I am pretty sure that the fruity freshness associated with Barbera will remain the everyday reality here in Monferrato, and that the majority of people will continue to celebrate and enjoy young Barbera for being exactly that.
Bad hair day? Yep. Monferrato. Conference. Posh dinner. And broken hair straighteners! I know the guys will find this difficult to understand, but I am a woman, and these things are important when it’s a big event. Italians set a lot of store by the importance of the Bella Figura – Italian women and men alike are quite particular about appearance, so I was horrified at the thought of letting the UK and Ireland down while there representing our wine industry.
I was in Monferrato as a guest speaker at a conference celebrating the 30th anniversary of a project to improve the quality of Barbera, using selected old vines and improving care in both the vineyard and the winery. I have mentioned before how it seems that Barbera can be seen as Cinderella here in the UK. This innovative attempt to raise Barbera’s image and profile has resulted in wines definitely worthy of ageing, and we had the privilege of tasting a vertical of 9 wines going back to the first vintage of 1987.
When I mentioned this to some wine friends in the UK before my trip, there was, I’m afraid, some derision, that Barbera can’t age. Our vertical tasting, however, showed that with improved vine selection and winemaking methods, that some vintages were indeed worthy of ageing. Fruit was still evident back until 2001, while older vintages showed elegance, complex tertiary notes, and all had a persistent finish. So, Cinderella can, and does, make it to the ball!
Despite this, I am pretty sure that the fruity freshness associated with Barbera will remain the everyday reality here in Monferrato, and that the majority of people will continue to celebrate and enjoy young Barbera for being exactly that. Perhaps, however, their experience has encouraged more producers to take another look at their vines, and winemaking techniques, since we continue to see the quality improve across the board here in this region.
The night before the event, we stayed in the pretty hilltop village of Vaglio Serra, in some newly converted holiday accommodation in the grounds of an old castle – a charming place to stay with a beautiful swimming pool overlooking the valley below. The castle itself was saved from disrepair by its new Scandinavian owners, who have been meticulous in its restoration. On arrival we met the Mayor of the village, who was very welcoming and clearly pleased
to be hosting us. I was still a bit preoccupied about my terrible hair and asked every woman I met if she had some hair straighteners I could borrow. Suddenly the Mayor himself reappeared with some belonging to his wife! What a relief! I was so grateful for this gesture, for thi man going above and beyond his civic duty. Honestly, the people of Monferrato are so kind and helpful.
The balmy evening was then spent in the company of various Barbera growers, and the President of the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato himself, Filippo Mabrici. Filippo, together with his two vice-presidents, Stefano Chiarlo and Lorenzo Giordano, and a board of advisors, oversee the activity of the region’s wine production, promotion of their wines at home and away, numerous research projects, and keeping a close eye on quality and authenticity. They seem to be a rather united group, working together for the greater good of the region. It would be nice to see a few more women on the board, of course, but I am sure that this will come in time.
So, this month I will leave you with memories of an excellent dinner overlooking the castle courtyard, where there was a concert of mellow jazz music from Italian cinema. Included was one of my favourites, the theme from Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, by Nicola Piovani; we actually had this at our wedding! What a perfect evening in the hills of Monferrato, accompanied by beautiful wines, and the bad hair day all but forgotten.