As I mentioned before, Barbera is somewhat of an unsung hero in Italy’s Piedmont region. Though less prestigious than Nebbiolo, which is Piedmontese royalty, Barbera is the staple of many Piedmontese meals and the everyday wine of the region. The Barbera del Monferrato DOC, which is where this wine comes from, is the third of four DOC/DOCG wine regions in Piedmont for the Barbera grape. Two of the other regions, the Barbera d’Asti DOCG and the Barbera d’Alba DOC, are much more well known and have better reputations than the Barbera del Monferrato DOC, making it the forgotten sister at times. The fourth DOC/DOCG region for Barbera in Piedmont is a recent one – in 2008, a superiore DOCG region was essentially added to this region, which created the Barbera del Monferrato Superiore DOCG region. This new DOCG region stipulates a higher minimum alcohol content and requires a longer aging time for it’s wines. However, this hasn’t (as of yet) brought the overall reputation of Monferrato Barberas up to that of the Barberas from Asti and Alba.
The Barbera del Monferrato DOC is in the heart of the Piedmont wine region. It is the largest of the Barbera DOC/DOCG regions, and slightly overlaps with both Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba (and overlaps completely with the Barbera del Monferrato Superiore DOCG). Much of the wine produced in the region comes from grapes grown around the province of Alessandria, in the Monferrato hills (not surprisingly). Wines produced here must be made from at least 85% Barbera, with the final 15% being made up of any combination of Freisa, Grignolino and/or Dolcetto (though it can be up to 100% Barbera if the winemaker chooses). As with Barberas throughout Piedmont, these wines tend to not be quite as big and heavy as a Barolo or Barbaresco; they are typically softer with bright acidity which makes them pair perfectly with acidic pasta sauces.
This Barbera del Monferrato comes from Cascina Zerbetta, a relatively small producer in the Piedmont region. It is made of 100% Barbera, which is not uncommon for wines from any of the Barbera regions in Piedmont (you may remember that the Barbera d’Asti DOCG already covered was also 100% Barbera). It has a deep ruby red color to it, common of many Barberas. Starting with the nose, this is a very approachable wine. The nose has the familiar mix of oak and red fruit that immediately makes me think of Italy. That is accompanied by notes of cedar and a bit of vanilla. On the palate it is bigger than I would have expected, with nice acidity but also some relatively full tannins. It is a little less acidic than other Barberas I’ve had, but with the tannins it has a nice juiciness to it. The palate is flooded with notes of oak, cedar, cherry, a hint of vanilla, and leather. The finish is subtle and a bit short, with some lingering acidity.