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BARBERA D’ASTI VS BARBERA D’ALBA

The birthplace of one of the most planted grapes in Italy is thought to be in the Monferrato area of Piemonte. Many regions throughout Italy use it as a blending grape thanks to its low tannins, high yields and refreshing acidity.

The Barberas labelled Asti and Alba are the most well-known denominations and the DOCG Nizza from Monferrato is considered one of the top expressions. In the last 20 years Barbera has gone through a revolution with higher quality coming from lower yields and oak aging.

In the past it was lighter and sometimes fizzy making it the perfect rustic quaffer to wash down heavy Piemontese food. It has come around and now there is a big range of styles. I will start by explaining the general differences between Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba.

BARBERA AREA & SOILS

Barbera in both the Asti and Alessandria province is the most planted red grape. Becaue it is considered one of the top grapes, it is planted in prime vineyard positions. The climate is a bit more dry and sandy giving you more structured Barberas.

For Barbera d’Alba, the denomination includes the town of Alba and the surrounding hills including the other appellations Barolo and Barbaresco where the soils are rich with limestone clays and marls. Unfortunately because it is in the shadow of Nebbiolo, it often isn’t planted in the most ideal vineyard sites.

WINE CHARACTERISTICS

The wines from Asti tend to be a brighter ruby/garnet color when compared to Alba with flavors of cherries, blackberries, and plums. I often find more ferrous mineral and spicy notes in Barbera from Asti. From personal experience they seem more structured, powerful and energetic. Like all Barbera, they are low in tannins and naturally high in acid with a nice body and fruitiness. Barberas from Alba seem to have a darker pigment with fuller body. Often I smell and taste more violets, dark fruit and vanilla. Barbera d’Alba is often aged in barrique (small French oak casks) and gives you a bolder rounder and riper flavor with bright acidity.

BARBERA REGULATIONS

BARBERA D’ASTI DOCG

Barbera d’Asti DOCG must be at least 90% Barbera with the remaining percentage of non aromatic red grapes like Freisa or Dolcetto.

To be called Superiore must age for at least 14 months before release of which at least 6 must be in oak. The sub-zone Nizza for example must be aged for at least 2 years with at least 6 months in both oak and bottle.

BARBERA D’ALBA DOCG

Barbera d’Alba DOC must be at least 85% Barbera with remaining percentage of Nebbiolo. To be called Superiore it must age for at least 12 months before release of which at least 4 months must be in oak.

Photo above looking at Barbera grapes with Elio Sandri