A few Taste Bud-worthy Barberas

Barbera is probably not the sexiest grape to write about. It’s not the kind of trophy wine you see on top of wine tasting lists. And yet, it’s one of Italy’s most-planted native grapes. You can find it in many regions but it’s in Piedmont that it shines. Or should I say, tries to shine? I suppose nebbiolo will probably always be the first grape that springs to mind when you think of Piedmont. But nebbiolo and barbera are two very different grapes and produce very different wines. Nebbiolo is late ripening, while barbera is earlier ripening (still later than dolcetto though). Barbera wines are often very dark, while nebbiolo is very transparent. And barbera is low in tannins, while nebbiolo tends to produce very robust and tannic wines. The only thing they have in common is the high acidity. So all in all, despite the fact they are grown in the same area, there is very little common ground.

The reason why I find barbera interesting, however, is because it occupies a place where you don’t find many other grapes. Just think of the usual suspects in red : cabernet sauvignon or franc, merlot, syrah, grenache. Or popular Italian grapes, such as sangiovese, nebbiolo, and montepulciano. None of them really has the same characteristics as barbera. Barbera’s ripe but juicy black cherries, its freshness and virtual absence of tannins make barbera worth investigating. On top of that, barberas are normally not too expensive and can be enjoyed while young. The acidity of the grape is also a grateful partner for tomato based sauces. Think bolognese or puttanesca sauces with pasta. For me that’s comfort food with comfort wine. Perfect for those evenings when you want to treat yourself with a nice meal without having to spend hours in the kitchen…

I focused a bit on barbera in the past few months to explore the grape. In general I found that I prefer the Barbera d’Asti over the Barbera d’Alba. In Alba we are in Barolo territory, so it’s nebbiolo that is in the spotlight here. It’s therefore no wonder that wineries choose to use their best vineyards for nebbiolo, as Barolo can be sold at much higher prices than any barbera. In Asti things are different, because barbera does not have to share the attention with nebbiolo. In general I found that Barbera d’Asti is a bit more full-bodied and with more pronounced acidity than Barbera d’Alba, the latter being a bit warmer, rounder. Of course it’s difficult to generalise not having tasted dozens of barberas from Alba, but the Albas I had were not from obscure unknown wineries, so I suppose they were representive for Alba.

The second conclusion I draw from my experience is that barbera is a winemaker’s grape. Despite my feeling that barberas are best when they are juicy and fresh, some were very modern, with very strong wood aromas, obviously more geared towards an international palate. Those are not bad wines per se, but they loose their unique selling proposition. However, the grape allows it, contrary to  terroir grapes such as nebbiolo or pinot noir, which need very cautious extraction and use of wood.

So here’s a few barbera’s I can recommend…

If you’re looking for good, textbook barbera :

Tre Roveri 2011, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Pico Maccario

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The nose is loaded with ripe dark cherries, yet at the same time it has a spicy freshness. The fruit is evolving towards dried fruit, showing a bit of evolution. The wine is rather full-bodied, but has the typical barbera acidity that keeps this wine fresh, nicely covering the 14% alcohol. Actually, this wine was best on day two, showing more elegance and perfect balance. So no hurry here.

If you want to show off :

Vigna Scarrone 2012 Barbera d’Alba, Vietti

Beautiful, well integrated nose with cherries and a whiff of  chocolate. Elegant and complex, with multiple layers and very long finale! No doubt that barbera transcends its peers here, but it also costs more than 30€. That’s a price point where the competition with premium wines from other grapes starts getting really tough. I know that that is comparing apples and oranges. But in the end, isn’t that what everyone does? Nevertheless, great effort.

Nizza 2011, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza, Dacapo

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Picture courtesy of the Associazione dei Produttori del Nizza

This is a barbera from the subzone of Nizza which was in 2011 still a part of the denominazione of Barbera d’Asti, but exists separately as DOCG Nizza since 2014. Before that barbera could still be complemented by 10% other grapes. Now it is 100% barbera.

The wine is a bit evolved and the nose has become a nice bouquet where everything has blended beautifully together. The morello cherries stand out, together with a bit of coffee. The ripe fruit is balanced by a razorsharp acidity that might be over the top for some, but I like it. I had it with ragu alla bolognese and that went very well. But mind you, this is more than just a simple spaghetti wine!

If you’re looking for a good price quality ratio :

Soliter 2016, Barbera d’Asti, Pescaja

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This is a barbera that can be found around 10€ and it gives very good value for money. It’s a modern barbera, the wood is still very noticeable, but then again it’s also a very young wine. Beautiful ripe cherries as well and a hint of black pepper. This is a very smooth wine that makes you grab the bottle as soon as your glass is empty. Dangerous stuff!

