FIONA BECKETT finds the best accompaniment for a bottle of Barbera d'Asti.
Given its status as the most popular wine in Piedmont (and, according to a recent survey, the whole of Italy), most locals’ answer to the question ‘What does Barbera go with? would be ‘Everything’. Indeed it is a congenial wine for everyday drinking. But as our tasting showed there’s Barbera and Barbera – the light, juicy quaffable style and the more substantial bottles designed for ageing. Not to mention New Barbera, the new-wave versions that don’t taste much like Barbera at all.
On the spot
Barbera is perfect for what Italian food writer Anna del Conte describes as cucina borghese (bourgeois cooking) – substantial dishes such as paniscia, a robust rice, bean and vegetable stew and bollito misto (boiled meats). The Piedmontese are renowned for their spectacular range of antipasti and would drinker younger vintages with dishes such as bagna cauda (see recipe below), the region’s famous warm garlic and anchovy dip. Pasta dishes are less common than rice ones in this part of Italy but lighter styles suit most pasta dishes – and pizza – very well (locally it would be served with agnolotti (meat or spinach-stuffed ravioli [right]) or tajarin (fine egg noodles served with butter and truffles). Risotto would also be a popular choice – there is a dish called riso al Barbera (below) cooked with Barbera and porcini. Older vintages come into their own during the autumn when mushrooms, truffles and game dominate the menu. Barbera is a good match for cheese, too. Try the local Toma-style cheeses – and Castelmagno if you can get hold of it.
Why not try…
Slightly fatty meat products including salami and other sausages, mountain ham, patés and terrines – Barbera’s marked acidity makes it a great match for these. It’s also curiously good with pork pies!
Most preparations of duck
Dishes including olives and/or capers
Seared tuna or swordfish with salsa verde
Combinations of meat and pastry or meat and cheese (eg steak and mushroom pie, lasagne and moussaka)
Robust bean dishes such as cassoulet
More modern fruit-driven styles work with mild to medium-hot curries..
…and hoisin sauce – so I’m told
Top-quality Barberas would be as good a choice as other fine reds for steak or roasts and for dishes with rich, winey sauces
Made in heaven
‘We do a wild duck dish (Anatra selvatica al forno) cooked in Amarone with lemon, orange, sage and celery and served with roasted celeriac carrots and fennel. The Bava, Arbest Barbera d’Asti 1997 is great with that.’ Ossie Gray, the River Café, London
‘I like lamb with Barbera. A simple roast of young lamb with just a hint of garlic and rosemary, served pinkish with fresh asparagus, eaten with a bottle of Bava Stradivario 1997.’ Antonio Carluccio, Neal St Restaurant, London
‘I never used to be a big fan of Barbera, but recently at Fifteen we had a really successful match with a dish of Papardelle Agro e Dolce; a sweet and sour pasta that included mixed wild game and sultanas. finished with finely chopped rosemary and orange zest.’ Matt Skinner, Fifteen, London