Barbera, the Other Italian Red 

Step aside sangiovese

Sangiovese may be Italy's most widely planted red grape and the variety behind that country's best-known wine, chianti, but barbera still ranks a respectable third in terms of vineyard acreage. It is one of the core grapes of the Piedmont region and is particularly prominent in the locales of Asti and Alba. A rather late-ripening variety, barbera is particularly well suited to warmer climates, claiming the advantage of maintaining excellent acidity even as sugar levels rise. It accompanied Italian immigrants on their pilgrimage to North America and found a home in California, where, as this tasting proved, it has assimilated itself quite nicely. Here are the panel's top three barberas.

2009 Damilano Barbera d'Asti, $14.99

Floral rose and cherry blossom aromas on the nose are punctuated by an earthy touch of black olive. The wine's flavors are marked by cherry cola, tangy currant and plum, with a light kiss of coffee and oak. Smooth tannins come through on the finish, which is a mix of creamy berry and food-friendly acidity. This wine strikes a nice balance between Old and New World styles.

2009 Luigi Voghera Barbera d'Alba, $23

This wine is unmistakably Old World, with rustic dark fruit aromas that are laced with a bit of brett, a yeast that in small doses adds a pleasant touch of game and spice. In the mouth, it's a beautifully balanced wine with chocolate-covered cherry fruit flavors backed by smooth tannins, light oak, earth and leather. The finish lingers on and on.

2009 Terra d'Oro Barbera, $15.99

This standout wine from California's Montevina Winery reflects its Amador County terroir, while remaining true to the grape's Italian heritage. It opens with a beautiful array of aromas, including anise, coffee, cola and bright raspberry. Big and bold on the palate, this wine is filled with concentrated berry fruit flavors and colored by dark chocolate and fig.

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