Piova 2014, Barbera d’Asti, La Montagnetta

Another pleasant easy-drinking barbera at around 10€. Graphite, black cherries, chocolate, and a hint of rose. Quite ripe and round, and the wood is very present. Good and lively acidity that give this wine freshness. Very modern style, but pleasant wine.

So these a couple of barberas that I liked. I did not post all the barberas I tasted here in order to avoid a too lenghthy post, but I started using Vivino to post my tasting notes there, so if you’re interested in the other barberas I tried, you can find them there if you go to my profile.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

If it’s Sicilian, it’s gotta be fishy!

Have I told you already I like Italian food? If I haven’t, punch me. I love Italian food! Whenever I have a proper Italian dish, I can’t help wondering how something fairly simple can taste so wonderful. Not that all Italian dishes are easy to make, but many classics are. And when they’re done well, they make me drool.

From time to time I have a go at making a few of these dishes at home. A recipe that gave me great satisfaction is the ragù bolognese of TV chef Antonio Carluccio. This recipe gives me the feeling I’m eating something authentically Italian. Many people in Belgium chuck in a lot more in the sauce, and I used to do so as well. And that’s ok. Everyone has his or her own way of making spaghetti sauce and many of these versions are also really yummy. But try Carluccio’s recipe for once. It’s pretty good stuff and actually not so difficult to make!

But the ragù bolognese is not the dish I want to talk about in today’s 1+1=3. I want to talk about a Sicilian dish : the pasta con le sarde, or pasta with fresh sardines. Continue reading “If it’s Sicilian, it’s gotta be fishy!”

Pear meets flint

Only three days left before I go to Burgundy for a weekend of pinot noir showers and sucking snails out of their shells. But a promise is a promise. I told you I would come back to you before I go to Burgundy with a hidden gem from Italy. And it’s a white one for that matter! I still hear people saying from time to time that Italy does not make good white wine. I agree that Italy is mostly known for its majestuous reds, but wouldn’t it be weird, to say the least, that a country that challenges France for the biggest wine production, and that has an enormous diversity of autochtonous grapes, did not produce good white wine?!

Friuli is a region that some of you might already know as a region that produces elegant whites. But the wine I want to share with you today comes from Campania. That is not another family member of Donald Trump, but the region around Naples. That’s pretty far south to make white wine, you might think. And yet, this is a region that actually produces more than one white that merits your attention, such as Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina. But today’s wine is a Greco di Tufo, Loggia della Serra 2015, produced by Terredora Di Paola : the nose is absolutely breathtaking with ripe pear, but it’s especially the minerality, the flint, that adds a layer of finesse and playfulness. A little bit of je ne sais quoi, to use a beautiful Italian expression… The acidity in this wine balances the ripe fruit so beautifully that it is literally mouthwatering, making you grab your glass instantly for more. If you can find this wine, do try it out! You will not be disappointed, nor will you be bust, as this little beauty only costs around 12€…

The people behind this wine are no strangers. Terredora is one of the most well-known wineries in Campania, created by Walter Mastroberardino in 1993. If this name rings a bell, don’t look too far. Walter is the brother of Antonio Mastroberardino, who leads the winery Mastroberardino, probably the most important winery of the region. Walter and Antonio went their separate ways after a dispute, and Walter named his winery after his wife, Dora di Paola.

If only all family feuds led to such great results…

 

Elegance in Etna Rosso

I said in my first post that I want to focus on not so well-known grapes and regions, trying to find those hidden gems that many of us are after. I’m not sure to what extent Etna Rosso is still a hidden gem, as these wines from Sicily are attracting more and more attention. But still, they are not that obvious to find, and for most people Etna Rosso is therefore uncharted territory. High time to change that, I daresay!

The reason why Etna Rosso caught my attention is because there is something quite unique about these wines. When I think of Sicily, I think of hot and dry weather! The distance between Sicily and the coast of Tunisia is about 155km. So you would expect full-bodied, sometimes alcoholic wines, reflecting the weather conditions. And such wines can indeed be found there. Think of Nero d’Avola. Well, I can assure you that Etna Rosso wines have very little in common with that style of wine. The illustrious nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio produce rather elegant, fresh, and sometimes also very structured wines.

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Picture courtesy of Etna Wine Lab

Continue reading “Elegance in Etna Rosso”