The Piedmont in Italy is famous for the superstar Nebbiolo grape, the basis for famous Barolo and Barbaresco wines. This prized vine occupies the choice locations on sunny hillsides to ensure that the fruit benefits from the best conditions and longest time on the vine. With the exception of certain producers and vineyards around Asti and Alba, it’s cousin the Barbera grape is generally relegated to the less favorable plots on the vineyard.
The Piedmont in Italy is known for its fog. It’s one of the coldest wine growing areas in Italy. That’s why exposure is so important for the vines and the quality of the fruit. Barbera, as a result has more often been viewed as a table wine or used for blending with fruit from warmer parts of Italy. Its bright red fruit and high acidity make it a very food friendly wine. But for the growers and winemakers that elevate this varietal to the best growing locations, so much more is possible.
Amador County in the California Sierra Foothills is at a latitude about equal to Campania in hot Southern Italy, but its nighttime temperatures are the same as the Piedmont. More sun, more daytime heat, same nighttime cooling. That makes for uber-lush fruit, a dense, full body and enough cold to retain fresh acidity. Over 50% of Gold Medal winning Barbera wines from the 2021 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition were from the Sierra Foothills.
Winemaker Scott Harvey says that the Sierra Foothills could be the best growing region in the world for Barbera. This 2019 J&S Reserve Barbera seems to be backing up that bold claim.
Massive red fruit just explodes out of the bottle on pop-n-pour. It’s like you’re being buried alive in cherries. There’s a rich earthy quality that anchors the wine in a sea of fruit decadence. And a hint of a roasted note like tobacco along with a little alcohol on the nose. The 7% Syrah piles on dark berry aromas, a lush mouthfeel and added firmness. This wine is big, it’s extracted, but it’s not beastly or muscular, even at 15.7% ABV.
There is a round softness to the mouthfeel. Entry is all fruit, but the mid-palate is treated to a broader savory quality. The wine spent 19 months in French Oak, and there is enough structure and light, fine tannin to balance the fruit. And that characteristic Barbera acidity is there in plenty of force to pair up with savory meals.
It’s a nice, lush combination that strikes a good balance. Fruit lovers will fall for its ripe, richness. The alcohol and tannin contribute to the full-bodied aspect of the wine and expand the dimensions of this Barbera for lovers of more complex wines. I brought a bottle to a dinner party and it was well received by the entire table of diverse palates. This is a go-to wine for Italian foods, BBQ and entrees with robust sauces. Watch the spice with that 15.7% ABV, but otherwise it’s perfect when you want a pairing with big red fruit.