My Name is Barbera https://www.mynameisbarbera.com A storytelling Journey through Monferrato Fri, 03 Aug 2018 08:08:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 BAD HAIR DAY https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-hair-day/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-hair-day/#respond Wed, 25 Jul 2018 13:00:06 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4352 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…

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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.

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BARBERA IN ITALIAN VERSE https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-poetry-italian/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-poetry-italian/#respond Wed, 11 Jul 2018 13:00:29 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4342 A translation of Pascoli’s celebrated ode “A Ciapin”   In my last post, we looked at one of Barbera’s most famous appearances in literature. In Giovanni Pascoli’s “A Ciapin” (“To Ciapin”), the poet refers to Barbera using the feminine definite article: La Barbera. The line is often cited as evidence that Barbera is one of the rare examples of a feminine grape name. As promised, here is a translation of the poem in its entirety. Next week, I’ll share my commentary. Buona lettura! I hope you enjoy the poem as much as I enjoyed translating it…   “To Ciapin”   An ode…

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A translation of Pascoli’s celebrated ode “A Ciapin”

 

In my last post, we looked at one of Barbera’s most famous appearances in literature. In Giovanni Pascoli’s “A Ciapin” (“To Ciapin”), the poet refers to Barbera using the feminine definite article: La Barbera. The line is often cited as evidence that Barbera is one of the rare examples of a feminine grape name. As promised, here is a translation of the poem in its entirety. Next week, I’ll share my commentary.

Buona lettura! I hope you enjoy the poem as much as I enjoyed translating it…

 

“To Ciapin”

 

An ode by Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912). Originally published in 1899; reprinted in the anthology “Odi e Inni” in 1906.

Translated by Jeremy Parzen.

 

Not a drop has been shared from that pure

vintage you stored in the cellar below

three years ago, for when Pinotto*

arrives on leave.

 

that vintage flowed from the oak

on the hill, I believe; it despised the soil;

because no other had so much of your iron,

ironclad Piedmont;

 

like Abba Garima’s red tide,**

that vintage simmered as it was

shaken by a gloomy pulse under

the first moon of March;

 

and now it’s kept in a sturdy bottle,

a silent but strong heart that holds back

yesterday’s wrath and the long, dreary

thought of revenge:

 

Trusty Ciapin, let that vintage shudder

in the darkened bottles marked

with cautious wax! Leave it be and let

that Barbera age!

 

Do not drink the wine of the hero who seeks

in his drink oblivion for his heart and

trembling legs! He lives: There he is, wandering

alone among the ambas.***

 

Save the wine of the hero, silent

but alive. Unknown constellations

watch him, as do the lions’ broad eyes

between the acacias

 

Save the wine of the hero who wants

what he wants, who remains at the post

where he will return like the sun, determined

and happy, when…

 

Save what he keeps still in his heart

when our morsels are like dogs

to the savage ghebbì† and our honor

is like a servant…

 

Save your vermilion Barbera

for a day, not far off, when

all wrapped in his flag

Galliano returns.

 

* Giuseppe Galliano. Pinotto is a diminutive of Giuseppe.

** Abba Garima was one of the “Nine Saints” who helped to bring Christianity to Ethiopia in the 5th century. He and the other saints supposedly crossed the Red Sea from Asia (the Middle East) to Africa.

*** An amba is an distinctive Ethiopian landform, not unlike a mesa.

† A gehbbi is a royal fortress-city.

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I LOVE MONFERRATO https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/i-love-monferrato/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/i-love-monferrato/#respond Wed, 04 Jul 2018 17:00:41 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4090 Despite the soft glow of its sunlight, the easy pace of its rolling hills, and the centuries of history behind it, a sort of subterranean reinvention is constantly happening in Monferrato.   The time has come for me to put some retrospective perspective on my wine-soaked journey through Monferrato. I guess you could say that I’m supposed to be putting a sort of “exclamation point” on my thoughts and impressions of this magical Piedmontese place. But this is Italy, and if anything, Italy is predictably unpredictable, and so that exclamation point isn’t really going to happen. In fact, it’s probably…

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Despite the soft glow of its sunlight, the easy pace of its rolling hills, and the centuries of history behind it, a sort of subterranean reinvention is constantly happening in Monferrato.

