Wine: Barbera cultivated in small, prosperous area 

Though Piedmont is not Italy’s largest wine-producing region, it’s arguably one of the — if not the — most prestigious. Its fame can be summed up in two words: Barolo and Barbaresco, two appellations and types of wine that are made from the nebbiolo grape. As much as I love both, the backbone of the region is barbera.

If you ask the Piedmontese what they drink on a day-to-day basis, most will tell you it’s barbera — even the winemakers. One of the most widely planted grapes in Italy, barbera is grown in a few other regions, but in Piedmont, it is plentiful. A fecund grape, this can be a problem as it is prone to overcropping. While high yields render more wine, the juice is diluted and the wine tastes thin. In the past couple decades, agronomists have taken considerable pains to bring down the yields.

There are super barberas such as Braida’s Bricco della Uccelone. First made in the early 1980s, it is a barrique-aged, single-vineyard wine that can age for more than 10 years. Since Bricco della Uccelone’s first appearance, many others have emerged, but these are often lopped into the same category as Barolo and Barbaresco as “special-­occasion wines.”

Your straightforward, juicy and bright barbera remains the Piedmontese choice. High in acid, they are food-friendly, and while they are not fruit-forward in the way of California wines, cherries and red plums often abound. They can be spicy and earthy, a result of the immaculate terroir found throughout Asti, Alba and other areas. Medium-bodied, barbera is relatively low in tannin, giving it a gentle texture.

Here are three to try:

Bricco Rivoira Barbera d’Asti, 2007: This wine is made by none other than Gianni Fazio, a longtime San Francisco restaurateur who moved to Piedmont several years ago. Clean and bright with spicy licorice and cranberry fruit, it is a pleasure to see one of our own making great wine so far away. Suggested retail: $16

De Forville Barbera d’Asti, 2007: If you like rustic wines, go run right out and buy this. For some, it might be a bit extreme, but others will be in heaven with its barnyard bliss. There’s some fruit present, quite a bit in fact, giving it a juicy quality that complements the funk and creates a nicely complex wine. Suggested retail: $16

Scavino Barbera d’Alba, 2007: Founded in 1921, Paolo Scavino is one of the most renowned modern-style producers in Piedmont. The diametric opposite of De Forville, this wine has a woodsy quality with a hint of dried mushrooms further enhanced by brambly, black-cherry fruit. Suggested retail: $28.99

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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