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The origin of Barbera is still unknown today. Even assuming that it is a rather ancient vine and that its native land is Piedmont, written records are very few and not prior to the 16th century: the first known mention appears in a document dated 1514, kept in the land registers of Chieri; the name appears, then, in a 17th-century letter found in the Municipal Archives of Nizza Monferrato. It was not until 1798 that the Barbera vine was officially recognized and included by Count Nuvolone, at the time deputy director of the Agricultural Society of Turin, in the official list of varieties grown in Piedmont.

It cannot be ruled out that the cause of Barbera’s absence from the oldest sources is only to be attributed to the use of different names to indicate it: for example, the Grisa or Grisola mentioned by Pier de’ Crescenzi in the “Liber Ruralium Commodorum,” could be a sub-variety of the present Barbera. However, not even DNA studies-conducted in Piedmont in the early 2000s-have been able to solve the riddle, having found no kinship with native grape varieties in the area.


The historical areas for Barbera cultivation are Monferrato, Astigiano, and Langhe (Alba).

Starting from Piedmont, Barbera has reached many Italian regions, becoming one of the most widely cultivated red grape varieties in the Peninsula along with Sangiovese: it is quite widespread in Lombardy (especially in Oltrepò Pavese, where the clay soil is excellent for its cultivation), in the Piacentini hills, in the Parma hills and in the hills of Bologna.

Barbera has also managed to cross national borders thanks to its adaptability and high acidity, which makes it a grape variety suitable for even the hottest climates. Today Barbera is widely planted in Argentina, California, Australia and South America.


Barbera is a red grape variety that adapts well to a variety of soils, giving quite different results depending on the microclimate of the growing location. It is a vigorous vine with high and constant productivity, two characteristics that in the past prompted winemakers to grow it even in territories not particularly suited to it. Fortunately, since the late 1980s it has been realized that Barbera possesses a potential that can best express itself only in certain environments, and cultivation has mostly shifted to soils that enhance its best qualities.

Barbera prefers dry climates with sunny exposures and clay or sandy soils. In calcareous soils, rich in silt and clay, the resulting wine can be particularly elegant.

Despite its vigor, it is not very resistant to powdery mildew, botrytis and especially flavescence dorée, which often involves removal of affected plants. It is also very sensitive to frost and to potassium, boron and magnesium deficiency. Ripening is medium to late.

Barbera is a versatile vine, capable of adapting to different forms of cultivation, although it is best to avoid those that are too high, which encourage an increase in fixed acidity, already present in good quantities in its grapes.

Ampelographic characteristics

Barbera vines have medium-sized, pentagonal, pentalobed leaves that are dark green with green or pinkish veins and rich in tomentum (the down that covers the surface). Clusters are medium-sized, winged pyramidal or cylindrical and fairly compact. The berries-easily recognized at the end of ripening by their deep blue color-are medium, ellipsoidal, with a thin, pruinose skin and juicy, sweet but slightly acidic flesh.

Barbera Wines

Barbera, because of its pronounced acidity, has been underestimated for years. Today, with the evolution of cultivation and winemaking processes, it has been widely reappraised and we are seeing the production of excellent, elegant and structured wines.

Its grapes, used both in purity and in blends, are quite multifaceted and give rise to wines of different types: sparkling, novello, young and sparkling reds, medium-bodied still reds, and reds of medium longevity and great structure.

The young wines have a beautiful deep ruby red color that begins to turn to garnet hues in the more mature versions. The aromas are floral and fruity, with notes of cherry and red berries that evolve, with age, into more complex, spicy notes of black cherry and plum.

Wines made from Barbera, when young, have fine tannins that give a certain roundness; with aging these tannins become firmer, making Barbera denser and more structured.

Barbera in Italy

Barbera is a grape variety that changes in structure, taste and aromaticity depending on where it is grown. In Piedmont, a historic area for its cultivation, there are differences not only between Barbera del Monferrato, Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba but also within the same appellations.

