Barbera del Monferrato, situated in Italy's north-western Piedmont region, is probably the least known of the three Piedmontese classified Barbera zones. It is the largest of the trio, with around 10,320 acres (4300ha) under vine. Most of the wines come from around the province of Alessandria, but the vineyard area also stretches into eastern Asti.
All Barbera del Monferrato wines must comprise at least 85% Barbera, the remaining 15% made up from any combination of Freisa, Grignolino and Dolcetto. In 2008 the superiore designation (Barbera del Monferrato Superiore) was upgraded to full DOCG status – the highest echelon in Italy's multi-tiered wine classification system. The superiore wines are required, under their more stringent production conditions, to contain at least 13% alcohol by volume and be aged for at least 14 months before release (including a minimum of six months in oak).
Barbera from Monferrato differs from that made in Asti or Alba in both its provenance and style. Where Alba and Asti produce strongly structured wines, their Monferrato equivalents are more aromatic and often a little less robust. The Barbera vine is believed to be native to Piedmont, indeed, to the Monferrato hills themselves. The first historical evidence of this grape appears in a 17th-century document preserved in the city hall of Nizza Monferrato. It was also officially mentioned in 1798, in a list of Piedmontese grape varieties drawn up by the deputy director of the Agrarian Society of Turin, Count Nuvolone. He described it as "an imposing wine that is always rather severe but richly and exquisitely perfumed and with a flavor that couples strength with finesse".
After phylloxera decimated the region's vineyards at the end of the 19th century, Barbera was chosen as the grape to replant with, a decision based on its rapid growth, relatively abundant yields and a high resistance to both phylloxera and fungal diseases. It is now the most widely planted red-wine grape in Piedmont, popular with both winemakers and consumers for its ripe, tangy red-fruit flavors.
Classic Barbera del Monferrato wines have a deep ruby hue and a bouquet of ripe plum and cherries, often piqued by a hint of black pepper. They are known for retaining a balanced acidity even in warmer vintages, making them an ideal partner to tomato-based dishes. Barbera-based wines are lower in tannin than those made from Nebbiolo, making them more approachable in their early years.