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Great value and taste from Northern Italy

Cascina Luisin Barbera pops with berries, spice
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If Nebbiolo is the undisputed king of the red grapes from Piedmont in northern Italy, producing lush Barolos and Barbarescos that require substantial aging to achieve their glory, Barbera is the crown prince, somewhat lighter and more accessible, often ready to drink and delicious after just a year or two.  In the good ones, I love their bright fruit and cutting acidity, which makes them satisfying with a variety of Italian foods.

I found an excellent example recently in the 2001 Barbera d’Alba “Maggiur” from Cascina Luisin, which is also a great value at just $12.

It begins with dark berry tastes, then cherry and blueberry, giving way to some coffee notes and a little spice that probably comes from 12 months of aging in oak.  It adds up to a nicely complex wine that even went well with chocolate cake after dinner.

If you look at the Piedmont region on a map, you’ll see that the Barbera d’Alba, Barolo and Barbaresco zones are clustered in the same area, and it is common for producers of Barolo and Barbaresco to make Barbera as well.  Barbera, in fact, is the most commonly  planted red variety in Piedmont.

Cascina Luisin, founded in 1913, is a small, family-run winery.  “Maggiur” is the name of the specific vineyard site where the grapes for this wine are grown.  Nine hundred cases or so of the 2001 were produced.

A friend who enjoys wine confessed that when it comes to Italian reds, he hadn’t gotten much past Chianti, the most well-known wine region in Italy (and one of the most recognized wines in the world).  It’s not hard to understand why.  For one thing, deciphering the language and labeling of Italian wines can be a daunting proposition at the wine store.

The key is to take a chance and try wines you haven’t heard of.  Inevitably, you’ll find new ones that you like, inspiring you to learn the language of the labels — and all about the wines.  A wine like Cascina Luisin’s Barbera d’Alba “Maggiur” would be a good place to start.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Thursdays. Write to him at .