 

The time has come for me to put some retrospective perspective on my wine-soaked journey through Monferrato. I guess you could say that I’m supposed to be putting a sort of “exclamation point” on my thoughts and impressions of this magical Piedmontese place.

But this is Italy, and if anything, Italy is predictably unpredictable, and so that exclamation point isn’t really going to happen. In fact, it’s probably going to look more like an ellipsis. Because while Monferrato is a place that’s easy to know on the surface, there is such cultural and gastronomic depth to explore here that you won’t be able to do it definitively within one lifetime (or even several lifetimes).

I’ll give you an example of how readily identifiable Piedmont seems at first. When I started this journey, I often posted pictures of our video work in the vineyards onto social media. I was pleasantly shocked by how many of my friends offered comments on those photos, most of which stated something along the lines of “that beautiful lighting, you must be in northern Italy!” If several of your friends can identify your location by the natural, unfiltered quality of light in your social media updates, then chances are pretty good that you are somewhere special and unique in the world. So hopefully I can be forgiven for (arrogantly) thinking that I already “knew” Piedmont long before I got to Monferrato to start this journey.

If I could pin down one thing to tell you about Monferrato that makes it special, it would be its depth. It’s the thing about the region that (if you’re like me, anyway) you’re most likely to overlook as you focus on the long traditions and history of area. Those aspects are all amazing, of course, and quintessentially Italian, but they are like pieces of a landscape that has, underneath it, a foundation that is always slowly flowing and changing, offering something new without ever upsetting the beauty or validity of the long-standing things that it supports.

If you look away too long, you miss those subtle, yet constant changes that Monferrato offers to those who are paying closer attention: the inventive takes on traditional peasant farmer meals that transform them into funky, delicious haute cuisine; the diversity of its Barbera wines, which offer something compelling at almost every conceivable price-point and for almost every possible occasion and food pairing; the surprising longevity of the wines of Nizza that now cap the region’s quality pyramid, and that can rival more famous Italian wine styles in aging and substance.

Despite the soft glow of its sunlight, the easy pace of its rolling hills, and the centuries of history behind it, this sort of subterranean reinvention is constantly happening in Monferrato, with interesting developments regularly bubbling up to the surface at the coaxing of the region’s forward-thinking and inventive inhabitants. Many of those developments end up taking their place right alongside the more ancient and traditional offerings in Monferrato, without the area losing identity or seeming culturally out of place. When you stop to think about all of that for a minute, it starts to sink in just how truly remarkable it is. Few places in the world are special enough to be able to reinvent themselves without actually reinventing themselves, to remain as vibrant and as alive and as fresh the wines that they produce.

I’ll be talking more, and more specifically, about my thoughts on those wines as we wrap up my journey here (specifically with regards to Barbera and the supporting cast of other grapes that have done so well in Monferrato in recent decades); what made my heart leap, my taste buds sing, and where I think that things are going for those wines in the future, so stay tuned for those.

For now, I can tell you that I’d rather not have my Monferrato journey end, at least not in the traditional sense, because even if I were to have been able to tell you everything worth knowing about the region’s wine scene right now (which I’m not actually able to do), thanks to how wonderfully remarkable the place is, my telling would start to be out-of-date just as soon as we hit the Publish button on the post. And that’s why this sentiment isn’t really an exclamation point on my trip, so much as it is a hope for meeting again in the future, and a love letter to the promise that future holds for Monferrato.

