Barbera is the third most widely planted red wine grape in Italy after Sangiovese and Montelulciano. It finds its finest expression in the finest wine region of Italy, the Piedmont in the northwest, where it is claimed as native to the region and has been referenced in literature since the thirteenth century.
Within Piedmont Barbera finds most of its plantings around Asti and Alba. The Astis tend to be lighter and brighter with red and blackberry flavors. In Alba the wines are deeper, darker and more intense with layers of berry and cherry flavors. Alba, being the more complex model, is oddly less popular than Asti.
Barbera is essentially a deep color, low tannin, high acid red wine. Three qualities make this grape ideal for the California wine industry. Its acidity makes it ideal for blending and Barbera is most widely planted in the central valley where it finds a home in jug red blends. Barbera also improves greatly with the oak barrel aging it receives in northern California resulting in a complex alternative to Cabernet/Merlot blending efforts. Moreover, Old Vine California Barbera shows a robust fruity intensity that has the tannins necessary for lengthy cellaring.
So where does Renwood come in? Barbera was planted in the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills by Italian immigrants around 1856 coinciding with the California Gold Rush. These plantings were fortuitous indeed because this AVA (American Viticultural Area)turns out to be ideal for Barbera producing the kind of jammy forward fruit "cut-it-with-a-knife" rich reds for which California is known.
This Friday we will be tasting two Barberas from Renwood: 2007 Sierra Foothills($12.99) and 2005 Amador County($24.99). Mention this blog at the tasting and purchase them both for $30.