David 5 March 2015
Piedmont (Piemonte)is a key region for any wine lover. Located in northwest Italy, bordering both France and Switzerland, it’s home to some of the world’s greatest wines as well as to some of its best quaffers.
The most famous wines of Piedmont are Barolo and Barbaresco which are both made from Nebbiolo; undoubtedly the star of the region. But it’s Barbera, the region’s most widely grown grape that I’m interested in at the moment. Barbera has traditionally been a workhorse variety and considered inferior to Nebbiolo, but as the Oxford Companion to Wine notes: “No grape has known such a dramatic upgrade in its fortunes and image in the last 20 years than Barbera in Piemonte.”
Barbera d’Alba is a DOC (second tier in Italian appellation hierarchy) within Piedmont, that’s well known for its Barbera. Alba is a town, as well as the name of the area around that town, that sits in the Langhe hills. Historically Alba is prime Barolo country, its best sites planted with Nebbiolo; a wise move considering the stratospheric prices that Barolo commands. But there are sites in Alba which are too cool for the late ripening Nebbiolo, and it’s here that Barbera, which ripens about 2 weeks earlier than Nebbiolo, is planted.
Traditionally Barbera was made into cheap everyday wine to be enjoyed immediately, while Barolo was expensive and made to be cellared for years before drinking. Then in the 1980s, there was a change. Winemaker Giacomo Bologna started experimenting with single vineyard Barbera that he picked later and aged for longer in small new oak barrels. These techniques had never been tried and the result was a small revolution in the quality of Barbera.
These days Barbera is still a quaffer, when compared to Barolo, but the light, tart wine of the past has gone. Barbera is a lively mid-weight wine, with lovely juicy red fruit and a wonderful balance between sweet, bitter and savoury. It’s characterised by gentle tannins and an abundance of bright, energetic acid. Most entry level Barbera is made without oak, accentuating its fresh, bright appeal.
Not surprisingly much of the good Barbera out there comes from top Barolo makers - here are two that I’m enjoying at the moment:
1. Brangero Barbera d'Alba 2012
Marco Brangero is typical of a new generation of Italian winemakers. About 15 years ago, after completing university, Marco inherited the family’s 9ha estate, perched on a magnificent hilltop with breathtaking views of the nearby medieval town of Diano d’Alba. This spot is an ideal place for Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo grapes, with which Marco makes several wines, including some top notch Barolo.
Marco’s father and grandfather had modest ambitions: to make simple wines for the local market, with surplus fruit going to the local winemaking co-op and Marco has been mindful of this history while substantially updating the estate. The result has been a modern take on classic wines and success Marco’s father and grandfather could only dream of.
Despite his skill and ambition, Marco avoids the limelight. He doesn’t speak much English and, unlike most winemakers, doesn’t go to the major wine fairs like Vin Italy. Unsurprisingly his profile outside Italy is low and his wines are not widely known in Australia; ideal when seeking out great value, which is what this wine offers.
The Brangero Barbera d’Alba 2012 is fermented in stainless steel, after which it spends about 10 months in large old oak barrels before being bottled. It’s very clear and is a deep dark, velvety red colour. On the nose and palate you’ll find classic Piedmont Barbera, with sweet and sour cherry, hints of violets and spice, as well as some of that familiar and appealing Italian bitterness on the finish. As it opens up, the wine becomes quite generous, with dark plum and blackberry notes and a hint of chocolate. It’s definitely a mid-weight wine, with plenty of fresh acidity and classic lip-smacking Barbera appeal, but without the mouth wrenching tannins of Nebbiolo.
Delicious but very much under the radar.
I can offer it for $29 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability
2. Mauro Molino Barbera d'Alba 2013
The 12ha family estate of Mauro Molino is located in the La Morra district of Piedmont. Mauro Molino graduated from winemaking school in 1973 and, after spending time with other producers building his experience, returned to his family vineyards, making his first wine in 1982. His son Matteo and daughter Martina now also work alongside him.
Molino’s Barolos are already highly sought after and regularly score 90+ from critics, including Robert Parker, James Suckling, Decanter Magazine and Wine Spectator.
Mauro Molino is a “ relatively new and red-hot producer.” Wine Spectator.
The Barbera d’Alba is an entry-level wine from Molino. It’s fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and aged for a further 6 months in stainless steel, before being bottled. It’s shown great consistency from vintage to vintage, offering a fresh, juicy, vibrant style.
This is crystal clear and an attractive deep ruby colour. It’s a less dense, leaner, more lifted and savoury wine than the dark Brangero, but as it opens up the fruit really kicks in with bright cherry, raspberry and red berry notes emerging. Being Italian, it also has some liquorice, spice and tariness. The viscosity of the wine is a pleasant surprise and gives more weight than you might expect. And bright, fresh, balanced acid makes this a delicious and approachable wine for a great price.
“Big, deep, dense Barbera aromas, then lighter on the palate, with fresh dark berry fruit and floral flavours. Minty and youthfully chewy at the back.” 16.75/20
35 amazing Piedmont reds under £20 in Decanter Magazine, Jan 2015.
A great example of a clean, fresh, classic Piedmont Barbera. You’ll find it at Ucello, the top Italian restaurant at Ivy for $55 a bottle.
I can offer it for $29 a bottle. SOLD OUT