Barbera del Monferrato

Of the three, Barbera del Monferrato is the most delicate and least structured. Deep ruby red, it has hints of rose, cherry and plum and a distinct acidity.

Barbera d’Asti

La Barbera d’Asti è più morbida, maggiormente strutturata e ha un’acidità minore rispetto alle altre due. Le diversità tra sottozone sono sensibili: ad esempio, a Costigliole e Nizza il vino è di grande struttura, più sapido e con maggiore acidità mentre ad Agliano, è fine e fruttato.

Barbera d’Alba

For Barbera d’Alba, a distinction is made between grapes harvested on the left and right of the Tanaro. Wines from the first area (Roero) are finer and more ready to drink. The aromas are complex, of currant, blackberry, rosehip, cherry, green pepper and vanilla. The taste is pleasantly fresh, slightly tannic and with good structure. In the second zone (Barolo), the wine, which requires longer aging to express itself, is full, dry and more structured.

Barbera grape variety

Moving on to Lombardy, Barbera is widely grown in Oltrepò Pavese, where it is used in the 85 percent proportion for the DOC Oltrepò Pavese Barbera, a lively or sparkling wine, ruby red with violet hues and a compact froth. Its aroma is fruity-with hints of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries-floral and winy. In the mouth it is fresh, lively, well-structured and quite persistent.

In Piacenza, Barbera is used not only for the DOC Colli Piacentini Barbera, but also in blends with Croatina for the production of Gutturnio, a wine that in its youth is fruity and ready-to-drink while with age it acquires more structure and more complex aromas. Finally, on the Parma and Bologna hills Barbera is used both for the production of pleasant, fresh and fragrant wines and for aged wines with more structure and complexity.

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The origin of the Syrah grape variety

To begin with a touch of mystery, it would be nice to be able to tell one of the legends that circulated until about twenty years ago about the origin of Syrah.

One could narrate that it came from faraway Shiraz, a Persian city now located in Iran. Or that its name comes from Syracuse, where it allegedly landed from Egypt thanks to the Romans. Or again, transported by the Phocians to their colony Massalia (Marseille) and then who knows how transferred to the Rhone Valley.

It’s too bad that, in the last year of the last century, science has come to disprove all these theories and give a perhaps less exotic explanation: in 1999, DNA analyses conducted by the University of California Davis and the National Institute of Agronomy in Montpellier showed that it is a cross between Dureza-an ancient vine from Ardèche related to Pinot Noir-and Mondeuse Blanche-a vine from Savoy related to Viognier.

And the meeting between the two would most likely have taken place along the banks of the Rhône River, there where Syrah is still one of the most cultivated vines and where it yields some of its best products.


Syrah is an international grape variety, today the sixth most cultivated in the world with 190,000 hectares under vine. The largest grower is France with 64,000 hectares, followed by Australia – a country where it was imported in 1832-with 40,000 hectares. In total there are thirty-one countries where this grape variety can be found, including South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, California, Italy and even the Canton of Valais. In Italy it is mainly grown in Sicily, where the climate ensures optimal phenolic ripening, and in Tuscany, especially in the Cortona area, where the clay- and marl-rich soil and the thermal influence of Lake Trasimeno create ideal growing conditions.

Syrah or Shiraz?

Syrah and Shiraz are two names for the same grape variety. Trivializing, one can say that Syrah is the French name while Shiraz is the name that has been used in Australia since the late 1980s, after the previous name Hermitage was abolished due to its homonymy with the French AOC.

Delving deeper into the matter, it seems that the two names have become representative of the different winemaking styles of the two countries: in France, in the Rhone Valley, the cool climate makes for lighter, finer wines while in Australia the warmer climate gives softer, full-bodied wines. Following this distinction, some producers in other countries have chosen one name over the other to indicate their style. However, a fixed rule does not exist.

