Recently I walked into Evanston’s southerly Whole Foods expecting to buy just a few groceries, but I discovered a deal too good to pass up: 20% off cases of wine, including wines already on sale. I nearly cleaned the place out.
One oddball that caught my eye was an organic Barbera with a Spanish name: Pircas Negras (roughly “black stone wall”). Reduced from $13 to just $8 after all the discounts, I could hardly pass it up.
Barbera first appears in the historical record as “barbexinis” in 13th-century contracts leasing the local vineyards of Casale Monferrato in Italy’s Piedmont region. The varietal still features prominently in the region, giving its name to three DOC areas: Barbera d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba and Barbera del Monferrato (unfortunately the latter can be more difficult to find in the U.S.).
What was this Italian varietal doing with a Spanish name? The Pircas Negras hails not from Piedmont but from La Rioja. But not that La Rioja.