My love of wine basically began with the vintages and cuisine of Italy. It was my experience working in an Italian restaurant, and having to answer my customers’ questions about the items on the menu and the wine list that led to me becoming increasingly interested with both.
That being the case, it surprised me when I realized I hadn’t featured any wines from Italy on the site in three weeks. So today, to break that streak, I’m going to be talking about some awesome Barberas from two well known producers in Piemonte. Both wines offer exceptional quality for the price, and show what this still somewhat unknown varietal is capable of.
Despite the fact that Barbera is one of the most heavily planted grapes in Italy, many wine lists and retailers are only now beginning to give this grape some of the attention it deserves. Barbera is native to Piemonte, home to the more famous Nebbiolo based wines like Barolo and Barbaresco. Despite the fact that Nebbiolo seems to get all the attention, these massive, complex monsters can take decades to reach maturity. In the meantime, while the wine lovers of Piemonte anxiously wait by their cellars for their treasures to come of age, Barbera is in their glasses.
Because Barbera is a somewhat lighter wine, it does not require nearly as much aging as the more iconic wines of the region. Often somewhat similar in profile to Sangiovese, these wines have fairly high acidity, bright fruit tones, and the ability to clearly convey a sense of terroir. Barbera wines can often be some of the best bargains on the market, and you can usually find some exceptional wines, requiring very little or no cellaring after purchase, many times for under $20. The two wines being featured today are great examples of just that. Both come from well known winemakers in Piemonte, who like many modern producers, can be seen as setting a sort of standard for the wines of the region.
Wine #1: Fontanafredda Briccotondo 2006 Piemonte DOC Barbera
Grown partially on the Fontanafredda estate in Langhe, the grapes used to make this wine come from hilly vineyards on top of rich, mineral laden soils. It is aged for five months in oak, a part of it in large Slovanian casks, to impart soften and smooth the wine, and the remainder in new, smaller oak barrels, which impart additional flavor and complexity.
The aroma is easily detectable even at a distance, and the complexity and layering of this wine makes itself known almost immediately. There is a good amount of red and black fruit, similar to dark cherries and blackberries, with an almost burnt toast quality, and a more subtle cacao powder tone. There is a bit of tobacco leaf, following a spin in the glass, and a slightly coastline/riverbank mineral quality in the background.
This wine addresses the palate with red fruit, coffee beans, and a variety of subtle oak nuances, in between being woody and slightly vanilla like. There is a soft floral tone, some ripe raspberry flavors, and an impressive fresh squeezed orange quality. Dried fruit and a pumice-like minerality make an appearance and linger into the finish.
This is a lively wine, full of fresh fruit and gentle citrus-toned acidity. It’s plump and ripe, with gentle, soft tannins that give it just enough structure to hold up the fruit. Rich, while still maintaining a lightness of body, this is a very enjoyable wine, and one that I could see pairing with a variety of dishes.
Worth Buying. 89 points.
Wine #2: Michele Chiarlo 2005 Le Orme Superiore Barbera d’Asti
Michele Chiarlo’s main objective is to create wines that allow the characteristics of the varietal and where it is grown to stand out. This 100% Barbera does just that, coming from specific vines grown in the South of Asti, primarily in the hills of Nizza Monferrato. After ten days of skin contact, this wine is placed in oak barrels, where it is aged for eight months prior to bottling.
Sweet red fruit and bramble bush tones open up on the aroma. There is an exceptional dark chocolate and almond toffee quality running through it, with a slight note of caramel. A spin in the glass reveals some slightly herbal notes, a charred wood aroma, and a touch of chalk.
The palate opens with raspberry juice, a tinge of citrus, and some light tangerine flavors. Chocolate and nuts show through on the mid palate, with some dried herb and peppercorn leading into a finish of blood orange, cacao powder, and shrub brush.
This wine is incredibly bright and fresh, with a nice ripe citrus and berry component that gives the palate some real substance. The delicate cacao powder tannins and the soft earthy tones add a nice amount of definition, creating a very interesting, fun to drink, wine that would be very food friendly. A very solid wine for the price, and an excellent place to start when exploring this producer and this varietal.
Worth Buying. 90 points.
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The Grapevine: What’s your experience with Barbera?