Sunday, June 11, 2006

Brawny Barbera?

I've been a fan of barberas for a long time. These every-day wines of the Piedmont region of Italy show a lot more character than low-end chiantis, for example, yet are far less well known.

There's a good reason barbera is the most frequently drunk varietal in the Piedmont itself and it has to do with getting the most bang for your buck. Yes, everyone knows that Barolos and Barberescos are the big guns that helped make the Piedmont revered by oenophiles. But, these days, who can afford to have them more than once in a while. Barbera, on the other hand, hints at the greatness of this wine producing region without the steep price.

Another great thing about barberas is that these low-tannin, acidic wines are a great companion for so many foods. Forget chianti with tomato sauce; barbera is a better match. It goes so well with a great variety of medium-body dishes that it just might be one of the most versatile wines around.

However, I just had a barbera that is challenging a lot of my long-held assumptions about this varietal. I'm aware that many winemakers in the past decade have been doing their best to coax more extraction out of this grape, making for bigger, less acidic wines. An international style, as they say. But I was still unprepared for the incredibly full-bodied Sergio Barale '03 Barbera d'Alba Preda ($24) that I opened with dinner last night.

This wine has gobs of ripe plum, even prune-like flavors in a soft round package that makes for an impressive tasting experience. And, floored by its weight, I decided after my first sip to check the alcohol and discovered it was a whopping 14.5 percent. How did I miss that? Of course, 2003 was the famously hot summer across Europe, making for intense, alcohol-laden wines nearly everywhere. So, I shouldn't have been too surprised.

I just hope that this wine is not exactly what we should come to expect of barberas in the future. It certainly is a delicious, fun wine to drink on its own or with a dinner of roasted meats. But it makes it harder to know what to expect from the varietal, and its big flavors make for less versatility. Perhaps I'm just being paranoid. As an example of what record-breaking weather can do for winemaking, the '03 Sergio Barale barbera is an eye-opener.


Blogger g58 said...

I'm with you on the merits of Barbera wines from Italy. So often overlooked but so enjoyable, especially with food. When I made an Italian-inspired meal recently, I was surprised how versatile the Barberas that I paired with dinner were.

In the Oxford Companion, Jancis Robinson says that Barberas -- the second most grown grape in Italy next to Sangiovese -- can produce a more varied array of reds than almost any other major grape. The two Barbera d'Asti bottles I wrote about last week had pretty much the same personality once you set aside the oak, but perhaps your Barbera D'Alba is one of those expressions with an entirely different face.

2:36 PM  
Blogger JD said...

Absolutely. I've had the Chiarlo you mentioned many times and am used to its food-friendly personality. But the Jancis quote you dug up really got me thinking about my expectations. One thing's for sure -- Barbera is great stuff in the right hands.

10:02 PM  

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