Barbera – A Look at Asti, Alba and Nizza

Barbera

The #ItalianFWT blogging group is looking at Barbera today. Our host for this month, Gwendolyn of Wine Predator shared this preview post. While Gwendolyn also mentions Barbera grown in the US, our assignment was to find ones from Italy to write about.

Barbera, which hails from Piedmont and is of course a red grape, has been the object of much writing and consternation over the years. I’ve basically stayed out of the fray because it was never the first wine I would order or grab in a store. I don’t even know why that is. Largely if not drinking a Barolo or Barbaresco from Piedmont, not everyday or even every month occurrences in my home, if drinking wine from Piedmont, it was probably a Dolcetto. I met Dolcetto first and always was attracted to this lighter bodied, lower alcohol wine made with less wood. It’s a version of a red wine to drink with foods from Pizza to Lasagna that doesn’t break the bank.

Barbera was always a third or fourth choice. Judging from some of the Barbera I’ve had over the course of the last two months, I’ve truly been missing out. As luck would have it, I’ve interviewed five women from Piedmont in the last block of time and most of them sent me a Barbera to taste.

Sara Vezza’s Barbera d’Alba Superiore –

Sara Vezza was a very compelling woman and here’s a link to my post about her. I tried the Barbera before our conversation. I found it racy with super lively acidity and a nice bitter note which I appreciate together with earthy flavors. I paired it with some sausage pizza and was very happy.

I also spoke with Paola Abrigo about her Barbera which I loved. Here’s a link to that post. Her Barbera was also a Barbera Superior. It was gorgeous on the nose and palate with fresh red fruit and floral aromas. I got loads of forest floor, bramble and herbs with notes of something balsamic on the finish. This was a big bold Barbera, with 15.5%. 

Barbera d’Alba Abrigo Giovanni

A third wonderful Barbera that I had this month was from Mariuccia Borio from Cascina Castlet. I haven’t yet written up our discussion. Barbera is the flagship for her company in Costigliole and represents 70% of the production.

Cascina Castlet

Mariuccia sent me a whole line up of wines, including three made with the Barbera grape: The image of the young girls on the Vespa looking out is so iconic and fun as a way of thinking about Barbera. This is a Barbera d’Asti DOCG that spends no time in wood and is young and fresh and starts it’s life pretty soon after it’s picked. This fresh style of Barbera is closer to the Dolcetto I gravitate towards and is a perfect everyday wine.

She also makes one called Litina which is a Barbera Superiore DOC. It’s named after a great Aunt who brought the vineyards where the grapes for this wine grow into the family when she married into the Borio family. I love the design labels on all her wines. The three C’s linked together stand for Cascina Castlet Costigliore. The third bottle with that amazing red circle design is her flagship, Passum. Passum is made with partially dried grapes and is what is known as a meditation wine. They suggest pairing it with a brasato or important meal. We tried it with a roast beef and it was a perfect pairing.

Wines from Cascina Castlet

Tasting three of her wines made from Barbera made me realize just how much Barbera can offer in it’s different clothes. It’s a grape that can be made into a host of styles with lots of power or less so, with oak treatment or not, with brighter fruit or more forest floor. It seems there’s a Barbera for everyone and it’s about finding which one or ones fit your palate.

In addition to Alba and Asti, Nizza is a renowned location for growing Barbera. The Nizza D.O.C.G. project was created in 2014 and was separated from the larger Barbera d’Asti DOCG, and is considered one of the best area for the Barbera grape variety. The area of Monferrato is just 18 municipalities. The vineyards, positions with great exposures (from southeast to southwest), have very low yields (less than 70 quintals per hectare) and lie on soils designated “Astian sand”. The period of refinement for the Nizza D.O.C.G is at least 18 months and at least 30 months for the Nizza D.O.C.G Riserva. While the D.O.C.G. designation is fairly recent, work on the designation has been taking place for more than 20 years. In 2019 I attended a seminar on Nizza.

At the time, I wrote about wines from Michele Chiarlo. The wines are brought in by Kobrand. I did a few projects for Kobrand years ago and am quite familiar with their amazing portfolio. I met Michele many years ago and I was excited to try this wine. I remembered that they had an Art project which was fascinating and apparently Tenuta la Court is where the project is located. They bought this new property in 1995, Tenuta La Court although it dates from the 1800s. It is a 20 hectare winery on two hills, quite large for Monferrato.

The label of La Court features Cypress tress which are on the property and date from the mid-nineteenth. Cypresses are some of my favorite trees and I was immediately attracted to the label.

Michele Chiarlo

This particular one was 100% Barbera, had great structure and balance with rich silky tannins, elegant and vibrant acidity, earthy savory notes coupled with sweet spice and black fruit aromas. I thought of it as benchmark Barbera from old vines. I’m sure it will have longevity as well. Not inexpensive for the Riserva 2016, I thought the wine was exquisite and worth it’s $50-$55 SRP for a special occasion.

Chiarlo has been making this wine since 1996. The grapes spend 15 days on the skins in 55hl oak cars and ages for a total of 30 months. About half ages in large barrels and half in casks for a year and then another 18 months in the bottle. At 14.4% Alcohol, it was a big wine but it’s silky plush mouthfeel made it a pleasure to drink.

Chiarlo said they do a lot of green harvesting because Barbara is such a vigorous variety. In 1989-1990 they made major changes in the Nizza project using better rootstocks, new clones and reducing yields. This led to wines with more concentration and power and to ones that are better balanced. He notes that Barbera is like Sangiovese in that it is eclectic and produces differently in various areas. He also noted that in Piedmont, 80% of the people drink Barbera more often than Barolo. I think that’s a good way to end this post. It’s always good to drink what locals do and from now on, I’m all in.

Check out my fellow bloggers posts on Barbera and their experiences with the grape and the wines they have tried. Join us for our twitter chat at 11:00am on Saturday, May 1, 2021. You can find us by using the hashtag #ItalianFWT.

  • Linda Whipple is “Getting Reacquainted with My Old Friend Barbera” on My Full Wine Glass.
  • Nicole Ruiz Hudson has “5 Nights of Barbera” on Somm’s Table.
  • Terri Oliver Steffes shares “Abbona Barbera del Monferrato, Warm and Elegant” on Our Good Life.
  • Cindy Rynning writes “It’s Time to Drink More Barbera!” on Grape Experiences.
  • Andrea Lemieux asks “Wherefore art thou, Barbera d’Asti?” on The Quirky Cork.
  • Wendy Klik pours “Vietti Barbera d’Alba Tre Vinge 2018; Organic, Sustainable, Bio-dynamic” on A Day in the Life on the Farm.
  • Camilla Mann is “Exploring a Few Bottles of Barbera Plus Wild Boar Tamales + 2018 Cascina San Lorenzo Barbera” on Culinary Adventures with Camilla.
  • Susannah Gold shares “Barbera – A Look at Asti, Albaand Nizza” on Avvinare.
  • Our host, Gwendolyn at Wine Predator, is featuring “2017 Aldo Clerico Barbera D’ Alba with Anchovies, Pizza, Sausage Orecchiette.”

4 comments

  1. I know a lot more about Barbera from your first-hand accounts than I did before reading this post, Susannah. Thank you! I didn’t find my ideal Barbera this go-around. Maybe next time – or I’ll go back to drinking Dolcetto!

  2. How wonderful to get to speak to all these amazing women. Really great post and I’m glad you’ve had a chance to get to know versions more to your taste.

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