Barbera is a dark-skinned wine grape variety found in several Italian wine regions, including its native Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Puglia, Campania and even the island regions, Sicily and Sardinia. At the turn of the 21st Century, it was Italy's third most-commonly planted red wine grape, after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Barbera grapes are used both in blended wines and varietals – the latter are becoming increasingly common as Italy continues its move towards varietal labeling. Being naturally high in acidity, Barbera can be grown in warmer climates without producing overblown, flat wines. Even warmer sites in Sonoma Valley and the Sierra Foothills of California have produced balanced Barbera-based wines. This acidity complements the cherry flavors found in typical Barbera wines and has contributed to the (largely justified) stereotype of Italian red wines as being ripe, bright and tangy rather than voluptuous and earthy.
When young, most Barbera wines have a bright-red cherry character, distinguished from Nebbiolo (which often overshadows Barbera) by softer tannins and a certain roundness. When matured in barrel and allowed to age in bottle for a few years, this turns to a denser, sour-cherry note. A warm, Merlot-like plumminess is also commonly detectable, although the variety is more closely related to Mourvedre than Merlot. When overheated, a Barbera vine will produce comparatively flat, dull wines with notes of baked prunes and raisins, while its trademark cherry flavors turn towards kirsch.
Barbera reaches its zenith in Piedmont (see Barbera d'Asti and Barbera d'Alba), where the vine performs best on well-drained, limestone-rich slopes with a warm southerly aspect.