What if I told you that I know about this amazing wine that wows tasters on a regular basis, yet most consumers don’t even know it exists? What if I also told you that it’s made in multiple styles, from fun and juicy to serious and capable of aging for decades? Lastly, what if I said that you can find amazing examples of this wine in the twenty-dollar range, and that the most expensive and serious examples I know of never cost more that $60-$80 a bottle? Would you give it a try?
Well then it’s time to buy yourself a bottle of Barbera, an amazing wine from Piedmont, Italy that never gets the respect it deserves.
I suppose it’s understandable, as it must be difficult coming from a region that produces two wines as prestigious as Barolo and Barbaresco. Barbera always played the supporting role in Piedmont, being the wine of choice at the dinner table but the runner-up for prime vineyard space. In the end, it’s all about economics: why spend the money marketing a wine from a region that already has its claim to fame, especially when you can charge 200-300% more for a bottle of Barolo? But it goes deeper than that. The fact is that there’s a lot of mediocre to just plain bad Barbera out there. Why? For the same reason cited above: it plays runner-up for prime vineyard space. It fills the low-lying, poorly-exposed parts of Barolo vineyards throughout the region. In many cases, it’s an afterthought or a value wine created to wet the palate at the dinner table.
Don’t get me wrong; there have always been producers who gave Barbera its fair shake (Giacomo Conterno and Vietti immediately come to mind). Yet we are now seeing more and more producers fine-tuning and pushing their Barbera to the world markets. Much of this had to do with the worldwide recession going back to 2008, which seriously slowed the buying power of many collectors. Producers realized it was time to focus more on their entry-level and mid-range wines. Enter Barbera, which is naturally juicy and fresh with bright red fruit, yet can take on a more dramatic and bold profile with the right vineyard management and proper barrel treatment.
Speaking of barrels, you’ll see two very different styles of Barbera. At one time, many producers were masking these wines with a shroud of new oak in an attempt to make them more “important” and age-worthy (Barbera is naturally very low in tannin). This practice has diminished to a large degree, and the best producers who still practice it have found the right mix of quality fruit and barrel. Then there’s the bright, juicy, woodsy, food-loving style of Barbera, which should be in everyone’s cellar for that night of Bolognese sauce or pizza. I cannot think of another wine which pairs with such a large variety of foods. Both styles are worth your attention. As the Vietti Scarrone below would be the perfect pairing for a Porterhouse, the Sottimano would be my choice for game, red sauce and stews.
A little bit about 2011 versus 2012…
2011 has provided us with some very ripe and downright sexy Barbera. The warmth of the vintage and resulting fruit played right into the contrasting acidity of the variety. These are not “hot” or baked wines. Instead, they are generous with ripe (sometimes candied) fruit on the nose, rich textures and tremendous depth on the palate. They are refreshing yet bold. In some cases they can be dark and moody—but that textbook Barbera acidity keeps it all in line. I believe it’s a great mix, even though 2011s may seem like brutes next to the 2012s, with their lean and restrained yet almost crystalline styles. The 2012s come across as focused and pretty wines with a real classic feel and structure, which is right up my alley.
In the end, 2011 Barbera will likely appeal to a broader audience, while the 2012s will thrill the fan of old school Barbera. Below are a number of my recent favorites.
On to the Tasting Notes:
2012 Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba Fides – The nose showed wild berry, herbs, floral undergrowth, and dry soil tones in a tense and wiry expression. On the palate, a pulse of juicy cranberry and spiced cherry was followed by a core of brisk acidity, which made the mouth water through the finish with a ringing note of dark chocolate left in its wake. (91 points)
2012 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Francia – The ’12 Francia Barbera can be best described as a rosebud on the verge of blooming. The nose showed tense aromatics with tart red fruits, spice, floral tones, minerals, mint and a hint of tobacco. On the palate, I found focused red fruits with clenched, acid-driven textures paving the way to secondary notes of wild berry, herbs and inner floral tones. Long with tart berry on the finish, which seemed to coat the senses. This is a wine in need of a few years in the cellar—dare I say another 2005 in the making? (93 points)
2012 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cerretta – Intense dark-fruited nose with tobacco, spice, rich soil and sweet herbs. It was acid-driven with incredible vibrancy and complexity, showing tart cherry and balsamic tones, which seemed to expand across the senses. Ripe yet firm on the finish with a lasting thrust of dark fruit. It’s a truly serious wine that would make a believer out of any Barbera naysayer. (94 points)
2011 Sottimano Barbera d’Alba Pairolero – The nose showed black cherry with sweet spice, hints of new leather, plum and mint. On the palate, it was smooth and round with dark berry fruit and clove complemented by a cooling minty note. The finish was gentle and clean with tart red fruits lingering and hints of tannin tugging at the palate. (89 points)
2011 Vietti Barbera d’Alba Scarrone – The bouquet of the ’11 Scarrone pulls you in with rich, dark notes of plum, blackberry, spice, hints of brown sugar and licorice. On the palate, it’s a large-scaled wine, yet kept in check by brisk acidity. Balsamic tones along with cherry liqueur, exotic spice and dark chocolate seem almost too rich to handle, yet all the pieces fit into place. The mouthwatering finish showed saturating spiced cherry, bitter coffee and hints of herbs. (93 points) Check Out Morrell’s Selection of Vietti Barbera.
2011 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cerretta – The Cerretta was a much darker and richer expression of Barbera next to the Cascina Franica. The nose was rich with intense black cherry, violet floral tones, black soil, dark chocolate and a hint of burnt sugar. In the glass, I found a dark and intense wine balanced by its high acidity with flavors of black cherry, currant, stony minerals and smoky notes. The finish coated the senses in bitter black fruit and then exploded as its acidity kicked in and made the mouth water. Drinking now, but should continue to drink well for many years to come. (93 points)
2011 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia – The nose was intense and focused with red berry fruit, balsamic notes, herbs, saw dust and airy floral tones. On the palate, it was center-focused and tightly coiled yet still seemed to touch all the senses with raspberry and black cherry fruit, minerals and herbs with brisk acidity keeping it mouthwatering and fresh. Tart berry saturated the palate throughout the finish with inner floral tones which seemed to last forever. This was regal and elegant yet painfully young and should seriously reward the patient wine lover. (94 points)
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido