Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
It’s rare that one family will tolerate two stars. Think about it - Alec Baldwin? Definitely a star. Other Baldwins? Sort of famous, but just not quite real stars. Ditto Owen and Luke Wilson. Luke, excellent actor, really appealing on-screen, but just doesn’t quite have the particular audience-drawing whatever-it-is-ness that his odd-nosed older brother has. Not fair, but hard to argue with.
The same is pretty much true of wine regions. Usually, one grape gets to be the star. The others may have nice careers, may produce really charming wine, but they never quite get the acclaim that the leading variety does. Napa Valley, for instance, produces a lot of very good Merlot, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc - but Cabernet Sauvignon is without doubt the leading grape there.
Barbera, while less famous and less regal than Nebbiolo, is a charming grape. It produces an ideal lunch wine too, by which I mean it tends not to be high in tannins or alcohol. And regarding meals in general, its bright berry-like flavor and brisk acidity make it an ideal partner for all kinds of food. A great Barbera isn’t a lesser wine compared with a great Nebbiolo; it just plays a different role or serves a different purpose. In a way, rather than demand that you admire it, it simply asks that you drink it: no more than that, and no less. And that’s enough.
2010 Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera ($12)
2010 Michele Chiarlo Le Orme Barbera d’Asti ($12)
2009 Boroli Quattro Fratelli Barbera d’Alba ($15)
2010 Vietti Tre Vigne Barbera d’Asti ($16)
2010 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba ($22)
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