Barbera is by no means the showiest of wines in Italy--it's more of a humble grape that gets pushed to the less desirable sites in Northern Italy's Piemonte. Nevertheless, it produces a great, food-friendly table wine that goes with everything from foraged mushroom pastas to pizza.
Get to Know Barbera's Flavors
To understand what you should pair with barbera, you've got to first get to know it. Originating in the hills of Piemonte, Italy, barbera is generally thought of as the lesser of wines compared to the heavy hitter Barolos and Barbarescos of the neighborhood. But barbera isn't going for graceful aging. It's fresh and fruity and ready to be enjoyed straight out of the gate. It has fruit notes of dusty blackberry, raspberry, plum, and dried strawberry coupled with violet, dried fall leaves, anise, and nutmeg. With mild tannins and high acidity, this juicy wine is light and bright and made for food.
Barbera Food Pairings
While barbera is grown outside of Northern Italy in parts of California and Australia, sticking to its roots when thinking about food pairings can make a lot of sense. You can also think in terms of contrasting flavors vs. complementary flavors. Whichever route, you can build a successful pairing that highlights both the wine and the food. Try a few classic barbera food pairings to get you started.
Tajarin With Truffle
You're either now craving Tajarin or you are wondering what the heck it is. This gem of a pasta from Piemonte is made with a lot of egg yolks. Like 20 for a pound of flour. Its glossy sunshine yellow strands are a pure joy to eat. Top it with shaved local truffle, and you will melt--a classic Northern Italian dish for the Northern Italian wine. The pasta is decadent and rich, and the juicy acidity from the barbera cuts through just how you need it to.
Just need a little antipasti pairing? Prosciutto is salty, fatty, and obviously meaty. Barbera plays with all of these elements really well. It brings the acidity into the mix, which balances the salt and fat. The earthy notes in the wine are a great play with the savory cured meat. Barbera pairs quite well with many savory snacky items that may wind up on a charcuterie board, so if you are considering going with a full-fledged board for this wine, you're on the right track.
Gnocchi With Pomodoro Sauce
Airy little potato dumplings enveloped in tomato sauce? Yes please! The acidity in barbera makes it a great match for tomato sauce forward dishes like this one. Where other wines would fall flat, barbera's spiced cherry and blackberry shines bright. The acid also helps to cut through the fat of that Parmigiano Reggiano you will add at the end, no doubt with a heavy hand.
Continuing in the tomato theme, chicken parmesan is another great pairing for barbera. Tender light meat smothered in savory tomato sauce and gooey cheese is really what barbera has been searching for all its life. Barbera isn't overly serious and wound up, neither is chicken parm. Both lean into the earthy herbaceous notes and complement each other quite well.
Okay. It's not allll that often you are cooking up a rabbit. But! In the case that you are (or more likely, in the case that you are out at a restaurant - potentially in Piemonte), rabbit is such a good match for barbera. Whether it's roasted, ragù, or stew, barbera pairs really well with the lean white meat. If it's more in your repertoire to cook chicken breasts or roast a whole chicken instead, great! Barbera elevates that mildly sweet light meat with its juicy characteristics.
Pizza With Grilled Vegetables
You can't go wrong with pairing a glass of barbera with your favorite tomato-based pizza. When topped with anything grilled, the char flavor lends itself to the spiced aromas in the wine. A pizza littered with olives is also a good choice, with that earthy herby component reflected in the wine.
Italian Through and Through
While often overlooked, a good glass of barbera is truly a food-friendly wine with its mild tannins, high acidity, and bright fruit profile. By nature, it goes with many dishes from Northern Italy. If you are looking to get creative, remember that tomato-forward dishes are a good place to start.