it is grown in Australia, Argentina and California, most likely following Italian migration patterns. However, this grape variety has adapted to its new environments. Presently, in these nations, it accounts for superior quality wines in these countries. In the warm climate regions of Malmesbury, Wellington and Paarl, the producers from South Africa have started extensive cultivation of grapes.
Barbera grapes are acidic in nature. It can be produced in warmer climates so that it does not produce overblown flat wines.
Barbera grapes which are generally dry, full-bodied and richly colored with a tang is used for making wines. It is high on flavor.
The variety of Barbera grapes is cultivated in low cost lands and it is generally thought of as less noble variety. Barbera was traditionally grown in the cooler and less desirable plots. It is naturally high in acidity. It has a deep ruby color and full bodied in structure. The wine that is made from these Barbera grapes are generally dry, full-bodied and richly colored with a tang that is both flavorful and pleasant to the palate.
The different grape variety requires different soil type to produce quality fruits. So it is better to cultivate as per the requirement of the varietal.
Vineyards of barbera grapes can yield up to up to five tons/acre. (Guide to Barbera Wine, 2013). Yield of a vineyard's yield is exceedingly important for the process of wine making. Vineyard yield is directly related and proportional to the end quality of wine production. The plants that bear fruit their carbohydrates and other compounds are supplied through the root system of the plant. So plant needs to produce enough carbohydrates for bearing fruit. Thus, more number of fruits in a plant leads the plant to struggle for ripening them properly. So, if the fruit yield is reduced, the quantity yielded would be low, but the quality would be superior. The other factors which influence the quality of the grapes include soil, irrigation, the weather conditions, and a lot of other things. (Neri, n.d).
Barbera grapes are of very vigorous types. This variety grows well in sandy soil. However, to get the better quality of barbera wine one needs to look for well pruned vineyards and smaller grape clusters. (Guide to Barbera Wine, 2013).
This variety of grapes needs long and warm season to grow up. It is easy going and can produce bountiful quantity spicy grapes with zippy acidity. The wines produced from these grapes are uncomplicated and also often frizzy and easy drinking. In early times, Barbera wines mostly consumed locally. They were rustic wines that were meant to be drunk young and frequently. However, with time people started experimenting with barbera grapes and were able to produce a less acidic, better balanced, softer and more tannic, cellar-worthy wine (The Better Barbera, n.d.).
The traditional wines of Barbera need to be consumed frequently. However, the experimentations have proved that it could be aged 5-7 years.
The variety of wine and its intended use determine the Storage requirements. The majority of wines made today are “ready to drink” (especially the less expensive ones). However, the red and the white wines whose tastes improve with aging would require special storage specification. The wine is produced from fruit and is perishable in nature so improper storage can have a drastic affect on the wine quality. Factors affecting storage are temperature, humidity, darkness, vibration, aroma neutral environment, storage angle and long term storage area (Proper Wine Storage, n.d.).
The wines of daily consumption are ready to drink. They are the less expensive ones. These wines would not be improved on aging and should be consumed between 6-12 months of bottling. The quality of the vintage, if the wine had been aged in wooden barrels or not, depends on how long it can be kept. Normal Barbera wines (including the lightly sparkling Barbera del Monferrato Vivace) are not wines to keep for long, these are best drunk within three years. The more special Barbera wines like the Superiore as well as others that undergo longer wood aging can be kept to 10 and sometimes even 15 years (Barbera - good vintages, n.d.).
Wine storage options range from small to large. The storage facility is one time cost but its maintenance is a recurring one.
Terroir is a combination of the set of special characteristics of geography, geology and climate of a certain place matching with plant genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, hops, tomatoes, heritage wheat, and tea. The holistic combination of the above mentioned factors are held to give each site its own unique terroir, which is reflected in its wines more or less consistently from year to year, to some degree regardless of variations in methods of viticulture and wine-making. Thus, every small plot, and in generic terms every larger area, and ultimately a region, may have distinctive wine-style characteristics which cannot be precisely replicated elsewhere. (Jones, 2014).
