Barbera Cà Montebello
Barbera is a dark-skinned red 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 labelling.
Barbera (like so many Italian wine grape varieties) has ancient origins, although it has only been traceably documented since the 17th century. It was first cited in an official document in 1798, by Count Giuseppe Nuvolone-Pergamo of Scandaluzzo, deputy director of the Società Agraria di Torino (Agrarian Society of Turin). The count is credited with creating the first definitive list of Piedmont’s wine grape varieties. Barbera-based wines were well regarded even then, for their rustic yet generous character. They and were a favourite among Savoyard army officers, who considered the wine a “sincere companion”, which helped them maintain their courage in battle.
The variety has travelled widely in the past two centuries, landing in Australia, Argentina and California, most likely following Italian migration patterns. It has this in common with Nebbiolo, although Barbera has adapted much more readily to these new environments than its fussy Piedmontese cousin, and is now responsible for wines of high quality in each of these countries. As with Nebbiolo, there is considerable debate over how Barbera is best treated; traditionalist favour longer maceration and less oak, while modernists champion rounder, more approachable styles softened by barrel maturation.
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 flavours 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 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 flavours turn towards kirsch.
Barbera reaches its zenith in Piedmont (see Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba), where the vine performs particularly on well-drained, limestone-rich slopes with a warm southerly aspect.
The ‘Cà Montebello’ agricultural estate stretches across the lower hills with its flourishing vineyards on an imposing landscape in the province of Pavia.
The area of “Montebello” is often mentioned as one of the most valuable areas for the cultivation of vineyards. The Scarani family – vine growers for generations – consolidated the wine tradition that guaranteed the continuity of quality and excellence of its wines, appreciated by generations of connoisseurs.
It is a family company in the true sense of the word. At Cà Montebello alongside the owner Luigi Scarani, a skilful extrovert and “true wine Maestro”, his wife Ines, his son Alberto responsible for commercial relationships with the world market and Cristina, extremely bright and creative in the “oenology art”.
The wine tastings and the visits to the cellar have become strength of Cà Montebello; visitors remain fascinated by the environment, a place where time seems to have stood still, allowing themselves to be seduced by the extraordinary hospitality of the owners and the captivating taste of wines that balance perfectly with the taste of traditions.