Jul
02

Italian Barbera

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In the old days I would stumble upon a Piemontese Barbera & think to myself imagine the possibilities of what can be.  Barbera can produce & make really interesting AND food friendly red wine.  One of the big challenges it faced was living in the shadow of the highly esteemed Nebbiolo…..the grape variety used to produce Barbaresco & Barolo.  It was, after all, these appellations & wines which would draw so much fanfare within & to the region, even before their regional truffle came onto the mass American radar screen. 

Because of this, many of the finest sites (& MUCH attention) was devoted to Nebbiolo.  If Nebbiolo fared well in a spot, it was planted.  If it didn’t, then other indigenous grape vines were planted–Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino, Ruche, Croatina AND Barbera, just to name a few.

While those “other” grape varieties can be interesting & a really good drink, Barbera for me, was a possible though distant heir apparent to the throne.  It was capable of making interesting wine which could have character, mojo, tremendous food friendliness AND, it was much easier to grow.

The real challenge is Barbera actually likes to over produce.  It grows & loves to grow.

One of the secrets then is how does one harness its energy & attributes–essentially tame it, first in the vineyard & then in the winery.

I would further add that Piemonte is also the home to some of the world’s finest truffle.  Their vines therefore share the same soils as their truffle.  While, one may not get a “truffle”-ness in the wines, in my opinion, I find similar kind of pungency & savoriness in their core & that is another reason why good renditions can work well at the dining table.

Two of the early champions for me of this grape variety were the Coppo brothers with their Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” & Giacomo Bologna with his Braida Barbera d’Asti “Bricco dell’ Uccellone”.  Both created quite the sensation & really made others rethink what this grape variety could be.  Needless to say, the category grew in availability here in the U.S., in most cases however, with either wines overdone or wines that seemed like they were secondary to the winery–something I consider when buying each bottle & from each producer.

There are some very good Barbera out there that will show you what can be, but one just has to be very selective.  Here are several we tasted recently which are well worth checking out. 

Elvio Tintero Rosso–this bottling is not 100% Barbera.  It is also not labeled with a vintage.  I included this “country” wine because more often than not it is predominately Barbera & because it is delicious, food friendly & so gulpable.  This is the kind of wine one pops open when friends come over just to hang out &/or talk story.  Unpretentious, thirst quenching & brings a smile to your face with each gulp.  PLUS, it is a GREAT VALUE. 

2015 Cantine Valpane Barbera del Monferrato–what a discovery this has been for us!  It is a more meaty, musk oriented rendition–dark & intriguing in its core–with lots of character & mojo at an almost silly price, it is so reasonable.  It will never be confused as being Cru in quality, but it is very pleasurable, is an interesting drink AND does really over deliver for the dollar spent. 

2011 Cavallotto Barbera d’Alba “Vigna del Cuculo”–I am a HUGE fan of Cavallotto & their wines.  They have such purity, etherealness & refinement, done with wonderful texture, balance & transparency.  This wine comes from their Bricco Boschis Cru (wild yeast fermented & aged for 15 to 18 months in oak) & is one to search out for if you are looking for superb, interesting, classy, well made Piemontese red wine at surprisingly reasonable prices. 

2016 Giuseppe Cortese Barbera d’Alba–this is yet another winery who crafts very elegant, refined red wines & one of our favorites from Barbaresco.  The winery (& their house above) is located just above the iconic & breathtaking Rabajà CRU. Their Barbera (7/10’s of a hectare–planted in 1968), however, comes from the “other” side of the hill, 600 to 800 feet in elevation–Trifolera–on one of the 3 crests between the great Rabajà & Martinega CRUs.

SUPER Barbera.  While these are all quite good & interesting, these next 2 are really in a different class, which is why I refer to them as SUPER Barbera.

2009 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba “Cascina Francia”–As many have noted on line, this is considered the best of what Piemontese Barbera can be.  Here are some of my notes previously posted in this blog after our trip to Piemonte in 2016.  Giacomo Conterno is run by the current generation–Roberto Conterno.  Roberto said the estate vineyard, (a former wheat field)Francia was planted in 1974–9HA of Nebbiolo & 5HA Barbera.  (most sites however say that Francia was purchased & planted in 1976 & the first vintage was 1978).  In 2008, Conterno also purchased 3HA of Ceretta vineyard (1HA of Barbera).  Although these vineyards are only about 2km apart as the crow flies, the soils are so very different (Francia–more calcareous & Ceretta more clay)….& the wines are therefore very different.  (In 2015, Conterno also purchased a little less than 6HA of Arione vineyard, but is currently 100% Nebbiolo).  The 2 Barbera d’Alba we tried, both from 2014 were obviously different.  The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Francia” was much more musky, masculine with more obvious mojo & distinct rocky, mineral & saltiness in character.  The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Ceretta”, on the other hand, although made virtually the same way offered much more bay leaf, spice & a savoriness on a much more elegant, refined frame“.  On this night we tried the 2009 Barbera d’Alba “Cascina Francia”.  I was really taken by the class, character & impressive harmony this wine displayed, even at only 9 years of age.  I had not previously consciously really considered whether Barbera got better with age.  (I had previously only sampled slightly aged Coppo Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” & Braida “Bricco dell Uccellone” before & those wines did NOT wow me like this wine did).   While his Nebbiolo may have more pedigree, this 9 year old Barbera’s vinosity, harmony, balance & savoriness was really compelling & therefore a terrific drink.  Definitely impressive & I definitely learned a thing or two with this wine.

2012 Vietti Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Vecchia Scarrone”–here is another SUPER Barbera, one that like the Conterno “Francia”, supersedes any of its neighbors’ renditions. Located in the Castiglione Falletto commune, the Scarrone Cru has but 1 hectare of 90 plus year old Barbera vines.  Luca, in fact, vehemently believed in this wine & convinced his father they should keep their small parcel of old vine Barbera in this esteemed Barolo entitled vineyard (Scarrone) instead of replanting or grafting over to Nebbiolo.  This was a REALLY big deal!  Such a big leap of faith to say the least!  I absolutely loved the savory, roasted chestnut/sandalwood character of this bottling & its divine elegance, class & refinement.  Truly a standout!  Whether it is worth the price tag or not is up to the taster, but I will say, this is truly some kind of Barbera.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts

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