It’s not easy to taste wine at 9:30 in the morning, when your palate is still craving caffeine. Still, for the Vancouver Wine Festival’s seminar, Barbera Variations, I did my diligent best to get as much as I could out of it while still half asleep.
The program was led by the German-born Dr. Norbert Reinisch of Braida Winery and featured their top wines. He said that prior to 35 years ago, Barbera was not considered a noble grape variety in Piedmont region of Italy and credited the work of his father-in-law and Braida Winery founder Giacomo Bolonga for being a leader in Barbera’s development.
He noted that while nebbiolo is very much terroir driven, barbera can be grown everywhere with many different results.
Asti is where it’s really happening, he said, where nebbiolo is the king and barbera is the queen of the grapevines. Barbera is female grape variety, he said. Due it’s high acidity, barbera is used around Italy to liven up softer, more dense wines like those from Sicily.
He reminded us of the big barbera scandal of the 80’s where winemakers had added ethanol to their juice, which hospitalized many and killed a few. During the 1970’s, the high time for barbera, Italy cultivated, 80,000 hectares. Post-scandal, there are now 28,000 hectares of Barbera in the world, with 17,000 hectares are grown in Piedmont. California is the second largest source, followed by Washington, Chile and Argentina.
The fact is, I’m more familiar with California Barbera – Preston comes to mind – than Piedmont Barbera, so these variations were quite new to me.
Reinisch introduced the first wine, 2014 Barbera del Monteferrato. It’s called La Monella, which is a Feminized reference for “the naughty girl,” the winery’s flagship wine of 1961. This is a frizzante wine considered Champagne for the poor and drank in place of white wine. Made in stainless steel, using grapes from various vineyards, it’s pressurized at the end of fermentation with carbonic acid.
The La Monella had a steely nose, light with red fruit and stems. Light and lively on the palate with fresh fruit and bright acidity, a zesty mouthfeel, and flavors of sweet black cherry and violets. Finishes clean. I could see drinking this deeply chilled on a hot patio in the middle of summer with lunch.
Il Monella is “the male expression of barbera,” a 2011 Barbera d’Asti. It starts with deeper black fruit and spice on the nose and continues in the palate with black fruit on a medium body, and good acidity. The finish is medium length and minerally.
Reinisch then encouraged us to enjoy these two wines while watching a video dedicated to the biggest wine journalist in Italy, Luigi Veronelli, who said that “in every bottle of wine there is a beautiful woman.”
The video opens with grapes, and as a string crescendo builds, a sexy reclining babe rises from a pile of grapes, sequing into a girls gone wild grape stomping scene with lots of leg. And ta-da! The point is made: wine is like a woman to be manipulated for objectification.
I have no idea what Dr Reinisch thought he was doing by showing this cheesy video to a North American audience half composed of professional women. If it was to emphasize the feminization of the La Monella, I wondered why there was not a beefcake version to celebrate the Il Monello.
Anyway, with a somewhat sour taste in my mouth I soldiered through the rest of the Braida wines.
Il Bacialé 2014 is a Montefirato Rosso, made with 60% barbera, 20% Pinot Noir, 10% cabernet sauvignon, and 10% Merlot. Aromas of bright red fruit jump from the glass, but the mouth is kinda 2 dimensional. Nice black cherry is forward, it’s an easy drinker, for sure. But, young tasting.
The 2014 Montebruna Barbera d’ Asti has good concentrated black fruit and herbs on the nose. On the palate you get pretty fruit, good complexity, easy tannins and medium acidity. Rather beaujolais-like in it’s youthful vigor and minerality. Needs time.
2013 Bricco de Uccellone Barbera d’ Asti is made from 55 year-old vines. It starts with aromas of mocha, flowers, and black fruit leading to similar notes on a deeply concentrated mouth with great acidity and medium tannins. The long dry finish has sweet dense fruit. This is a wine I can get behind.
The winery’s top wine is the Bricco della Biggota, made from 50 year old vines grown at the estate at Rocchetta Tanaro. The nose of the 2013 emits dense black fruit and pretty floral notes. In the mouth, the wine has a soft texture with lively acidity, strong tannins and ripe candied fruit. Nice minerality on the finish. A perfect wine to pair with game meant. Just gorgeous.
The 2009 Bricco della Biggota had similar characteristics as the 2013 plus a bit of nuttiness on the nose. The palate had a rich full body, with black fruit and layers of chocolate and coffee covered in chewy tannins. The finish: dry, black, inky. At an astounding 15.94% (let’s just call it 16%) it did not taste as hot as it was.
Reaching back almost a decade, to a year that saw huge temperature fluctuations, the 2006 Bricco della Biggota is almost entirely different. Roasted fruit with a juicy fruit edge mixed with warm dust is what greets the nose. The palate is mild and elegant with deep concentrated black fruit and the finish is long and rich.
When they called it Barbera Variations, they weren’t kidding. There was certainly enough barbera to scare ya. Not all of it I loved, but definitely enough I liked to make me think of barbera the next time I’m shopping in the Italian section.