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BARBERA, THE POET AND THE SOLDIER… https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-pascoli/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-pascoli/#respond Wed, 27 Jun 2018 13:00:41 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4330 When I set out to write this post, the working title was “Is Barbera masculine or feminine?” But like so many instances of the best intentions, the subject quickly changed into something else much more significant in my view.   Many have written about the mention of Barbera and the associated use of the feminine definite article “la” in Giovanni Pascoli’s celebrated poem “A Ciapin” (“[Letter] to Ciapin”). For Anglophone readers not familiar with Giovanni Pascoli, he was one of the greatest Italian poets, literary scholars, and critical theorists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, he’s considered…

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When I set out to write this post, the working title was “Is Barbera masculine or feminine?” But like so many instances of the best intentions, the subject quickly changed into something else much more significant in my view.

 

Many have written about the mention of Barbera and the associated use of the feminine definite article “la” in Giovanni Pascoli’s celebrated poem “A Ciapin” (“[Letter] to Ciapin”).

For Anglophone readers not familiar with Giovanni Pascoli, he was one of the greatest Italian poets, literary scholars, and critical theorists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, he’s considered one of the classics and his works are still adored, studied, and widely discussed by Italian laypeople, students, and university professors.

In 1899, he first published what would become one of his most celebrated odes (a metrical genre inspired by his studies of Greek prosody): “A Ciapin” (“To Ciapin”). Here’s the last stanza, together with a literal English rendering.

 

Serba la tua purpurea barbèra

per quando, un giorno che non è lontano,

tutto ravvolto nella sua bandiera

torni Galliano.

 

Save your purple Barbera

For a day not so far off when

Galliano returns all wrapped 

In his flag.

 

The lines are often cited by Italian linguists as an example of a wine name that is feminine not masculine — an anomaly. The overwhelming majority of Italian wine names are masculine: il Brunello, il Barolo, il Taurasi, il Montepluciano d’Abruzzo, etc…

As the often overlooked and under-appreciated Italian wine writer Paolo Monelli wrote in the 1930s, “it’s one of the few wines that are feminine… like la Freisa, l’Albana, la Vernaccia…”

The reason why so many Italian writers have devoted substantive ink to this question is that the average Italian is often perplexed by the notion of a wine name that is feminine in gender.

As the editors of the Corriere della Sera write definitively in this lengthy entry for their online Italian dictionary “il Barbera [masc.] is incorrect; la Barbera [fem.] is correct.

The stanza above from Pascoli — one of the most authoritative voices of the Italian language — is just one of the many erudite sources they quote.

 

Even though some ampelographers continue to use the masculine definite article when referring to the grape name (il Barbera), most scholars agree that the correct form (for the wine) is feminine.

As I pored over the grammatical notes and reread the ode by Pascoli preparing to write this post, it occurred to me: Yes, the poem is important in as much as it gives us a linguistic anchor in speaking and writing about Barbera but what about the role of Barbera — the grape and wine — in the poem itself?

Pascoli was inspired to write the ode by a letter penned by the renowned Italian soldier Giuseppe Galliano (1846-96) who had fought and died famously in Italy’s first colonial war in Ethiopia (to give you a sense of what a popular figure he was at the time, consider that Galliano liqueur is named after him.

In the letter, Galliano, under siege in Adwa where he would perish (depicted in the engraving), asks a friend to save him a bottle of Barbera “Ciapin” for his (unlikely) return. The conceit makes for a powerful missive and lyric, rich with patriotic fervor and cinematic tension.

 

A couple of things strike me about the role of the wine.

 

1) Galliano doesn’t ask for Barolo or Nebbiolo, he asks for Barbera. In other words, the dying man must have considered Barbera to be not only a top wine but also a wine that evoked his homeland.

2) Reading the notes about the poem from the Pascoli archives, I discovered that Pascoli made a mistake: He believed that “Ciapin” was the intended recipient of the poem. In fact, Ciapin was a Barbera designation. In other words, Barbera was such an important wine at the time that it could merit a special label.

