Barbera is the everyday drinking wine of the Piedmont region in Italy. And Barbera D’Alba is a specific appellation (D.O.C.) within Piedmont. There is also Barbera D’Asti, near the town of Asti. In total, there are three Barbera DOCs, the third being Barbera del Monferrato. Monferrato and Asti allow blending but require that 85% of the grapes be Barbera. Alba mandates 100% Barbera.
Unfortunately, most people think of Italian wine as being only Chianti (which is mostly from the Sangiovese grape), or Barolo (from the Nebbiolo grape). Italy is the land of more than one thousand documented wine grapes, so it is a wonderful country to taste of its numerous offerings. Barbera is a workhorse of a grape, and produces abundant yields. It is adaptable enough to grow successfully in many areas around the globe, but Piedmont’s terroir allows the grape to show off. Despite winemakers reducing yields and moving toward using smaller barrels (French barriques), Barbera wines remains a bargain generally. In fact, if you’re a wine snob, you will appreciate that Barbera d’Alba land can actually overlap that of the prestigious Barolo plots.
Renato Ratti’s Barbera D’Alba is intensely colored in the glass looking as dark as plum juice. The initial nose is moderate and offers black cherry. Use a generous size glass and swirl the wine, enjoy the nose becoming more pronounced. There’s a silky mouth feel to this wine; an uncomplicated taste of cherry and a hint of mocha. As the wine benefits from being aired in the glass, it smoothes out, becomes more harmonious and develops tastes of ripe plum.
This is a nice wine to simply enjoy by itself; to learn from in your exploration of Italian grapes; to drink “like a native” instead of a moneyed tourist. And a beauty in Barbera is that it is so food friendly. Common sense hints it’s not intended for lobster bisque or New England clam chowder. But mussels in a tomato based sauce base? Sure! Get some crusty bread for dipping and go to it. Match the country’s wine with the country’s food and you’re generally on safe ground.
If you want to have a good time and learn wine in the process, enjoy a Barbera d’Alba and a Barbera D’Asti side by side. Vietti (another vineyard) makes both a D’Alba and a D’Asti. You will probably find the Asti more light bodied, a little brighter, with a lower tannin finish (what wine highbrows refer to as feminine compared to the masculine D’Alba). All these wines are reasonably priced. Renato Ratti’s Barbera D’Alba retailed for $16, though I snatched it for $8 from Binny’s as an “End of Bin” bargain. On line, I’ve seen prices run from $15 to $19. Wine Spectator awarded the 2008 Renato Ratti 89 points. I mention that only because we disagreed so much in the rating of the previous wine I recommended. (See “2006 St Hallert ‘Gamekeepers Reserve”). If we translate 89 into a grade of “B”, I agree. This is above average wine and bargain priced. Barbera D’Alba can usually be cellared 6 to 10 years. As it ages, its tannins smooth out. So if you enjoy a particular vintage, go back and put away a case in your basement for harvesting in the years ahead.
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