Several years ago, while visiting northern California, I was served a glass of red wine from Amador County that made me do a double-take. When I asked what is was, I was told but the varietal didn't mean anything to me. I ended up having another glass and again asking about it, but it just wasn't a varietal that I'd heard of before that point in time. Finally, I asked one more time what I was being served and was told it was a Barbera. I had never heard of it, but I knew I really liked it.
Excited by learning about this varietal, I returned home from my trip and, at my first opportunity, headed out to a nicer wine seller in search of a Barbera. I looked up and down the aisles but wasn't able to find the Barbera. There was a very knowable wine guy at the store, but he was busy helping another customer with a wine selection and talking extensively to the customer about the wines they were interested in purchasing. This was definitely the guy I wanted to talk to, knowing he'd help me find a great Barbera. After waiting for quite some time, the wine guy became available and it was my turn to have a conversation with him. I walked right up and asked "Do have any Barbera wine that you'd recommend?" After a bit of an awkward pause, he uttered one word; "No." I was somewhat put on my heals but asked if he sold any Barbera wine. Again, the one-word answer was "No." I thanked him politely and walked away. Had I said something wrong?
Well, it turns out that Barbera has been widely planted in California for a long time, but in the past, it was solely used as a blending component in mass-produced jug wines. Hence, it hasn't had a very good reputation as a varietal and still doesn't seem to get the respect it deserves.
But, all that changed with the Barbera planting in the Amador and El Dorado Counties in the Sierra Foothills of California. Today, they continue to produce nice Barbera varietal wines. They are not widely distributed, so they are still hard to find.
So, if you haven't ever heard of, or tried, a Barbera varietal, keep your eyes out for one. And, if you are so lucky as to come across one from the Sierra Foothills of California or from anywhere, give it a try. You're likely to be surprised by this wonderful medium to full-bodied wine with great dark fruit flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and plum, And, when aged in oak, it also develops even richer full-bodied fruit flavors with a hint of chocolate.
There is another wine region of the world that produces nice Barbera. And, we'll explore that region next time. Until then, Cheers!