I’ll explain the resolution of Pascoli’s confusion and share a complete translation of the poem together with my notes in my next post. Thanks for reading and stay tuned…

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FROM GOOD BARBERA TO GREAT BARBERA https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/good-great-barbera/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/good-great-barbera/#respond Wed, 20 Jun 2018 13:00:59 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4318 What makes a good wine? The one you can afford? The one you can give out as a present? The one you enjoy in the best moments of your life? The expensive one? Everyone will come up with their own answer.   It’s no big secret: Barbera is one of the most widely planted grape varieties in Italy (one can find it virtually in every region) but also abroad. While many know the connection to Asti and Alba, experts talk more and more about its origins in the rolling hills of Monferrato, Piedmont, where, unlike the neighboring regions, it normally…

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What makes a good wine? The one you can afford? The one you can give out as a present? The one you enjoy in the best moments of your life? The expensive one? Everyone will come up with their own answer.

 

It’s no big secret: Barbera is one of the most widely planted grape varieties in Italy (one can find it virtually in every region) but also abroad. While many know the connection to Asti and Alba, experts talk more and more about its origins in the rolling hills of Monferrato, Piedmont, where, unlike the neighboring regions, it normally occupies the best available vineyards.

So what’s there to do about it, when the grape goes that popular around the world? Well, make the best Barbera possible! While many people who hasn’t tried good Barbera still believe it’s a grape that gives wines a bit high in acidity, top Barbera producers know how to soothe the wine and pack it’s nerving acidity into beautiful, harmonious wine. As a blending grape Barbera used to bring necessary addition to the famous wines of Piedmont, but now when it’s out there on its own, winemakers are looking for ways to make it a healthy standalone wine.

Many of them has found the perfect recipe for combining soils, grapes and gentle barrel maturation, others are still on their way.

Bottle maturation is also something not many winemakers do today, but personally I think it’s a must if one wants to show the real potential of Barbera. There always will be a hard battle between the market forces (that require Barberas to be shipped and consumed young) and the need to express the terroirs and produce the best wine possible out there.

Make no mistake: we have examples of great Barberas, both from producers big and small. It’s possible, but there’s a strong need for will to do so, for the understanding of the current consumer palates around the world. As in many other cases, although, the great Barberas need to be sought after: brilliant and intense, balanced and bright, fruity and complex, these wines leave not much to ask for. It’s not that I’m the first one to discover the flexibility of this grape.

There’s no doubt in my mind Barbera is yet to show its full potential on a larger scale. I’ve seen nice producers and I’ve seen great producers that handle the variety in a way it gives out both fruity and terroir characters.

 

Isn’t this the ultimate goal for a great Barbera d’Asti?

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BARBERA, THE ORIGIN OF THE GRAPE NAME https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/what-does-barbera-mean/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/what-does-barbera-mean/#comments Wed, 06 Jun 2018 13:00:36 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4306 An early 16th century medical manual lists barberry lozenges as a commonly used cure.   In today’s world of hypercorrective ampelography, it’s hard to believe that people didn’t used to care as much about grape names as we do in the contemporary age. Writers on agriculture didn’t began to record grape variety names on a wide scale until the latter half of the 19th century. And even those early modern ampelographers couldn’t rival today’s giddy obsessions with the etymologies of grape names. Contemporary wine writers can’t seem to resist the urge to dip their toes in the etymological waters. And…

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An early 16th century medical manual lists barberry lozenges as a commonly used cure.

 

In today’s world of hypercorrective ampelography, it’s hard to believe that people didn’t used to care as much about grape names as we do in the contemporary age. Writers on agriculture didn’t began to record grape variety names on a wide scale until the latter half of the 19th century. And even those early modern ampelographers couldn’t rival today’s giddy obsessions with the etymologies of grape names.

Contemporary wine writers can’t seem to resist the urge to dip their toes in the etymological waters. And despite their access to Google Books and the growing legions of searchable encyclopedic resources available online, they continue to wax philologic (and errouneous) over the origins of ampelonyms like Sangiovese and Aglianico (even though the former doesn’t mean “the blood of Jove,” nor is the latter a cognate for Hellenic).

But in the case of Barbera, Hermes generously let the experts off the hook: Most concede that the origin of this grape name, which didn’t begin to appear in print until the 18th century, is unknown. Ian D’Agata sums up the current state of Barbera philology in his landmark work ‘Native Grapes of Italy’ (which I highly recommend to you).

“The origin of its name is unclear; Pietro Ratti of Renato Ratti feels it’s a derivation of barbaro (barbarian) due to its deep red color, while others believe the origin is vinum berberis, an astringent, acidic, and deeply hued medieval drink. Vinum berberis is different from the vitibus berbexinis referred to in a 1249 document located in the archives of Casale Monferrato, which was most likely another variety, Barbesino or Berbesino, better known today as Grignolino”.

For the record, vinum berberis was a barberry elixir. And medicinal barberry extract was more commonly applied on a lozenge (a troche, in English, trochiscus in Latin) than in a vinum or wine. Even when we turn to a more authoritative source, our grand desire to uncover Barbera’s origin story remains unfulfilled.

The Treccani Italian dictionary (a benchmark of the Italian academy) offers two possible etyma: The first is the Latin grape name albuelis, notably mentioned in Columella and Pliny. It’s a linguistic stretch, however possible (Barbera could be a metathetical reduplicative contamination). The second is that Barbera comes from the toponym Barberi, a hamlet in Turin (Torino) province.

Piedmont abounds with place names that begin in Barb-. To illustrate this, I culled this partial list from the Region of Piedmont’s official toponomastic index: Barbania Barbania Barbania Barbantana Barbara Barbarana Barbaresco Barbaria Barbarini Barbarino Barbarossa Barbarossa Barbasco Barbaso Barbassa Barbatanotta Barbato Barbavara Barbavara Barbe Barbe’ Barbe Barbei Barbella Barbellotta Barbencia Barbera Barbera Barbera Barbera Barbera Barbera Barberi Barberi Barberino Barberio Barberis Barberis Barbero Barbero Barbero Barbesina Barbet Barbetera Barbetta Barbetta Barbetti Barbiasso Barbiere Barbieri Barbieri…

Not only are there at least two places known as Barberi in Piedmont, there are at least six places called Barbera, not to mention the handful of places named Barbero. Most scholars believe that these place names come from the Latin barbarus from the Greek barbaros, meaning foreigner or foreign sounding (it’s believed to be onomatopoeic in nature, akin to the English blah blah blah). One of the reasons for this is that Piedmont is a historic borderland where foreigners crossed into and out of the Italic peninsula. The hilltop villages of Langa, for example, were once outposts that could alert valley dwellers when invaders approached. The towns also provided shelter and food for travelers passing through. It wasn’t uncommon to hear foreign accents there despite the villages’ relative isolation.

Because of Barbera’s profound connection to Monferrato and Langa (both in Piedmont) and because of Piedmont’s preponderance of place names starting in Barb and their resonance with the ampelonym, I believe that Barbera’s origin lies somewhere among the loci where it has been historically grown and consumed. Whether it’s Barberi, Barbera, Barbero, or even Barbaresco (where Barbera is also famously grown), I am convinced that the linguistic affinity with Piedmontese toponomy holds the key to its etymology. Philology is an inexact science and it’s unlikely that we will uncover the answer to this linguistic conundrum. But when we consider that so many Italian grape names are associated with the places where the varieties are grown (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Nero d’Avola, Brachetto d’Acqui), it’s not unlikely that Barbera took its same from one of the myriad “barbarian” villages in its spiritual homeland.