Agronomic notes

Although Syrah is among the most widely grown in the world, it is a fairly delicate vine, sensitive to water stress and ferric chlorosis. It needs many hours of sunlight and tends to have average ripeness. Optimal growing conditions include fine, well-drained soils that are protected from wind and have good exposure but are guaranteed to avoid excessive heat. The best soils for Syrah are schistose and granitic soils, where its tendency to overproduce (and consequent deterioration in quality) is reduced, but it also grows well on clay-siliceous soils.

Ampelographic characteristics

The Syrah vine has dull green, medium to large, pentagonal and pentalobed or trilobed leaves. Clusters are medium, cylindrical, compact or spreading, sometimes winged.

The intensely bluish-black berries are medium to small, ovoid, with a pruinose, loosely textured skin. A distinguishing feature are the long branches that are often tied or cut short to prevent wind damage to the plant.

Syrah – Wines

It is not easy to indicate universal characteristics for all wines made from Syrah because, as always, climate, soils and viticultural techniques influence the evolution of its grapes, generating very different results.

Generally, the aromas are floral (violet), fruity (black and red fruits: blueberry, raspberry, blackberry), and spicy (black pepper, anise, licorice). With aging these aromas can give way to more complex ones (coffee, chocolate, tobacco, goudron and caramel).

Red wines made from Syrah are recognizable by their deep, intense color with pronounced violet hues in youth, evolving to garnet with aging. Usually robust, full-bodied and endowed with an important taste-olfactory persistence, they have little acidity and a good tannic structure that makes them suitable for aging (especially in cooler areas).

Syrah is quite versatile and lends itself to vinification on its own but also in blends with other grape varieties and can also be used for the production of rosé wines, pleasantly fruity and with good finesse.


The marked differences in wines made with Syrah, opens the door to countless pairings and it is always a good idea to make an assessment of the individual wine before deciding on a menu. In general, it goes well with red meats, game and grilled meats. Its smoothness also makes it suitable for aged cheeses and, thanks to its structure and aromaticity, it can stand up to strong, spicy flavors.

P.S. If throughout this article you have been wondering whether it is called “la Syrah” or “the Syrah“, suffice it to know that in French it is a feminine name. The explanation of why is a mystery …

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Pinot Nero


Pinot Noir is an international red grape variety that is vinified not only in red but also in white for the production of classic method sparkling wines. Delicate and rather demanding, it has much less adaptability than other international grape varieties but, where it finds the optimal conditions for its growth, it is capable of producing some of the best wines in the world.


The origin of Pinot Noir is very ancient. It is speculated that it was cultivated in Burgundy as early as two thousand years ago and that when the Romans invaded Gaul, the grape variety was already present in the area. In the first century AD, the agronomy writer Columella described in his “De Rustica” a vine that could be identified as Pinot Noir.

However, in the absence of further evidence, its existence in Burgundy in Roman times could not be proven with certainty until now. However, genetic studies conducted by the INRA in Montpellier have revealed that Pinot Noir is the ancestor of several grape varieties including Syrah, Chardonnay and Gamay, which would confirm its preexistence to these and its ancient origin.

During the Middle Ages, the continuity in the cultivation of Pinot Noir in Burgundy was ensured by the work of Circestine and Benedictine monks who used it to produce wine for mass and, over the centuries, it achieved such good fortune that, in 1395, the Duke of Burgundy Philip II went so far as to ban the cultivation of Gamay in favor of Pinot Noir. Just from the 14th century the vine began to be called Pynos and then Pinot, a name probably derived from “pine cone” and referring to the elongated and compact conformation of its cluster.


Although Pinot Noir is not an easy grape variety to grow, it has managed to spread to most wine-growing regions of the world. In its land of origin, France, it occupies 32,000 hectares and, in addition to Burgundy, is found in Champagne, where it is vinified in white, and in Alsace. The area of greatest production and also the most popular is undoubtedly the Côte d’Or.

In Germany, where it is known as Spätburgunder, it is the most widely cultivated red grape variety with 11,700 hectares under cultivation.

In Italy it has found its ideal conditions in the northern regions of Trentino-Alto Adige, Oltrepò Pavese and Franciacorta, where it is mainly vinified in white for the production of sparkling wines.

