The red grape variety comes from Italy. The name is possibly derived from "Berberis", an alcoholic beverage made from barberry berries with a similarly sour taste. Synonyms are Barbera Amaro, Barbera a Peduncolo Rosso, Barbera a Peduncolo Verde, Barbera a Raspo Rosso, Barbera a Raspo Verde, Barbera Amaro, Barbera Black, Barbera Crna, Barbera d'Asti, Barbera di Piemonte, Barbera Dolce, Barbera Fina, Barbera Forte, Barbera Grossa, Barbera Mercantile, Barbera Nera, Barbera Nera a Caule Rosso, Barbera Nera a Caule Verde, Barbera Noir, Barbera Noire, Barbera Nostrana, Barbera Rotonda, Barbera Vera, Barberone, Blue Barbera, Gaietto, Nigruz, Lombardesca, Sciaa and Ughetta It must not be confused with the Barbera del Sannio, Barbera Sarda (possibly related), Barberùn, Mammolo, Neretto Duro (Barbera Rotonda), Perricone or Vespolina (Ughetta) varieties, despite the fact that the synonyms or morphological similarities appear to indicate this.
Some legends have grown up about the origin of this certainly very old variety. It is said to have been introduced to Piedmont by the Longobards as early as the 7th century. In a document of the municipality of Casale Monferrato in 1255 a variety "bonis vitibus barbexinis" is mentioned. However, this is not the Barbera as is often assumed, but probably Berbesino, a synonym for Grignolino. The scholar Petrus de Crescentiis (1230-1320), in his work published in 1304, mentioned a variety called Grissa, which may have been the Barbera. And in an ampelography by Count Giuseppe Nuvolone-Pergamo (President of the Società Agraria di Torino), in 1798, the Barbera variety is said to be listed as "Vitis vinifera Montisferratensis". However, the actual identity of these three varieties is not certain.
According to DNA analyses carried out in 2003, there are few relationships with other varieties in Piedmont, which could indeed indicate a different origin. The ampelographer Pierre Viala (1859-1936) already suspected at the beginning of the 20th century that the vine did not originate in Piedmont, but in nearby Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardy. The mystery of the origin and also the parentage of the variety are therefore not yet clear. According to several DNA analyses, there is no genetic relationship to the two varieties Barbera Bianca and Barbera del Sannio. Barbera is a popular crossbreeding partner, among others with the nine new varieties Albarossa, Cornarea, Ervi, Incrocio Terzi 1, Nebbiera, Nigra, Prodest, San Michele and Soperga.
After the phylloxera catastrophe, Barbera began its triumphal march at the beginning of the 20th century, eventually becoming the local "folk grape" with more than half of the vineyards in Piedmont and still occupying 50,000 hectares in Italy in the early 1990s. In the mid-1980s, it wrongfully fell into disrepute when cheap mass produced Barbera wines were mixed with methanol (methyl alcohol), causing 30 deaths. Barbera is the most common variety in Piedmont with a share of around 60%, but is also cultivated in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. The Italian cultivable area totals 20,524 hectares.
This late-maturing, high-yielding variety produces ruby-red, acidic red wines with soft tannins and cherry aromas. With corresponding yield reduction and recommended barrique maturation, it has good quality and storage potential. Among other things, it is often used as the determining variety in the DOC/DOCG wines Bardolino, Barbera d'Alba, Barbera d'Asti, Barbera del Monferrato. Casteggio, Cerveteri, Colline Novaresi, Colli Perugini, Colli Piacentini, Falerno del Massico, Gabiano, Garda, Malvasia di Casorzo d'Asti, Molise, Nice, Oltrepò Pavese and Valsusa. It is also used in many Italian IGT wines.
Other stocks are found in Slovenia (134 ha), Greece, Northern Macedonia and Israel. Italian emigrants introduced them to California around 1880. However, only about 2,500 of the once 7,000 hectares have remained to this day. In the USA it occupies a total of 2,798 hectares. Smaller populations also exist in Argentina, Australia (116 ha) and South Africa (51 ha). In 2010, the variety occupied a total of 24,178 hectares of vineyards, with a sharp downward trend. Compared with 1990, when the area was 67,987 hectares, there was an extreme reduction of around two thirds. It thus occupied 36th place in the worldwide grape variety ranking.
Source: Wine Grapes / J. Robinson, J. Harding, J. Vouillamoz / Penguin Books Ltd. 2012
Pictures: Ursula Brühl, Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn Institute (JKI)