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THE ESSENCE OF MONFERRATO https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/monferrato-essence/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/monferrato-essence/#respond Wed, 30 May 2018 17:00:17 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4293 Let us paint the picture for you so you can feel the essence of Monferrato – the essence that is Barbera d’Asti.  I often wonder how much thought people give to the origin of the wine in their glass – do they have a sense of place as they sit in their U.K. pizza restaurant with a bottle of Barbera d’Asti? Any images in their mind of the beautiful vineyard where the grapes are grown, or the care and hard work of the grower in the vineyard and the winery? I can’t help but think that if they knew more…

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Let us paint the picture for you so you can feel the essence of Monferrato – the essence that is Barbera d’Asti. 

I often wonder how much thought people give to the origin of the wine in their glass – do they have a sense of place as they sit in their U.K. pizza restaurant with a bottle of Barbera d’Asti? Any images in their mind of the beautiful vineyard where the grapes are grown, or the care and hard work of the grower in the vineyard and the winery?

I can’t help but think that if they knew more that it would enhance the experience for them. Images of both landscapes and people would surely breathe life into the glass. We see Barbera d’Asti frequently on wine lists in the U.K., both in independent and chain restaurants, yet I see little written about it, hear little spoken about it. And yet, Barbera is the life blood of Monferrato, an everyday reality.

monferrato open spaceWhen I first visited Monferrato I was enchanted by the lush rolling landscapes, the order of the vineyards introduced amid the forests and woodland by the farmer, the grower, over the centuries. This influence of the hand of man, this perfect synergy, was instrumental in the recognition of Monferrato as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

If we look more closely, we can see a wide variation in the terroir too, resulting in different styles of wine depending on site. This, of course, is currently topical in the Nizza DOCG appellation as the producers seeks to differentiate the different crus, as is common in Barolo and Barbaresco. Indeed I had the pleasure at Vinitaly recently of tasting different expressions of Nizza in a masterclass on this very subject. It was clear that the different vineyard sites did indeed result in subtle variations worthy of classification.

Let us return to the diner, eating his pizza or pasta and drinking Barbera in a small town or big city restaurant in the U.K. Is it possible to bring the region to life for this consumer? Perhaps they might look for Barbera in a search engine on their smartphone. What will they find? I know from the many Twitter chats that I have hosted over the last few years that consumers love a story. They love to hear about a winery, the people behind the wine. Family wineries are always popular but so too are the stories behind challenges, such as acquiring DOCG status, as achieved recently by Nizza, stories of the determination to improve the quality of wines, and stories of all moves to improve sustainability. Perhaps we can provide this background, this vision, through this mynameisbarbera website.

barbera grapeI have a good friend in the U.K., Jim, a regular participant of my Twitter chat, who lived and worked in Piemonte for many years. Now retired, he still loves to talk about his time there, and indeed travels back often with his lovely wife to revisit old haunts, old friends, and old favourite wines. His fondness for the Piemontese is clearly evident. He told me once that he finds the friendly people of the region very humble, shy and reserved, a little hesitant about shouting to the world about their great wine. Well perhaps this is where I, and other overseas wine writers can help. Let us do the shouting! Let us get the message to the regular wine drinker, with his or her pasta or pizza on an evening out with friends or family.

The wine in your carafe, my friend, comes from one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Let us show you the images, the landscape, the grapes. Let us paint the picture for you so you can feel the essence of Monferrato – the essence that is Barbera d’Asti.

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A RED WINE TO CHILL FOR SUMMER GRILLS https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/grill-wine-pairing-memorial/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/grill-wine-pairing-memorial/#comments Wed, 23 May 2018 13:00:31 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4276 Could Barbera be at all-american wine?   Americans love summer. And Americans love grilling.   And there’s no date more important in the summer -and grill- lovers calendar than Memorial Day, the last Monday in May: A much anticipated long weekend, a national and federal holiday, and (most importantly) commemoration for those who have given their lives for our country (hence the name “memorial”). Memorial Day is also the unofficial start of summer. The official start of summer this year is June 21. But in America, Memorial Day marks the end of the school year, the beginning of summer hours…

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Could Barbera be at all-american wine?

