“No grape has known such a dramatic upgrade in its fortunes and image in the last 20 years than Barbera in Piemonte, north-west Italy.”
It was thanks to my friend and top wine blogger Cara Rutherford that I came across this quote from Master of Wine Jancis Robinson’s website (thank you, Cara!): “No grape has known such a dramatic upgrade in its fortunes and image in the last 20 years than Barbera in Piemonte, north-west Italy.”
(Check out the JancisRobinson.com free page on Barbera here; and don’t miss Cara’s excellent post on her trip to Barbera country late last year.) I concur wholehearted that Barbera has experienced a “dramatic upgrade in its fortunes and image.”
But then why is it that so many American sommeliers still haven’t discovered the joy of Barbera d’Asti?
The author of the JancisRobinson.com post offers a few theories as to why Barbera is not more popular today. I’m not in 100 percent agreement with all of them, although there is a nugget of truth in there somewhere.
The bottomline is this: Barbera is still lacking in “weird” factor. As veteran American wine writer Jon Bonné wrote recently in an op-ed for the Washington Post, “when it comes to wine, weird is the new normal.” He adds, “that’s for the better.”
I can’t say that I agree with him about “better.” But I do agree that “weird” has come to dominate the wine media and consequently the wine market in the U.S. in recent years. Like every avant-garde movement before it, the wine revolution of the post-financial crisis seemed hellbent on destroying what came before it (see Bonné’s account of the relationship between the crisis and new trends in wine over the last decade). The legions of self-appointed wine critics handily dispensed with all traditional wisdom in wine enthusiasm and appreciation. And that’s fine by me. It’s part of the ever-evolving world of wine. And that’s how it should be.
But Barbera has failed to produce a wine or a producer that have captured the imagination of the new generation of self-generated content creators. Ribolla found its way into the youthful American consciousness with “orange wine”. Chenin Blanc found its way into the glasses of hip sommeliers across America with radically “natural wine.” The other day, an über-hip sommelier here in Houston insisted that I try a classic method Nebbiolo.
Perhaps the best model for Barbera producers to look to is the rise of Beaujolais in the last decade. Gamay rapidly became one of America’s favorite hipster grapes thanks to the vision of a small handful of growers who reshaped consumers’ perceptions of the wines.
I’ve already surpassed my maximum word count for this post: Stay tuned for upcoming posts on how I think Barbera producers could reposition themselves for the new generation of “weird is the new normal” wine lovers.