In its native Italy, barbera is the third-most-planted red wine grape — after sangiovese and montepulciano — but here in the Northwest, it isn’t much more than a niche variety.
But interest in the bright, rich red variety is beginning to grow as winemakers and consumers alike begin to stretch their imaginations and exploration of wines beyond cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.
Barbera is most often associated with the Piedmont region, which is in the northwestern corner of Italy. In Piedmont, barbera is grown alongside nebbiolo and dolcetto.
It ultimately is made into an approachable wine with lots of rich, ripe fruit backed by ample acidity and modest to low tannins. This makes barbera a perfect accompaniment to tomato-based Italian dishes such as pizza, lasagna, linguine, and spaghetti and meatballs.
Barbera has proven to grow well in a diversity of regions, and it certainly has found a comfortable home in the Northwest, particularly in the warm and arid Columbia Valley of Eastern Washington. The dry, sunny conditions appear to be ideal for barbera, and the handful of winemakers who work with the grape find it creates delicious, food-friendly and crowd-pleasing wines.
Here are five superb examples of barbera, all from Washington and Oregon wineries. Each of these won a gold medal at the third annual Great Northwest Wine Competition, which was staged in March at the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Oregon. These are made in small amounts, so ask for them at your favorite wine merchant or contact the wineries directly.