Nebbiolo is the signature grape of Italy’s Piedmont region, where it used to make Barolos and Barbarescos. But it isn’t the only grape cultivated there: Piedmont is also home to Barbera, a somewhat unusual red grape that, in the right hands, can yield delicious wines. What makes Barbera unusual for a red grape is that it is high in acidity but low in tannins. The charm of Barberas (this is an instance in which the wine goes by the grape name) is that they can be consumed very young because of this lack of tannins and are generally terrific food wines thanks to all that acidity. But Barbera went through a turbulent period in the 1980s and 1990s. In a misguided attempt to raise the profile of Barbera, a number of producers begin aging the wines in new French oak barrels, which tended to smother the varietal character of the grape.
Giacomo Conterno, one of Piedmont’s most celebrated wineries, resisted the Siren lure of new oak, and in addition to producing majestic Barolos, it turns out fabulous Barberas, none better than the one made with grapes from its Cascina Francia vineyard (which is also the source one of Conterno’s two Barolos). The 2010 Giacomo Conterno Barbera Cascina Francia ($50) is a stunningly good bottle of wine. Full-bodied, with delicious black fruit flavors, a strong mineral aspect, terrific acidity, and oodles of depth and concentration, it is an enthralling wine – this is Barbera at its absolute pinnacle. If you can afford more than one bottle, you should definitely spring for a second, a third, or even a case, because this is one wine you are going to want to taste again.