Barbera 2010: Final Thoughts
I haven’t tasted any barbera for three weeks now, but it has been much on my mind as i taste through a river of Grenache, syrah, cabernet, carignan and so on in the south of France. Like i stated before I ever went to asti, I had no idea what to expect from this meeting. Barbera has existed in my mind as one of the younger siblings to the great nebbiolo grape. I don’t mean this as an insult. There are barberas I would gladly drink before some of the more expensive Barolos and barbarescos of Piedmont, and it would be troublesome to view Piedmont through the lense of only that variety, forgetting the dolcettos, arneis, nascetta, and barberas of the region. But still, one has to admit that barbera will forever be in the shadow of nebbiolo.
Perhaps this is the problem, that constant struggle to brand things. People can tell you that Barolo is a famous Italian wine even if they don’t know the first thing about it, but barbera exists in a different sphere. To paraphrase A.J. Liebling, most people would order a mediocre Barolo before they ever considered a good barbera.
So off I went to Asti, having an idea of barbera and immediately being presented another one. Where I had an idea of simple (note, I never use simple as a pejorative) food friendly wine culled from tasting the barberas of producers I liked and was familiar with and from reading texts on Italian wine (always a poor substitute to drinking a wine), many producers presented aggressive, concentrated wines that seemed targeted to a market that was certainly not me. But which market is that?
There were, of course, people who enjoyed the bigger, bolder wines. There was certainly no uniformity of opinions amongst the buyers, bloggers, and journalists in attendance. There was also no uniformity of wines we tasted, but the majority of the lighter styled wines were tasted with the producers themselves either at their wineries or at the later dinners, and not at the official blind tasting. The difference between cuvees could be extreme. I would leave tastings in the morning with the idea that a producer is a heavy handed modernist, and taste a wine from the same producer later in the day that was fresh, bright and expressive. If it wasn’t for this my impression of the event would be almost completely negative.
Of course I’m not an entire market, and the amount of wine I buy is negligible in the grand scheme of things. I also realize that my opinion is niche and the wines I like and the wines that keep many wineries afloat aren’t at all the same. I can’t fault these producers for making wines they think they will sell. Idealism is for crappy bloggers, not for people who are making a living.
Despite all this I can’t help but come from this with the impression that most of the barberas I drank had the soul vinified out of them. There was a chaotic mix of stylistic choices taken in the wines, even on the heavily concentrated, extracted side the wines were all over the place in terms of where the winemaker wanted them to be. In five wines you could go from a fresh vivace style barbera to something so oaked and extracted that even identifying it as barbera would be difficult. So again I ask, what market are these meant for? Who is going to buy a wine if they can’t be sure of what the bottle they are buying is going to end up like?
I did find a great number of very friendly winemakers who wanted to hear our opinions, talk to us, listen to our bullshit, answer our questions, and know what we thought of the wines, for good or ill. It was interesting to be that close in the exchange of ideas, producer and taster. Generally there is a large disconnect. Even when blogging about something the next day some of the visceral opinions are edited out, changed, or simply forgotten. It’s impossible to this in front of someone pouring the wines, and I thought the bloggers as a whole did a good job being honest. There were things we liked and didn’t like, and we said so, and we were asked “why?” I think for this reason alone the whole thing was worth it.
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 furiously punning my name in retaliation.