The Italian red grape varietal Barbera has a fascinating history. Originating in Northern Italy, in the Piedmont region it is Italy’s third most planted grape. It’s thought that the origins may go as far back as the 7th century.
What does Barbera taste like? Well, it often depends on the region and the style. The younger wines tend to have a very intense aroma of blackberries and red cherries. Often the wines are aged in barrels to increase the complexity and aging potential giving different flavours. The lighter styles are often known for the fine tannins with fresh and dried fruits. Over time the wines are capable of cellaring for longer periods of time.
Barbera in Italy
The Piedmont region is best known for its Barolo’s, magnificent wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. These wines can age for decades, have great structure, and are generally saved for special occasions. For everyday drinking, most people in the region turn to the easier more accessible Barbera wines. Among their many virtues, these wines are great with food, with its bracing acidity it is a brilliant accompaniment, refreshing the palate and stimulating the appetite.
As Nebbiolo became more expensive, growers and winemakers turned to Barbera. The style of Barbera has evolved and been taken more seriously in the last 20 years.
The Inspiration behind my David Hook Barbera
More than 25 years ago my neighbour Aldo Zuzza, a famous Sydney Restaurateur (Darcy’s Pruniers), planted the Pinot Grigio grape. Growing up in Northern Italy this is the wine style he particularly enjoyed. Aldo asked me to make his wine for him, and despite having consumed many Italian wines whilst working in Europe over the years, I’d never worked with Italian varietals here at home. They just were not something we saw much of in Australia to be able to dabble with.
With the first Pinot Grigio wines that we made, we tried to make a fresh fruit driven style for early consumption, everyday drinking. Although we struggled with Pinot Grigio in the initial years, it eventually became well established and popular. Our customers loved it and it was very much a go to wine here at the Cellar Door. So due to popular demand we looked for a red of similar style to sell to accompany the Pinot Grigio.
Barbera wines in Australia
The Montrose winery in Mudgee was established in the early 1970’s and the original winemaker Carlo Corvino planted the Italian varieties Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Barbera. These were thought to be some of the original vines, reputedly brought from Italy in a suitcase! These varietals appeared in various wines over the following decades sometimes straight, but often blended. The Nebbiolo did not work, the Sangiovese was a highly vigorous clone producing pale grippy wines. However, the Barbera wines were more succulent, medium bodied, savoury and tart. Carlo was onto something.
Having enjoyed many of these Barbera wines from Italy over the years, and having a fondness for the Montrose wines, led me to consider planting Barbera here in the Hunter Valley. Over many years the plantings increased and along with fruit blended from other regions we’ve come to make a very defined style that is growing a small following. The Barbera’s we have produced have won numerous trophies and show medals, have been favourably reviewed by some of the industry’s toughest critics. They would now arguably be regarded as one of Australians benchmark Barbera’s as evident from the recent Real Review feature placing the Central Ranges Reserve Barbara as #2 Barbara in Australia and awarded the Top Rank from critic Nick Butler.
The journey continues for us with three distinctive Barbera wines now available for our customers to enjoy including:
1. Hunter Valley Reserve Barbera
Our Hunter Valley Barbera is medium bodied. A soft savoury style and typically with a Hunter earthiness. The warmer climate of Hunter produces wines which are slightly lower in acidity and alcohol. This wine is made in tiny quantities and is currently sold out.
2. David Hook Orange Barbera
With the increased interest in emerging varietals and lighter medium reds for early drinking we decided to revisit the more traditional Barbera style. Try this slightly chilled, it’s utterly delicious.
3. Central Ranges Barbera
Our other wine is the Central Ranges Barbera, made from fruit sourced from Orange and Hilltops. Barbera wines from these cooler high-altitude vineyards are generally more concentrated, (although still medium bodied) higher in alcohol and acidity and aged in oak adding complexity and palate weight.
The wines typically need a couple of years in the cellar after bottling to be at their optimal drinking potential.
What do you eat with Barbera wines?
Barbera is a versatile partner with food. The natural acids and soft tannins make it approachable and easy to drink. It is great with pizza, but also with all manner of meat sauces and grilled meats. If you are throwing a steak or sausages onto the grill, get out the Barbera!