A translation of Giorgio Gallesio’s landmark description of Barbera grape
Giorgio Gallesio (1772-1839) was a Genovese government official and diplomat. He was also one of the greatest botanists of all time: His landmark treatise on fruits grown in Italy, Pomona Italiana (Italian Pomology), is unrivalled for its groundbreaking contribution to Italian horticulture at the time, not to mention its gorgeous illustrations. Gallesio’s drawings (like the entry for Barbera above) include some of the earliest drawing of Italian grapes.
His entry on Barbera is widely quoted by 19th-century ampelographers and wine-focused publications, including the technical journal L’Enotecnico (Enotechnician). I found the text in a Google Books reproduction of an 1895 edition of the periodical (unfortunately, as far as I can ascertain, only the first chapter of Gallesio’s treatise is available online and it doesn’t include his entries on wine grapes). In Ampélographie universelle (Universal Ampelography), another landmark work first published in 1854, the celebrated French viticulturist Alexandre Pierre Odart devotes ample space to Gallesio’s entry on Barbera as he marvels at his predecessor’s acumen and he ponders Barbera’s potential as a fine wine grape (he only devotes a few lines to Nebbiolo; but more on that later).
Gallesio’s entry on Barbera firmly established the variety as one of Italy’s most important in the minds of growers and winemakers. And I’ve come across countless ampelographic works from the 19th century that reference it. Its publication could be considered a watershed moment in Barbera’s legacy. I have translated it here, I believe for the first time.
To economize space, I’ll publish my notes on the text in my next post. In the meantime, my translation follows.
“Barbera is one of the top grape varieties found in lower Monferrato, where it rivals even Nebbiolo and Tadone.* It has thick, striped canes and its leaves are smooth on top and hairy on the bottom. The bunches are long, the stems are brown, the berries oval and covered in bloom.”
“The wine produced from this grape is vermilion in color. It’s a generous wine, full of spirit, but also dense and difficult to clarify.** It’s a long-lived wine and when it’s been well made, it can age to perfection, even taking on the dry flavor of wines typically served with roast meat.”
“Distillers use it to obtain abundant alcohol and they prefer it to other grapes from Piedmont. Wine merchants wisely use it to improve weak wines and wines that lack color. Despite all of its advantages, it’s not as widely grown as it deserves.”
“Barbera is found in nearly all of the vineyards in Monferrato and in many others across Piedmont. But it’s mostly grown in the districts of Portacomaro, Moncalvo, and in all the beautiful hills that link Asti and Casal Monferrato townships. It’s probable that these two territories suit the temperament of this grape variety more than any other in Monferrato. And it’s also probable that the residents take extra care in growing Barbera because they own so many vineyards planted to this grape. It’s no coincidence that their vineyards are renowned for having the perfect soil and climate.”
* According to the Italian government’s official registry of grape varieties, Tadone is another name for Montanera, a grape once widely planted in Pinerolo township (province of Turin). The grape name is often used erroneously to denote a wide variety of Piedmont grapes.
** The editors of L’Enotecnico (published more than 50 years after Gallesio’s treatise) include this note. “This isn’t true in all cases. In fact, Barbera is generally easy to clarify with perfect results.”