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 favorite among Savoyard army officers, who considered the wine a "sincere companion", which helped them maintain their courage in battle.
The Alba viticultural area covers both the town of Alba and the surrounding Langhe hills (see Langhe), and overlaps with those of Piedmont's two most famous red wines – Barolo and Barbaresco. All around Alba, are the kind of rolling hills which have come to symbolize the Piedmontese landscape. Barbera vines thrive in the chalky, limestone-rich clay soils here. The best Barbera d'Alba wines are sourced from hillside vineyard sites close to Barolo.
Barbera d'Alba wines are generally esteemed for their deep color, low tannins and high levels of acidity. When young they offer fresh flavors of cherries, blueberries and raspberries. Relatively rich, bold and flavorful, the most powerful examples might just be compared to Barolo or Barbaresco. There is a distinct difference between Barbera d'Alba and Barbera d’Asti – its counterpart from the neighboring Asti province, which is generally considered more lively and 'feminine'.
For a wine to be legally labeled as Barbera d'Alba, it must be made from at least 85% Barbera grapes. The other 15% may be made up of Piedmont's noblest wine grape, Nebbiolo, but intensely perfumed Dolcetto (the region's often under-rated 'third' red wine grape) is not permitted for use. The added designation of superiore may be added to labels if the wine is aged for 12 months prior to commercial release, of which at least 4 months must be spend in oak barrels.
Due to its high acidity, Barbera d'Alba is best given several years of bottle age, to allow the fruit, oak, tannins and acidity to integrate.