While the Piedmont region in Northern Italy is the original home to Barbera, the Sierra Foothills region has become the grape's New World epicenter with the highest concentration of Barbera producers anywhere in the world outside of Italy. Amador County hosts the annual Barbera Festival where dozens of producers gather to celebrate the grape. The best versions are full of bright, tart cherry flavors, refreshing acidity, and just enough tannin and alcohol to keep it from being too light. The trick is to allow the grapes to ripen enough that they lose their acid austerity but not so much that they lose their interesting red fruit character. Some Foothills producers make the mistake of over-hanging and then over-oaking their Barbera, in our opinion, creating a flavor imbalance and hiding the fruity goodness… but not the ones listed below, in our opinion.
FOOTHILLS WINO PANEL SELECTION BEST BARBERA
Five years ago, the Amador Cellars Barbera was the run-away winner in our Panel of Sommeliers blind tasting trials of Foothills Barberas (the only wine in any category to be a unanimous winner). Remarkably, it continues to improve with each vintage. Winemaker Michael Long is brilliant with all varieties but seems to have an extra special feel for Barbera. The wine spends extra time sur lie in a mix of French and American oak barrels, only a tiny percentage new, and then enjoys some bottle aging before release to help tame the racy acidity. The result is a masterpiece teeming with all sorts of fruit and herbs, and just a delicate touch of spice. This wine just might be the ultimate taste of the Foothills.
OTHER FAVORITE FOOTHILLS BARBERA WINES
You have to love the name... the Andis Barbera d'Amador is a salute to the Barbera d'Asti and Barbera d'Alba versions of Italy's Piedmont region, and fittingly so. This is the most Old World style Barbera in the Foothills, and one of the best food wines you will find. It is full of bright acidity that is balanced with some sturdy tannins, and there is very little if any detectable oak influence allowing its deliciously ripe red fruit to shine.
The Bumgarner Barbera is intense perfection that is laser focused on exactly what a Barbera should be: bright cherries in mouth watering acidity. Brian Bumgarner flawlessly executes a tribute to these grapes, which are sourced from the stellar Las Lomas Vineyard in Placerville. There are no extraneous or distracting notes getting in the way of the sheer beauty of this wine.
The late Dick Cooper is considered the godfather of Amador County Barbera. His name is now synonymous with the grape as the "Cooper clone" is the dominant clone in the New World. The family carries on the legacy at Cooper Vineyards, supplying Barbera to dozens of producers, including several wineries on this list. They also makes their own delicious, herbal version. Drinking the wine is like taking a sip of Amador history.
A stunningly beautiful and intense nose announces this wine's presence with authority. Its tart and refreshing stucture on the palate assure its staying power. This master of flavor creation takes more of a back seat with this one and allows the fruit to do most of the talking.
The Easton Barberas usually sell out quickly, and Bill Easton never releases one without some significant bottle age to it, so when you see one, buy it. They usually come in two versions, one sourced from the nearby Cooper Ranch and one sourced from the high elevation Monarch Mine Vineyard near Foresthill. Both are distinct, true to the Easton style, and delicious.
A uniquely powerful Barbera, this Starfield version is nonetheless delicious. There is heavier oak treatment with this wine than with most other local Barberas, but it absolutely works since this wine has the structure to support it. This is a Barbera that can easily stand up to the heartiest of dishes. Try sipping it along side some gorgonzola.
Few realize the "Cooper clone" which has become the dominant clone of Barbera started from clippings from Terra d'Oro's Montevina Vineyard. The grapes from that vineyard along with two other estate vineyards now make up the deliciously complex Terra d'Oro Barbera. Since her arrival in 2017, winemaker Emily Haines has been re-transforming this historic winery back into prominence, and her Barbera is remarkably good, especially for the $20 price tag!
Vino Noceto, masters of Tuscan-style wines, ventures up the spine of the Apennine Mountains to work with Piedmontese-style grapes in their perfectly crafted and structured Barbera. The fruit is a little darker and more extracted than typical Amador Barberas, and a nice little touch of spice helps to elevate the flavors.
What happens when you take some of the most interesting grapes of the region, grow them in the peerless Shake Ridge Vineyard under Ann Kraemer's watchful gaze, and then make them into wine in the non-interventional style of Yorba Wines? You get perhaps the most quintessential expression of Foothills Barbera there is. This is a benchmark wine to be treasured.