 

Americans love summer. And Americans love grilling.

 

And there’s no date more important in the summer -and grill- lovers calendar than Memorial Day, the last Monday in May: A much anticipated long weekend, a national and federal holiday, and (most importantly) commemoration for those who have given their lives for our country (hence the name “memorial”).

Memorial Day is also the unofficial start of summer. The official start of summer this year is June 21. But in America, Memorial Day marks the end of the school year, the beginning of summer hours for New Yorkers, and the first weekend when families across the United States will dust off their grills and start grilling in the backyard and by the pool.

 

And when it comes to what Americans love to grill, the sky is the limit!

 

A quick Google search for “best Memorial Day recipes” delivered this wonderful list of 36 recipes compiled by the good folks at Country Living. They lean to the traditional side of the spectrum. One of the more daring recipes (and my personal favorite) was this riff on the all-American classic, “Coffee-Rubbed Burger with Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce.” Ha!

Another highlight from my search was this superb list of “60 Simple Memorial Day Weekend Grilling Recipes” from the editors at Bon appétit. “Soy-Basted Chicken Kebabs with Sesame-Citrus Sprinkle,” “Cumin-Chile Lamb Kebabs with Garlic Yogurt,” and “Grilled Halloumi with Watermelon and Basil-Mint Oil” were just a few of the more intriguing entries. But it was “The BA Burger Deluxe,” with its promise of deliverance to “burger heaven,” that really got me (see this photo and weep!).

Whether you’re simply grilling Hebrew Nationals and Costco burgers or your attempting something a bit more exotic like “Gochujang Pork Shoulder Steaks,” you’re going to need wine for you and your guests. And not just any wine.

Even the most simple of summer grills in America brings together a wide and disparate range of flavors: From the heat of mustard and hot sauce to the tang of bbq sauce and Asian accents; from the sweet flavors of hot dog buns and summer corn and squash to the mouth-watering fatty flavors of seared ground beef and smoked brisket…

The bottomline is that you need a wine with extreme versatility, a wine that can stand up to heat and acidity and a wine that simultaneously can complement the umami flavors of grilled meats. White wine works up to a certain extent. But when it comes to the fattier meats (not to mention sausage), you really need a red wine. And ideally, you need a red wine that you can chill. It is summertime, after all!

And that’s where Barbera comes in, especially the fresh and clean style of stainless-steel aged Barbera, where you also have a convergence of affordability, approachability (key for a crowd that includes wine lovers and wine-curious folks), and juicy red fruit flavors.

Scrolling back through all the recipes listed above, there’s not one that wouldn’t benefit from a pairing with a Barbera. And from the French’s Mustard that I will slather on my Hebrew National this weekend to Dr. Pepper glaze that I’ll use to baste my slow-fried baby back ribs, a glass of slightly chilled Barbera will hit the spot with flying colors.

I can’t think of a better, more versatile, or satisfying wine to open for our family’s Memorial Day party this weekend. And it won’t even break the bank (a good thing, since we are expecting a lot of people this weekend!).

 

Happy Memorial Day, everyone! Happy grilling!

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FIT FOR A KING: THE FIRST MENTION OF BARBERA D’ASTI? https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/boccaccio-monferrato-hen/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/boccaccio-monferrato-hen/#respond Wed, 16 May 2018 13:00:43 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4260 The pivotal moment of the tale is a feast that the marchioness prepares to welcome her guest. Wine is served, of course. The narrator notes that there were “vini ottimi e preziosi.”   Ampelographers widely agree that the earliest known mentions of Barbera date back to the 18th century. But they’re not surprised by this. Surveys of Italian grape varieties and viticulture began to appear as early as the 14th century. But they focused primarily on central and southern Italy. Although there are some notable precursors (like Agostino Gallo’s “Giornate”, published in Brescia in the 16thcentury), it’s not until the late pre-industrial age that we first start…

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The pivotal moment of the tale is a feast that the marchioness prepares to welcome her guest. Wine is served, of course. The narrator notes that there were “vini ottimi e preziosi.”

