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Amador County's Barbera Festival showcases the best Barbera in California

Amador County's Fourth Annual Barbera Festival was held last week on Saturday, June 14th, and attendees would agree that the festival was a great success. Since the beginning, the Barbera Festival has been dedicated to bringing together the best California producers of Barbera—an Italian varietal known for its bright fruit, low tannin, and noticeable acid. As a result of these characteristics, Barbera is not typically thought of as a premium red wine with ageability. In the past forty years though, Amador County has gained much reputation for their Barbera. Amador County wineries have been instrumental in producing some of the best Barbera California has to offer, as well as creating a buzz about and a greater appreciation for the varietal. Some are even saying that the Barbera produced in Amador County is matching the quality and complexity of the Barbera produced in Italy.

Barbera Festival
Melissa Vogt
Fourth Annual Barbera Festival in Amador County
Melissa Vogt

In Amador County, the first Barbera vineyards were planted in 1971. Since then, grape growers and winemakers have been perfecting their vineyard and vinification practices to produce amazing Barbera that is not only balanced and complex in fruit, texture, and tannin, but is absolutely worth aging. This was evident at the Fourth Annual Barbera Festival, where in many cases, the winemakers themselves poured a selection of Barbera vintages which showed tremendous flavor and potential for aging.

At the festival, winemakers provided Barbera tasting for attendees amongst the walnut grove at the Cooper Vineyards Ranch in Plymouth—where many other local wineries also grow Barbera in the Shenandoah Valley. Many of the notable local Barbera producers—such as Cooper Vineyards, Dillian Wines, Easton Wines, Feist Wines, Borjon Winery, BellaGrace Vineyards, SerFina Cellars, Shenandoah Vineyards & Sobon Estate, Terra d'Oro & Montevina, and Yorba Wines—poured multiple vintages of their Barbera, allowing attendees to detect the increasing complexity of Babera as it ages.

Amidst the wineries, local food purveyors and restaurants dished up delectable finger-foods, appetizing entrees, and tasty treats. Billy Bones BBQ, Thai Basil, and Hotel Sutter Restaurant provided particularly hearty portions of good grub, which filled up attendees and left them with smiles on their faces.

Billy Bones BBQ served tender and juicy ribs with delicious BBQ sauce that was both sweet and tangy with flavors of honey and pepper. Thai Basil opted for a fresh, cold entrée option which was received well by attendees. The somtum—a green papaya salad with rice noodles—served in a tamarind and Barbera sauce—was fresh and flavorful. To go alongside the somtum, Thai Basil dished out Thai spicy sausage patties that had flavors of sweet orange marmalade and strong spice; this was a perfect companion to the somtum. Hotel Sutter Restaurant served heaps of pulled pork atop soft burger buns with a side of fresh coleslaw. The pulled pork was savory, succulent, and tender, while the fresh cole slaw provided just the right amount of fresh, sweetness to balance out the rich, juicy pork.

Amongst the food vendors, there was also handful of artisanal craftsmen in attendance, displaying and selling their goods during the festival. To hold the whole event together, bands played steadily in the background to provide an upbeat soundtrack for the festive afternoon. Throughout the day, attendees enjoyed California Barbera in the beautiful setting of Cooper Ranch, and those who were lucky enough to experience this event will never forget it.

During the festival, Cooper Vineyards poured a wonderful 2011 Reserve, which was aged 30 months in American and French Oak barrels. This lovely Barbera has notes of strong black cherry on the front of the palate and brighter cranberry notes on the back of the palate. On the finish, cinnamon and clove linger on the tongue beautifully. Similarly, Dillian Wines poured a 2011 that boasts dark fruit flavors and subtle, but noticeable baking spices. This particular Barbera begins with blackberry notes that fade into rich blueberry, and also has tremendous body and texture. Shenandoah Vineyards & Sobon Estates also poured the 2011 vintage. Their 2011 has a wonderful silky texture with nice tannins and low acid; blackberry and blueberry notes dominate the palate in a pleasing manner, followed by notes of cinnamon.

Feist Wines showcased a newer vintage of 2012 Barbera—a lovely, young wine with bright notes of dried cranberry, red cherry, and a hint of clove on the finish. Likewise, Borjón Winery's 2012 Reposado Barbera possesses bright red fruit flavors, such as cherry and raspberry; this Barbera also has subtle pepper notes behind the fruit, which gives the wine nice complexity.

Easton Wines seemed to be pouring the oldest vintages at the festival—pleasing attendees with the chance to really see how Barbera becomes more complex and balanced with age. The 2008 Monarch Vineyard has balanced dark red cherry and plum fruit with subtle acidity. In the background of the wine, the taste buds pick up on delicate pepper and spice notes—giving the wine an intricacy that some of the younger vintages do not yet possess. The 2007 vintage from Easton Wine has even darker fruit flavors, such as ripe plum and backberry; the spice from this vintage leans towards baking spices, rather than the 2008's peppery notes. Both vintages express balanced complexity in flavor and body.

Overall, the Barbera in California is impressive, and there's no doubt that Amador County is leading the way. With the amazing Barbera being produced in Amador County, as well as the annual Barbera Festival, it is clear that Amador County is absolutely making a name for itself as the premier California destination for wine enthusiasts looking to taste balanced and complex Barbera with excellent ageability.

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