I remember the first time I met Barbera.
I was a young, poor college student living and going to school in the Bay Area. On one of my first trips to Napa, we heard that Louis M. Martini had good but affordable wine — which we found to be true. Since my grandfather had a wine cellar in Southern California with plenty of room, we were on the lookout for wine we could put away for a few years and enjoy when we’d visit my family, so we purchased a few bottles including a merlot, which Louis M. Martini Winery began bottling as a varietal in California in 1970, and a Barbera.
While I’m sure I’d had chianti at that point in my wine journey, I had no idea what was in that straw bottle. But we both were intrigued with Barbera, an Italian varietal with high acidity which we were assured would improve over time, and we were surprised we couldn’t find more of it.
Honestly, I don’t remember when we finally drank that Barbera, but I know it was kicking around in the cellar for a long time– and I know that it was before I started this wine blog and that it was good. (I actually still have the 1979 Stag’s Leap we bought on that trip!)
These days, Louis M. Martini is not so well know for making affordable wines– and it’s hard to find any Barbera for sale. Mike Martini recalls that “Toward the end of my dad’s reign, he really wanted to keep the cost under $10,” Mike explains. “‘If it costs more than the food on the table, they aren’t going to buy the wine!’ he used to say.” In 2002 Gallo bought Martini and today they are focused on wines that certainly wouldn’t have been in this college student’s price range; they now emphasis on Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which brings the big bucks over little known and less well favored Barbera.
Gallo whittled away the oddball varieties and focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, according to Kelli White. “And while the quality and consistency of these core wines seemed to improve right away, it’s hard not to mourn the loss of the diversity of Martini’s former portfolio. Older vintages of Martini’s Barbera are among some of the greatest and least celebrated wines to come out of California.” Now at their Monte Rosso vineyard there’s 118 acres of Cabernet, 85 of Zinfandel and in 47 acres grow Sémillon, Sylvaner, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, Grenache, and Syrah. Where’s Barbera?
While Gallo may have bailed on Barbera in Martini’s in Napa, you can still find pockets of it in Lodi (see below)and other sites in the US. But less Barbera at places like Martini means fewer people will be introduced to this lively Italian grape– even if Barbera is the third most planted grape in Italy!
That’s why in May we want YOU to meet Barbera– and tell us your tale!
It’s all about Barbera in May for the Italian Food Wine Travel group, and Sue and I are hosting.
Tell us: How did you meet Barbera? What’s your Barbera story? What’s to love about Barbera? What’s a favorite Barbera from Italy for you?
Sue met Barbera at Cantara Cellars in Camarillo where she works in the tasting room, and Barbera quickly became one of Sue’s favorites — see why below!
Since this is a prompt for the Italian Food Wine Travel group, we encourage you to find a Barbera from Italy, where it thrives especially in the hills of Monferrato in central Piemonte, Italy, where it was likely born and has been known since the thirteenth century. We hope to share a Metodo Corino (vegetarian biodynamic method) Barbera with you imported by Verovinogusto– we LOVE his Nebbiolo which he blends with Barbera and we love how he grows his vines and make his wines. Another wine on our radar is Aldo Clerico’s Barbera d’Alba, also imported by Verovino but sold out at this time!! She also has one from Tomissa — and we loved their frizzante.
With Barbera the third most planted grape in Italy, there may be others for us to write about– even a rose! We have a month to figure it out; posts get published on Saturday May 1!
What We Love About Barbera– 5 Reasons
- Full body
- High acidity
- Low tannins
- Intense ruby color with a pretty pink rim
- Can stand up to rich juicy foods from hamburgers to lasagna
and it’s often more affordable than those other Italian wines that start with the letter B!
2010 Cantara Cellars Barbera
SRP about $30 (sold out)
Cantara Cellars is a small Ventura County winery located in Camarillo, California, midway between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and conveniently located near the 101 freeway beside a farm. There’s a sunny outdoor patio, and plenty of room inside for tastings and events. In addition to wine, Flatfish Brewery is also made on site by owner Mike Brown. Live music concerts are held most weekends.
Cantara specializes in fruit from Lodi where Mike’s mom grows Chardonnay. All of the other wines Mike makes are red — except Cantara is releasing their first rose soon!
While Mike has not made this Barbera for a few vintages and it’s sold out, others in Lodi make EXCELLENT Barbera!
Color: Cherry cola, Dr. Pepper
Nose: Eucalyptus, cherry, raspberry, sandalwood, kind of exotic, lapsang su Chong tea, oolong tea, cherry pipe tobacco, cigar box; the nose makes you want to dive right into this wine. As it opens up there is more fruit present, plummy,
Palate: First sip you notice the smoothness of the wine right away. Bright tart cherry at the front of the palate that hangs out there for a while, great acidity, mid palate cherry cola. Rich earthy long lingering finish. Cocoa beans, the wine really resonates on the palate. So many nuances, it shifts and changes from one place to another.
Italian wines like this one do so well with age!
Pairing: We had a Saracino cheese with red pepper imported from Italy on our cheese plate, and it was so amazing with the wine. Sharp cheeses like parm, Romano, pecorino, and sharp blue cheeses. Great with cambozola even better with a strong creamy blue bringing out incredible fruit in the wine. It becomes cherry pie when the two meet. The cheese plate is not only a great starter but also a great dessert. There were some chocolate covered cranberries on the cheese plate that went quite nicely with the wine as well.
Of course Barbera is stellar with Italian food especially sausage sauces, pizza, and more. Try it with a blue cheese burger with arugula and a heirloom tomato!
It’s about Barbera! Join us May 1! Here’s how:
- You have a month to find a Barbera to love. It can be from anywhere in Italy, or compare and contrast one from Italy with one from anywhere else. Bonus for Barbera that is grown sustainably! As May 1 May Day and International Workers Day, is there anything you can add about these topics?
- We love to read about the story behind the wine, your pairings (successes and failures!) as well as travel to Italy where your Barbera came from.
- During the last week of April, get your title to me.
- On Saturday May 1, publish your post; include #ItalianFWT in the title and add the HTML to link to other participants.
- Join our 8am May 1 twitter chat.
- Read around, comment, and share each other’s posts about Barbera.
Where we’ve been– themes for 2021:
January: Favorite Italians to Start off 2021 — we said we’re going with Lugana!
February: Italian wines with braised meats or stews –we compared 3 Montepulciano with Osso Bucco
March: Italian grapes grown outside Italy — we did two posts about wines in California
Where we are going in 2021:
April: Lazio wines with Katarina Andersson
May: Barbera with us on Wine Predator
June: National Lambrusco Day Susannah Gold
July: Ramato wines Rupal Desai Shankar
August: Lombardy wines with Jeff Burrows
September: Wines of Marche or Verdicchio Matelica & Jesi Marcia J Hamm
October: Three months of the three Big B’s of Italian Wine; Brunello, Barolo and Barbaresco starting with BrunelloWendy Klik
November: Barbaresco with Robin Bell Renken
December: Barolo with Li Valentine
Posts are published by 8am on the first Saturday of the month before our monthly #ItalianFWT twitter chat. Join us!