The ever-popular Barbera grape is grown in many regions of Italy, but it is most at home in Piedmont. Ian D'Agata picks 12 great examples for the summer.

Barbera d’Asti is one of Italy’s most popular wine grapes, grown not just in Piedmont but in many regions of Italy, including Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Lazio and Campania. In fact, Barbera is the sixth most-planted grape variety in Italy.

  • See below for D’Agata’s 12 best Barbera d’Asti and Nizza wines

However, it is undoubtedly in Piedmont where the grape performs best. To put Barbera’s popularity in perspective, consider that 33% of Piedmont’s 45,000 hectares under vine are planted to Barbera.

Barbera d’Asti – a DOCG that boasts 3,915ha under vine and 2,456 producers, 30 of which are cooperatives – offers both very successful, oaked versions as well as precise, fruity reds aged in stainless steel only. Clearly, Barbera d’Asti Superiore is a bigger wine than Barbera d’Asti, made from selected grapes, and must be aged for at least six months in wood.

The sandy-marly-loamy hills of the Asti wine zone (named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014) are also the home of a small enclave called Nizza, one of three Barbera d’Asti sub-zones – the others are Tinella and Colli Astigiani. Of the three sub-zones, it is Nizza where the most ageworthy and arguably the best Barbera d’Asti is made. Previously called Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza, mercifully the name has now been shortened to just Nizza. The best wines are balanced and powerful, ageing well from eight to 10 years after the vintage.

Promising future

The only disappointing thing about Barbera d’Asti is that many wine lovers and experts are not aware of its high quality. The good news is that things appear to be looking up. The Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato, headed by the dynamic Filippo Mobrici, has been growing steadily, with 33 estates joining in 2015, the total number of members now exceeds 200. It all adds up to many more great tasting and drinking opportunities for wine lovers everywhere.

The following tasting of Barbera d’Asti and Nizza wines was conducted at the Enoteca Regionale di Nizza in January 2016, where samples were kindly gathered on my behalf. I tasted more than 70 wines and was not surprised to find wine quality very high across the board. Wines tasted were of various vintages, including the fresh, high-acid 2014s, the richer, well- balanced 2013s, and the fleshy, opulent 2012s and 2011s, both of which were fairly warm years.