Food-friendly barbera

An excerpt from Daring pairings by Evan Goldstein

January 03rd, 2011


Barbera has all the hallmarks of food-friendliness – high acid, low to medium tannin, balanced alcohol, and usually not too much wood. It goes down easily, and because of its high acidity, it makes a good start to a meal before you move on to bigger red wines with later courses.

In Piedmont you might have a few initial courses (antipasti, pasta, etc.) with barbera before switching to a barolo or barbaresco. And the frizzante styles, although difficult to find, are particularly good accompaniments to rich food.

Even more than sangiovese from Chianti, barbera is considered the quintessential wine to accompany dishes with 'red' sauces. Though both grapes have high acidity, which is critical when matching with tomatoes and tomato sauces, barbera's bright fruit can help make the flavors of a dish 'pop.' But it can also pair happily with recipes ranging from veal chops to grilled halibut, and from simple roast lamb to mixed antipasti.

Try it with grilled portobello mushrooms stuffed with sausage or dishes with pronounced Asian flavors – char siu (roast pork), tandoori chicken, or Vietnamese shaking beef. And in my humble opinion, there are few wines that are better with pizza, or even burritos.

Mushrooms and barbera have a special affinity – from Piedmont's truffles, if you can afford them, to cultivated mushrooms like portobellos and cremini. Slice and sauté them and serve them over pasta, alongside a steak, or on top of toasted slices of bread as crostini. When pairing with more traditional or earthy wines, try adding a bit of garlic or herbs to tie the flavors together.

Some of the modern-style bottlings tend to be quite oaky, which is a key consideration when pairing with food. If the oak is smoky and sweet, play to that by grilling with mesquite or other charcoal, and char the meat to meld with those characteristics. If the wine is fleshy and smooth from the oak, opt for richer preparations. Above all, remember that not all barberas are the same.


Pairing Pointers

Barbera goes well with:

Barbera isn’t good:


The Cheese Plate

FRESH – Burrata, mascarpone (Italy)
SOFT-RIPENED – Camembert (France, U.S.A.), robiola (Italy)
SEMI-HARD – Comté (France), pecorino (Italy)
HARD – Mimolette (France), aged Piave (Italy)


Reproduced with permission of University of California Press © Evan Goldstein 2010 


Read our full review of Daring Pairings here »

Daring Pairings by Evan Goldstein is published by University of California Press (Berkeley and LA; 2010; hb 353 pp) and retails for RRP US$34.95  or RRP A$55.95 in Australia.

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