Great Wine Values: Marchese di Barolo Barbera del Monferrato 'Maraia' Piedmont, Italy

Italian red wines tend to taste different from the reds of California, which often have a noticeable flavor of new oak that many Italian reds do not. It’s rare to find “new world” reds without oak’s whiskeylike scent, whether it’s acquired naturally from barrel aging or by cheaper means, such as steeping with oak chips. In Italy, though, new oak barrels are usually reserved for only fine wines, so more modestly priced reds — like this snappy barbera from Piedmont — often feature no oak flavor whatsoever. It’s not that barrels are never used to mellow the wine – they often are, as is the case here. But rather than small “new” barrels that must be replaced every few years, thrifty Italians prefer to build huge oak vats that last for decades. These vats accomplish one goal of oak aging – allowing the wines to soften in texture, but they lose their oaky flavor compounds within the first two or three years. As a result, many Italian reds under $25 like this one taste essentially unoaked, with live-wire flavors of fresh fruit, rather than of spiced and baked fruit desserts. Here, you’ll find buckets of blackberry and red currant flavors, but no shred of oaky taste.

Marchese di Barolo, Barbera del Monferrato “Maraia,” Piedmont, Italy, $11.99, (regularly $15.99; sale price through Oct. 29); PLCB Item #8619. Also available at: Canal’s Wine & Liquors in Pennsauken,  $12.99; Total Wine & More in Cherry Hill,  $12.99.