Wine is, if nothing else, an agricultural activity. Sometimes this fact gets lost in the rush of technology, the allure of the panacea modernism of machines. But no matter, there will never be winemaking without farmers, there will never be wines without grapes.
Yesterday, after two days of tasting over-oaked over extracted, manipulated wines made in the cellar, we met farmers. People who get excited about poor soil quality and the difference between calcareous and tuffaceous.
The wines of the day were barberas from Monteferrato. Despite the snow and the freezing temperatures that have blanketed Piedmont the past few days, the mood was instantly changed when the bloggers (who have been dubbed “the barbera boys” by the Italian press via David McDuff) started tasting the wines (bloggers are the worst blind tasters in history. we keep discussing the merits of a wine and influencing each other). These were, for the most part, restrained, acidic, elegantly simple wines. Some were slightly “vivace” in the old style, meaning there is still some co2 left in the bottle. Perfect salumi wine, as we were to find out later over a plate of the nearly raw stuff that is typical in the area. After the disastorous Nizza tasting the night before (which was mentioned in the national edition of La Stampa) this was life affirming, real honest to god wine.
So out we went to taste with producers, and eventually we found ourselves in the cellars at Cassacia, discussing soil with the winemaker Giovanni. The soil here is tuffaceous, he told us, soil poor, but with grat drainage. The best soil for Grignolino, and the best soil for making higher acid barberas. He pointed out the spots in the cellar where the soil was, and encouraged us to scrape a bit off the walls to see what he was talking about. This was a revelation for us. He’s talking about…terroir. Not barrels or micro-ox or pruning techniques from Burgundy. He’s talking about soil. Later he told us about the conversion of the vines to organic farming, the history of winemaking in the area (which has quite a history going back to the middle ages, when it was considered one the fine wines) and problems brought on by industrial farming (if you ever want to have your heart broken, have a family winemaker tell you that the wines are more flavorful in other regions because they are more “sophisticated”). There is a quality revolution going on here, but it has little to do with barriques and spinning cones. It’s the vines.
We sat and tasted the wines.
This was barbera, finally.
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 is going to set the entire cast of Boston Legal on me.