In the United States, Pinot Noir had a real boom in 2004 thanks to the film Sideways: in fact, in the film, one of the two main characters is passionate about Pinot Noir and talks about it on several occasions. Currently, the greatest spread has been in Oregon, but it is in California, and especially on the Central Coast where the ocean helps keep the vineyard cool at night, that the best Pinot Noir wines are made.

In Australia, where the climate was thought to be too hot for Pinot Noir, it has surprisingly been discovered that in the Adelaide Hills and Yarra Valley regions excellent results can be achieved.

In New Zealand it has found its ideal climate in the cooler regions (Wairarapa, Marlborough, Nelson, North Canterbury, and Central Otago), and although the first commercial productions are relatively recent, some wines are also finding a good response in the overseas market.

Pinot Noir is also quite widespread in Argentina, Chile, South Africa and Spain.


Pinot Noir is a delicate vine that needs a lot of care: the compactness of the bunch and the thin skin favor the proliferation of diseases and rot; in addition, it sprouts early and is therefore particularly susceptible to spring frosts. To achieve good results it needs a temperate climate because excessive cold does not allow full ripening and, conversely, heat tends to overripen the grapes, which lose their fruity notes and freshness.

The vine prefers calcareous soils while clay soils, retaining moisture, can favor millerandage and run-off during the flowering period.

Ampelographic notes

The appearance of Pinot Noir is quite varied: there are many biotypes of it that differ in leaf shape and bunch size and shape. The most common biotype in Burgundy has a medium, round, three-lobed dark green leaf. The cluster is small, compact, cylindrical in shape and winged. The berry is medium-small with a thin, pruinose black-purple skin and juicy, uncolored flesh with a simple flavor.

The wine – Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir has an incredible ability to absorb the character of the terroir and to return it powerfully in the wines: for this reason, its expressions can be manifold. The grape variety is used for the production of both red and white wines, particularly classic method sparkling wines.

Red wines, mainly made from Pinot Noir vinified in purity, can be consumed young but in some cases can also prove to be quite long-lived. Typical characteristics of these wines are low coloration, due to the reduced amount of anthocyanins in the grapes, and transparency. The color is bright ruby red in younger wines and veers toward garnet or even orange hues with aging.

On the nose, Pinot Noir offers remarkable aromatic complexity with fruity hints of cherry, currant, raspberry, strawberry and floral hints of violets, to which scents of underbrush, mushrooms, leather and hides are added as it matures. In cooler areas, herbaceous or vegetal notes such as tomato leaf or mint can also be perceived. Aging in wood can give spicy and toasted aromas although it is necessary to avoid these covering the delicate varietal aromas of Pinot Noir, excluding the use of new or heavily toasted barrels and reducing the wine’s stay in wood.

On the palate, Pinot Noir is usually characterized by low tannins, high alcohol warmth and good acidity that is always present but of varying intensity depending on the area where the wine is made. In sparkling wines, Pinot Noir helps to intensify the color, giving brilliant golden yellow hues, and to impart structure and a delicate aromatic note of red fruit.


Given its low tannins, pronounced acidity and high alcohol content, Pinot Noir vinified in red goes well with white meats, game or red meats that are not too succulent, mushrooms, meat-based first courses and even fish such as grilled or barbecued salmon, tuna or swordfish.

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Cabernet Sauvignon


When you consider that it is hardy, vigorous, and capable of yielding rich, complex, and highly structured wines, it can hardly be surprising that Cabernet Sauvignon is so popular. Its great adaptability to different soils and climates has led it to be an international grape variety that is now grown in all the world’s major wine-growing areas.


The belief that Cabernet Sauvignon is an ancient grape variety was disproved in 1996 by studies carried out by the University of Davis (California) on its DNA: the researchers were able to prove that it is the result of a spontaneous cross between a white grape variety, Sauvignon Blanc, and a red grape variety, Cabernet Franc, and speculated that the fortunate meeting took place in the 17th century in Gironde.

