Barbera d'Alba, Piemonte, Italy
La Barbera is one of the typical grape varieties of Piemonte, in northwestern Italy. It is the one that occupies the most extension of land in the area, closely followed by the best known Nebbiolo, that of Barolo, and the less frequent but certainly interesting Dolcetto.
The Barbera is a variety of strong, resistant plant, not very demanding in terms of climatic conditions and with good yields in different terrains and exposures. And not only in quantity but also in color, acidity and sugars. These characteristics - and its rapid adaptation to the American foot - allowed its rapid spread by the Monferrate after the phylloxera plague that devastated the area at the beginning of the last century.
It is not surprising then, that the wine growers of the area prioritized the cultivation of this productive and undemanding variety to ensure the necessary financial support with their abundant harvests. At the same time, wines that are also rough, ordinary, with high acidity and, often, needle vinified (frizzanti) for short-term consumption. Nothing good augured that situation.
From table wine to quality wines
However, at the end of the last century the rise of viticulture led some producers to try to make more serious wines with Barbera. Lower yields, better care in the vineyard and aging in wood gave some surprise. Still always behind the most elusive but all-powerful Nebbiolo with the Barolos.
Today there is everything in the Lord's vineyard; and in the world of Barbera. Along with those who jumped on the bandwagon of aging in new Bordeaux barrels - some even without getting off that of high yields, winemaking defects and excess press - some very careful elaborations from old vines arrive on the market, with low yields, with sustainable breeding. Even some with a specific payment, and even a few, occupying slopes of exhibition reserved in most cases to the Nebbiolo.
Barbera wines tend to surprise for their black color, impenetrable layer, and tend to be very fruity on the nose, fleshy and with excellent acidity in the mouth, although somewhat flat tannin. They are wines that are easily drunk and that, in most cases (except Voerzio) are quite cheap. Without a doubt, one of the best quality-price ratios of Italian wine.
The Barbera d'Alba tasting. The wines
Well, recently we had the pleasure of attending a Barbera tasting. Specifically from Barbera d'Alba, one of the three Piedmontese denominations of Barbera together with Asti and Monferrato:
We start with Giuseppe Rinaldi 2007, a classic Barbera, like its label. Beppe Rinaldi ferments his Barbera for 15 days in "tini di legno", and aged between 8 and 18 months in "botti di rovere", to the "old taste" as advertised on his website. And it is certainly a classic wine. Good fruit, good body, meaty and well acid. Blackberry and black plum. Young, drinkable and flawless wine. A good start.
However, the following two were not so popular: Piani 2006 de Pellisero and Conterno Fantino Vignota 2005, two wines very marked by notes of their aging in new wood. Orange peach, peach, sweet notes and a lighter body separate these preparations from what we like to find in a Barbera.
But right away we were back on the right track with Vietti's 2006 Scarrone, a barbera made from old vines (60 years old) planted in Castiglione Falletto, at the foot of the family's "cantina". From "Barolo" exposition, controlled yields and 16 months in French barrels that do not appear at all on the nose despite the vintage being recent. A fresh 2006, good fruit, black plums, excellent in the mouth, with a soft and earthy tannin. A wine to take into account although somewhat closed today. We will wait. No problem.
And to finish the round three heavyweights: Aldo Conterno, Giacomo Conterno, and Sandrone.
Conca Tre Pile 2005 by Aldo Conterno, a wine with good raw materials but currently very marked by wood: mocha, praline, toffee. With a very international style. Of course, with a vertigo acidity in the mouth that compensates somewhat for all that sweetness on the nose ... Can this wine integrate all that new oak? It's possible. We will track him down.
Giacomo Conterno 2005, a completely different style that Giovani (Giacomo Conterno) prints from that of his brother Aldo. Here there are also notes of wood, but old. Somewhat reduced at the beginning, it is difficult to open but it finally does so with good black fruit, meaty and acid in the mouth. Tasty and elegant at last. Another classic Barbera.
And finally Sandrone 2004: the one that most liked at the table. Halfway between classicism and supposed modernity, Sandrone ferments its must in stainless steel, makes malolactic in 500-liter barrels and subjects its wine to a 12-month aging period. An elegant wine from the beginning. Open, fruity, enveloping and meaty on the palate. Well acid. An excellent example of a good Barbera. Very good value for money.
Now we only had to try Voerzio's, his Pozzo dell’Annunziata but ... who leaves us the 275 euros they ask for it?