Barbera and Superbarbera
Snow in Asti
What is an “imporant” wine? Does history and culture deem a wine “important” by the simple fact that a wine is tied to the land and the people that make it? Or is a wine “important” because it is massive, tannic, structured, “bold?”
Yesterday at the barbera meeting we attended two events where the conception of importance was central to the debate that seems to define this event.
What is barbera?
The first event was a presentation on new research being done on pruning by a group funded by some of the bigger names that produce barbera. For those of you don’t know much about the farming of wine (i’m no expert myself) the way vines are pruned are central to the way grapes ripen, how much they produce, and how the wine comes out. Traditionally barbera has been pruned using the guyot system, (which i won’t get into in detail here). The research being done is on the spur cordon system. It’s one of those things that sounds innocuous to the outsider, but the effects on the wine were profound.
We were told about the effects of the pruning on the acids, the tannins, the color of the wine.
It was around this point that things began to become heated. Questions were asked as to why this was necessary. Do you really need to keep messing with the grape? Why would you need to control the acid in barbera?
Isn’t acid essential to barbera?
The answer we got was that they were making barbera…important.
We tasted the wines made with the new system side by side wines made from the old pruning methods. Sure enough the tannins were more prominent, the acid pulled back, the overall taste smoother.
Important? i don’t know. Barbera? Not really.
Later on we were presen ted with wines from the barbera d’asti subzone “Nizza” an additional layer to the appelation system created in 2002. The wines were, for lack of a better term, concentrated. Oak was dripping off everything (Nizza producers are obliged to age the wine in wood for six months, and most have clearly chosen barrique as their method of choice) and alcohol was clearly higher than almost everything we had tasted. The wines also could have been from almost anywhere.
The sentiment in the room had focused on a single question.
And then someone asked the question point blank. “Why are you doing this to these wines? Why is there so much wood? Where is the acid, where is the beautiful simplicity of barbera? Are you going so far as to add tannins to these wines?
What can only be described as a shouting match broke out. A sore spot had been touched. These are structured, elegant wines, important wines, the producers protested. Some journalists came to the aid of the producers. “Oak was higher in the wines a few years ago” one journalist told us (this was mildly shocking).
Barbera had become superbarbera.
Later on tempers cooled (wine and food will do this) and we sat with the producers. The local market is dying, they told us. The winemakers were tied to the land, but the lands drinkers had dissapeared. The changes to the grape were a result of trying to branch out into other markets, but to me the soul of the wine had been crushed in the transition. Depressing.
And then, like it was planned, a bottle appeared brought by a young winemaker. Andrea Faccio brought out a bottle of his 2009 “Suri” an entry level un-oaked barbera d’asti. Everything was in place. This was not brought by accident, this winemaker was trying to tell us something. This is barbera with the makeup, without the perfume. This was an important wine.
So i left hopeful.
Disclosure: all wine, food, lodging, and all transportation paid for by various interested parties. See http://barbera2010.com/ for details on the people and entities involved. My tasting notes have not been influenced in any way, nor has my work on this blog and/or site, but the content of any work appearing only on that blog may (or may not) have been edited for content. I stole this disclosure from Thor Iverson who seems not to care.