Moreover, the earliest written records dating from no earlier than the 18th century also seem to confirm this theory: in these, the grape variety is still mentioned as Petite Vidure, a name that is still used in some parts of the Bordeaux region and probably refers to the hardness of Cabernet Sauvignon (hard vines).


With more than 330,000 hectares under vine, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted wine grape in the world.

In its land of origin, France, it occupies 48,000 hectares and is found mainly in the Bordeaux region, and particularly in the Graves and Médoc, where it is usually blended with Merlot. It is also quite widespread in Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence and the Loire Valley.

In Italy, although it is not among the most widely grown grape varieties, it has found optimal conditions in Tuscany, Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Trentino, Emilia-Romagna and Sicily, yielding high quality wines, especially in blends.

In California, Cabernet Sauvignon began to be planted massively since the 1960s, growing to more than 36,000 hectares. Even in Washington State, it has become the most widely planted red variety in recent years.

Cabernet Sauvignon is also widespread in Spain, especially in the Catalan region of Penedès where it is blended with Tempranillo, in South America (Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Uruguay), Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In recent years the grape variety has reached China, becoming the third most cultivated in the country.


The great success of Cabernet Sauvignon can be attributed not only to the richness of its grapes capable of yielding exceptional wines, but also to its ease of cultivation and its resistance: first of all, the vine germinates late, which allows protection against spring frosts; moreover, although it ripens late, its berries have a very thick skin that preserves them from mold and rot caused by autumn rains.

It adapts well to many soils but prefers warm, gravelly, well-drained soils and dry, ventilated climates. On soils that are too fertile and moist it tends to lignify poorly and, because of its late ripening, it is not suited to climates that are too cold.

Ampelographic notes

Cabernet Sauvignon leaves are medium-sized, pentagonal and pentalobed. Clusters are medium-small, cylindrical-pyramidal, oblong, averagely compact and with an obvious wing. Its berries are blue-black in color, medium-small, sub-round and with thick, pruinose skin. The flesh is quite fleshy with a slightly herbaceous hint.

The wine – Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are characterized by good acidity and a high amount of tannins, which predisposes to long aging and allows for complex, full-bodied and well-structured wines.

Wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby red with violet, almost blue hues. In youth, varietal aromas are more evident, with notes of black and red fruits such as blueberry, currant, blackberry and floral, particularly violet. An herbaceous hint of green bell pepper – a character inherited from Cabernet Franc – can also often be perceived, becoming more pronounced when yields are too high or poorly ripened.

With aging, the aromas become more complex, retaining the fruity notes but enriching with hints of spice, cedar, moss, tobacco and, in some particularly good areas, graphite.

However, Cabernet Sauvignon is a malleable grape variety that gives wines very different expressions depending on the soil and climate in which it is grown. In the Bordeaux region alone, wines from Cabernet Sauvignon can have very different characters: in the Saint-Estèphe and Pessac-Léognan AOCs a mineral note emerges, in Margaux violet prevails, in Pauillac graphite and in Saint-Julien cedar and cigar.

In Tuscany it is characterized by fruity hints of ripe cherry and blueberry while in Constantia, South Africa, it fades into herbaceous and menthol notes.

It should be noted that Cabernet Sauvignon, because of its acidity and powerful tannicity, tends to be vinified in purity only in warmer countries where the grapes, reaching full ripeness, develop more sugar and softness.

Where the climate is cooler, it is often used in blends with Merlot or other wines, and so the characteristics of the final product, in addition to being influenced by soil, climate and winemaking techniques, will obviously also depend on the composition of the cuvée.


The infinite variations of Cabernet Sauvignon make it suitable to accompany numerous dishes. In young wines, the pronounced tannins can be offset by succulent dishes such as barbecued red meats, braised meats and game.

More mature wines, where the tannins have softened, go well with savory dishes, aged or blue cheeses, mushrooms and truffles. In some of its declinations, Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with dark chocolate.

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