Barbera Tasting

October 28, 2009

Like the last post, I actually wrote this shortly before I started this blog.  This one is from another tasting at the Wine Bottega on 10/15, solely focused on the Barbera varietal:

Red grape from the Piedmont, overshadowed by Barolos and Barbarescos; high acid; food friendly – that was about the extent of my knowledge of Barbera prior to tasting through seventeen of them tonight at the Wine Bottega.  Nothing like a focused intensive tasting like this to really get to know a particular varietal or style.  While it hasn’t necessarily entered my list of favorites, and none of the wines blew me away, some were very good and I can now say with confidence that I understand Barbera and it certainly has acquired a place in my wine repertoire.

The tasting started with some entry level Barberas that were quite good and fairly inexpensive.  The 2005 Matthew Fioretti “Mattei” showed all of the features of the varietal – great acidity, easy drinking, pretty red fruit, without the overwhelming complexity of some of the wines later in the tasting, but at $12, a perfect Tuesday night pizza wine that is starting to shatter my preconception of Italian wines.  This was followed by the 2004 Tenuta Migliavacca, a very rustic wine that showed a slightly different interpretation of the grape at a similar price point – think pizza with mushrooms and garlic or an especially pungent cheese as a good pairing.  In the number three spot was the only wine that wasn’t 100% Barbera; the 2007 Bricco Mondalino blends in 15% freisa.  I thought I was so smart guessing it was probably a younger vintage because the fruit was brighter and more in your face, but that most likely comes from the blend.  Not terribly exciting, but fundamentally sound and a serious delicious factor at $19.

The rest of the table were variations on a theme, spanning vintages from 2004 to 2007 and prices from $25 to $30, mostly Barbera D’Alba, which along with Asti, are the two major Barbera producing regions within the Piedmont.  None were bad, none changed my world, but the experience of tasting the next five side by side, probably equal to the total amount of Barbera I had consumed prior to tonight was a great way to understand the grape.  Acid is definitely the key – which is what makes these wines so food friendly.  They are not terribly complex, but again they’re also not Beaujolais Nouveau.  All had a good attack with mostly clean red fruit, not obnoxious fake candied fruit like Australian Shiraz or bad American Pinot Noir, but clean red fruit – Massachusetts cranberries, fresh cherries, pomegranate, but not the darker fruit flavors you get in Cabernet-type wines.  Also noteworthy is the absence of tannins – drinking these wines gives you a perfect understanding of the difference between tannin and acidity.  The five wines included:

2004 Luigi Voghera Barbera D’Alba Riserva, Neive

2004 Az. Agr. San Fereolo “Austri, Dogliani

2005 G.D. Vajra Barbera D’Alba Superiore, Barolo

2006 Brovia Barbera D’Alba “Brea”, Serralunga D’Alba

2007 Conterno Fantino Barbera D’Alba

I then moved on to what Matt termed the ‘Big Boy Table,’ the first wine of which was the 2006 Fratelli Cigliuti, Serraboella, which if I were to buy any of the wines from this tasting, (which I didn’t) this would probably be it, at $40.  Also from Alba, this wine was just more subtle and complex than the ones prior, with a little bit less acid and coffee type flavors going on while still true to the style.  Next up were a pair of wines from Lombardy, where Barbera is atypical.  The first, the 2005 Vercesi del Castellazzo Barbera “Cla” Oltrepo Pavese was good, and distinct from the Albas.  The second, the 2004 Martilde “La Strega, la Gazza, e il Pioppo,” Oltrepo Pavese, was the only wine to see new oak, and in this context, the wood tannins were obvious, but the absence of grape tannins made this wine again a variation on a theme – the same high acid bright red fruit, just with those vanillaesque flavors that come from oak and a bit more of a tannic finish.

The 2006 Bartolo Mascarello “Vigna San Lorenzo” Barbera D’Alba was excellent, and one of the three wines I went back and retasted.  This far along into the tasting I was starting to understand Barbera, and this wine could be the archetype for it – great acidity, beautiful clean red fruit, silky smooth mouthfeel, and slightly more complexity than the others, though now we’re approaching $50 territory.  Next were two single vineyard 2004 Barbera D’Asti wines: Cascina Roera, a partnership between Claudio Rosso and Piero Nebiolo – the spelling is different but with a name like that how can you not be a good winemaker.  I had a slight preference for the “Vigna San Martino” which I could picture with a rich pasta dish with sundried tomatoes or braised short ribs or wild boar, though the “Cardin” was almost as good; both of these had slightly bigger and bolder flavors than the D’Albas, perhaps Barolo in comparison to Barbaresco or Pauillac to Margaux.

We finished up with a vertical of the “Braida” Giacomo Bologna Barbera D’Asti “Bricco dell’Uccellone,” Rocchetta Tanaro, which apparently is the wine that put Barbera on the map.  The wines were very good; the 2004, 1999, and 1996 vintages really showcased the ageability of this varietal, and the complexity that it is capable of.  The 1996 had this gorgeous nose with almost like a crème-brulee component, which makes you think you’re going to get that French vanilla latte flavor on the palette, perhaps at the expense of fruit, but even thirteen years later tastes like it was picked yesterday.  The oak/makeup analogy holds up quite well here, as this wine does see a little bit of oak:  If the “Bricco dell’Uccellone” is an absolutely gorgeous girl, the 2004 is her at 19; the 1999 is the same girl at 25; and the 1996 is this woman at 32, looking like she did at 19 but with a little more maturity and worldliness, perhaps wearing a little more makeup, but not much, and none of us can tell.

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One Response to “Barbera Tasting”

  1. Ben Says:

    Hi Bill, I saw your comment on WLTV – good job on the new blog! I’ll have to try to be in the city for one of the Wine Bottega’s tastings. It sounds like they are really indulging the wine nerds at these events. Do they give a talk at the beginning?

    To answer your question about the stylistic variation of Portuguese Red wine regions:

    Alentejo – New World – a hot and dry region and generally the most innovative.

    Douro – A mix of New World/Old World. Tons of style and geographic variation here, so generalizations are pretty useless. It’s the farthest north, but also the hottest and driest region in Portugal. It’s also the “hot” region for super-premium wines.

    Dao – Leans Old World – the cooler climate seems to bring out nice herbal/floral aromas from the Touriga Nacional grape, even in cheap wines like the Cabriz tasted on WLTV. This is my favorite style.

    It sounds like the Dao region should have a lot of potential. The area is the last of the three to begin modernizing its winemaking and viniculture. There is also plenty of land in the Dao DOC to expand grape production. Expansion in the Douro is more expensive since the geography is closer to that of the Grand Canyon than to the gentle wooded hills and pastures of Dao.

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