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Eat This With... April / May 2011

Eat Game Hens with Barbera

By Lisa J.  Pretty

Barbera originated in the Piedmont region in Italy and is a grape varietal loaded with fruit flavors such as cherry, blackberry, black raspberry and plum. The grape has a high acidity allowing winemakers to keep all those fruit flavors in a vibrant wine. The soft tannins along with the bold fruit flavors tend to make this a wine that is best consumed young. Italian immigrants brought the vines with them to California over a century ago and today Barbera can be found throughout the state. In fact, Barbera is the most widely planted Italian varietal in California with more than 9,000 acres. Surprisingly, other than Italy and California, the varietal has not been adopted by other wine regions.

While several Italians would consider Barbera an every day quaffing wine to have with a casual pasta dinner, in California the wine is often more elegant and pairs with a wide range of foods. Clearly cheese and tomato based pasta dishes are obvious pairings for this juicy wine. I personally enjoy a fruity wine with grilled poultry and my pairing choice is grilled game hens with a cherry sauce. The cherry flavors in the Barbera complement the cherry sauce and the sage adds that touch of savory that hens beg to have.

Grilled Game Hens with Cherry Sauce

Serves 4

2 cornish game hens, cut in half lengthwise


1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon dried thyme


1 cup dried cherries

2 cups of barbera

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons dried sage

2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar

After washing and cutting, place hens in plastic bag. Mix together marinade ingredients and pour over hens. Remove air from bag, seal and place in refrigerator to marinate for 1-2 hours.

Stir all sauce ingredients together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow the sauce to simmer until it reduces to half its volume.

While the sauce is simmering, grill hens over medium heat until cooked through — approximately 8 minutes per side. Allow hens to rest for 5-10 minutes after removing from grill. Serve with a generous portion of cherry sauce poured on top.





Lisa’s Favorite: 2007 Tobin James “Bella Bella” Barbera “Rich, thick and luscious with bright cherry flavors, soft tannins, with a long, lingering finish.” Retail $32

Paso Pick: 2009 Eberle Barbera “Rich fruit flavors of ripe raspberry, juicy black cherry, vanilla and hints of baking spices make this an easy drinking red wine that your palate will savor. Retail $26

Value Pick: J&J Cellars Autumn Flight Barbera “Elegant red fruit aromas, followed by juicy flavors of plum, raspberry and black cherry.” Retail $10

Editors note: Here’s a great opportunity to taste a vast variety of Barberas. Check out the 2011 Barbera Festival on June 11 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cooper Ranch in Plymouth, Calif. – Register to Win a pair of tickets to this event from California Vine Times at

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