Major components of terroir are soil (as the word suggests) and local topography, together with their interactions with each other and with macroclimate to determine mesoclimate and vine microclimate. It can be grown where there are warm, sunny days with cooler nights and is naturally resistant to pests, disease, and mildew. Barbera is considered adaptable to numerous soils and climates but does tends to thrive best in less fertile soils which just happens to be a characteristic of the Sierra Foothills.
Good Barbera is made in the Sierra Foothills, Montevina Winery. High sunlight and infertile soil in this area help is developing lush fruit flavors in the grape and the cool night temperatures help to balance acidity. In the region of Piedmont, some of the best Barbera wine is produced. But, here the grape comes only second to Nebbiolo in this region. In this region, the best vineyards are used for Nebbiolo. But there are some very good and fine varietal Barberas found in this region. Lighter Piedmont examples are known as Barbera d’ Asti, and darker versions are called Barbera d’ Alba. Sardinia, Lombardy, and Emilia-Romagna also have substantial plantings of the varietal.
Barbera grapes need medium-textured soil. Vineyard has to be located on the median, well-exposed. Vines are pruned espalier with guyot pruning. This variety can be grown on on sandy or fine sandy loams with average fertility and good drainage.
A wine’s vintage refers to the year the grapes were harvested. This is critical as it determines whether the wine will meet the expectation or not. The vintage year is mentioned on the wine’s label. The weather condition of cultivation and harvesting is not the same every year. Therefore, the grapes’ quality and the wine’s quality also changes with it.
It is important to know the vintage year as wines could be dramatically different from year to year. This is because the weather patterns hitting the vineyards, the harvest time and how a unique micro-climate was affected by both obvious and subtle nuances in the weather. Vintage does not indicate how the wine should be served, but it gives an idea by what time it needs to be consumed.
Barbera grapes variety produces rich, red wines with strong fruit flavors and aromas, especially black cherry. Barbera wines are characterized by low, mild tannins and high acidity which produces a crisp taste.
Age-worthy Barbera is given ample barrel treatment which imparts tannin into the wine and rounds out the grape’s naturally tart cherry flavors. The most complex Barberas have a hint of spice accentuating flavors of blackberries and plums (Mcinerney, 2010).
Barbera wines have the quality to be aged. However, normal barbera wine is not meant to be kept for long. They should be consumed within three years. Special barbera wines can be kept as long as 10 – 15 years. Barbera wines are best consumed young.
Barbera wine can be aged in small French oak barrels which would give strong oak flavors. They are also aged in smaller casks that impart more tannins. It is recommended the consumption at a temperature of 15-16 °C/ 59-60,8 °F. The wines that are slightly sweet overtones, light to medium body and acidity blend well with the tomato-based sauces for which Italian food is famous, such as pizza, pasta in marinara sauce and antipasto dishes.
People who are accustomed to modern wines find Barbera incredibly acidic and inedible. On the other hand, the traditionalists do not prefer the newer style of Barbera, as they find these softened and adulterated with vanilla and spice flavour. The good thing about Barbera is that it is wonderfully versatile. It is not mostly intensely flavored wine, so amping is done.
Barbera Wine. (n.d.). Wine Searcher. Retrieved from http://www.wine-searcher.com/grape-27- barbera
Barbera - good vintages. (n.d.). Italian-wine-info. Retrieved from http://www.italian-wine- info.com/barbera/vintagetable
Guide to Barbera Wine. (2013). Retrieved from http://winefolly.com/review/guide-to-barbera- wine/
Jones, G. V. (2014). Climate, terroir, and wine: What matters most in producing a great wine? Earth. The science behind the headlines. Retrieved from http://www.earthmagazine.org/article/climate-terroir-and-wine-what-matters-most- producing-great-wine
Mcinerney, J. (2010). Barbera, the Cinderella of Italian Reds. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703727804576017992615785206
Neri, S. (n.d.). By planting grape vines, what's the acreage to production ratio for wine? Retrieved from http://www.enjoyhopewellvalleywines.com/planting-grape-vines.html
Proper Wine Storage. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cellaraiders.com/ProperWineStorage.php
Sonkin, L. (n.d.). Piedmont's Barbera Wines: History, Regions, and Top Producers. Retrieved from http://www.intowine.com/piedmonts-barbera-wines-history-regions-and-top- producers
The Better Barbera. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.winewordswisdom.com/wine_reviews/barbera.html