Once the most widely planted red-wine grape in Italy, barbera slipped to No. 4 as of 2010, after sangiovese, montepulciano and merlot. However, in Piemonte, where its reputation takes a backseat to Barolo's nebbiolo, it's still No. 1 in terms of quantity. The three DOCs in that region, which include Alba and Asti, produce some of the best examples of this versatile red. And though the grape is native to Italy, barbera's plantings have spread around the globe. Here are the panel's top three picks:
2013 Boroli Quattro Fratelli Barbera d'Alba, $16.99
There's a remarkable depth to this wine's fresh Bing cherry and bramble berry aromas, along with hints of earth, rose petal and red licorice. In the mouth, it's a big burst of creamy dark fruit flavors playing against lightly tart cherry. The supple finish is marked by smooth tannins. This wine is drinking beautifully now.
2011 Locati Cellars Barbera, Lonesome Springs Vineyard, $15.99
This barbera from the Oregon side of the Walla Walla AVA is a lean and lovely expression of that region's terroir. Lightly toasted oak complements the soft berry aromas with touches of coconut, tobacco and graphite adding more complexity. The palate shows nice restraint (which is not always typical of Walla Walla wines) and offers smooth, ripe red fruits, balanced by racy acidity and light tannins.
2013 Pico Maccario Lavignone Barbera d'Asti, $14.99
This wine opens with bright cherry and raspberry aromas backed by subtle notes of green tea leaf. Crisp cherry flavors lead off on the palate of this well-structured wine. Anise and blueberry also weigh in, with the flavors lingering nicely. A clean hit of food friendly acidity marks the finish.