Barbera is so “pop wine” that she’s not afraid of Tomatoes… but she loves robust stews and steaks too.
Today, we’re going to take a closer look at one of the “faces” of our pop wine Barbera, in its native Italian classification pyramid: namely, Barbera d’Asti.
Barbera d’Asti is probably the Barbera grape’s most immediate, “user-friendly” fine wine incarnation – in terms of flavor, approachability, and affordability – but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s somehow the pauper’s version of Barbera. Barbera d’Asti might arguably be the red wine king of “popular” wines, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have the makings of something special. Think of it this way: Barbera d’Asti is the Michael Jackson of red wines.
Yes, I am serious.
With respect to modern music, Jackson was, in his prime, the undisputed King of Pop. But just because his tunes had a wide reach and could be immediately appreciated, he wasn’t without immense amounts of talent, authenticity, and craftsmanship when it came to his art. Jackson didn’t become the King of Pop by mistake; he had a rare combination of musical pedigree, raw talent, and an undeniable “wow” factor of performance chops.
Barbera d’Asti, our pop wine, has that same rare combination, only in vinous terms (at least, I’ve never seen a bottle of it do the moonwalk, but after drinking a bottle of it, I’ve certainly been convinced that I could moonwalk with the best of them).
Michael Jackson was a child prodigy product of The Jackson 5, one of the most dynamic Motown groups in history; it made sense that he would grow up to dominate a cross-over sound between R&B, pop, and rock music. Like Jackson, Barbera d’Asti has an impressive pedigree; the grape has been cultivated since the Middle Ages to make wine for personal use, but its first documented use dates back to the early 1500s.
Barbera is a hardy grape, and like Jackson, it can be prolific in its production of a quality product (in this case, grapes instead of tunes), so it spread quickly throughout Monferrato, Asti and Alessandria. In the late 1700s, it was a popular enough wine to be recorded as a Piemonte wine by the Count Nuvolone for the Società Agraria di Torino, and was commanding good prices from customers in the surrounding big cities. Once the road to Geneva opened up, Barbera wine from the Asti area found itself popular on the international market, as well.
Not too shabby of a background, is it? But it wasn’t until modern times that Barbera d’Asti “grew up” and started its high quality solo career…
In the 1980s, producers of Barbera in the Asti region started to exploit the full range of the grape’s fine wine potential. This is when you could say that our pop wine started releasing its hit solo albums. Some producers in the region began to focus on improving the quality of Barbera wines, and started to select particular vine clones, more closely monitor grape ripeness development and grape selection for harvests, and, importantly, thinned out Barbera’s potentially vigorous production (to improve the balance of the remaining grapes). In the winery, a growing professionalism saw more modern techniques introduced, such as controlled fermentation.
That work honed the raw talents of the Barbera grape variety in Asti. It’s a consistent producer of grape bunches, with high levels of mouth-watering acidity, as well as having a deep, bright purple color and low levels of tannins. All of this makes Barbera from Asti a wine that is almost always immediately delicious, and, like Jackson’s music, it can find a good place in almost any situation; in this case, when paired with a wide range of foods, from simple pizzas and pastas (the “Pop Wine”Barbera d’Asti is NOT afraid of tomatoes!), to more robust stews and steaks.
The “Wow” Factor
Yeah, Michael Jackson had singing and musical chops, but he also had something… extra. Anyone who witnessed the King of Pop perform saw something that couldn’t quite be explained through raw talent and pedigree alone. Jackson commanded the stage, and performed with an essence of stardom that is difficult to quantify. In other words, he had the “wow” factor.
I’d argue that Barbera d’Asti has a “wow” factor, too. Like Jackson, despite its undeniable popular appeal, it has something extra. It has a sense of blending old-school European authenticity with a modern, clean, focused presentation. Barbera d’Asti can be both a fresh and easy-to-imbibe wine, as well as a wine that has a sense of something a bit more complex brewing right under the surface.
Some of this can be explained, of course. The fruity approachability of a pop wine like Barbera d’Asti, and its suitability for just about any dining purpose comes, in part, from fermenting in stainless steel, which preserves its vibrant red fruit flavors and its ample freshness on the palate. Its aromatic complexity generally from using fruit from the region’s older vines. But… that sense of authenticity, or craftsmanship, that you often find in our pop wine? Personally, I don’t know where that comes from. I suspect, like that special something that Jackson had in his heyday performances, it comes from a combination of everything that was mentioned in the above paragraphs.
Not everything really needs to be explained, however. I’m ok with the notion of Jackson’s abilities being somewhat of a mystery.
And I’m ok with Barbera d’Asti’s abilities being a bit mysterious, too.