 

Ampelographers widely agree that the earliest known mentions of Barbera date back to the 18th century. But they’re not surprised by this. Surveys of Italian grape varieties and viticulture began to appear as early as the 14th century. But they focused primarily on central and southern Italy. Although there are some notable precursors (like Agostino Gallo’s “Giornate”, published in Brescia in the 16thcentury), it’s not until the late pre-industrial age that we first start to find descriptions of grape growing and winemaking in northern Italy. Piedmont (where Monferrato is located) doesn’t begin to get much attention from ampelographers until the mid- and late 19th century.

But viticultural Monferrato has a truly illustrious mention in the 14th century in one of Italy’s greatest literary works: Boccaccio’s Decameron. The tale of the “Marchioness of Monferrato” (Day 1, Novella 5) recounts the story of the king of France and the wife of the Marquess (Marquis) of Monferrato. The king has heard of her beauty and wants to seduce her during her husband’s absence. You can read the novella in English here (it won’t take you more than 10 minutes to read it; please do check it out because it’s a great story and very topical today in the light of the #MeToo movement).

 

During Boccaccio’s lifetime, Monferrato was already renowned as a rich and fertile March, a kingdom borderland (hence the titles marquess and marchioness) known also for its contribution to the crusades (the marchioness’ husband, a paladin, is on a crusade when the king visits and the king is also on his way to join a crusade). The pivotal moment of the tale is a feast that the marchioness prepares to welcome her guest. Wine is served, of course. The narrator notes that there were “vini ottimi e preziosi.” Most translators render the phrase as “excellent and rare wines” and it’s a good translation in my opinion.

But if we look a little more closely at the word “preziosi” or “precious” (its English cognate), we discover that it had a particular meaning during the Italian Middle Ages, not dissimilar from its meaning today but not exactly the same. In fact, in Boccaccio’s Italian writings, the term “prezioso” is reserved, for example, for the “precious blood of martyrs”. It’s not uncommon in the Italian Middle Ages for the word to be applied to the “precious blood of Christ” to give you another example. While I agree with the translation “rare”, it’s clear that by “vini preziosi” Boccaccio and his narrator meant “quasi sacred wines”, the very best of the best.

 

Were the wines that the marchioness served to the king made from Barbera? It’s impossible to say. Was Monferrato already renowned as a region for the production of fine wine, “worthy a king,” by the late Middle Ages? There’s no doubt.

Whether or not they were made from Barbera, we can be certain that the production of fine wine in northern Italy can trace its origins, in part, to Monferrato. Long before the Langhe Hills, Novara, or Valtellina would become famous for their Nebbiolo, Monferrato already produced wines fit for a king.

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NIZZA TASTING (NUMBER TWO) https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/nizza-tasting-number-two/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/nizza-tasting-number-two/#respond Wed, 09 May 2018 17:00:10 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4107 In fact, what we did drink were Nizza that, if anything, wore their years as well as any aging heartthrob.   In this Barbera in the Glass episode, I wrap up my tasting of Monferrato’s top Barbera class – the Nizza Docg –  by putting one of its biggest and boldest claims to the test. Nizza producers often tout their wines’ ability to age in the bottle as gracefully and nearly as long as Piedmonte’s often-celebrated (and usually much more expensive) reds wines. Are they seriously onto something by singing the praises of long-aged Nizza from the bottle? Or is…

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In fact, what we did drink were Nizza that, if anything, wore their years as well as any aging heartthrob.

 

In this Barbera in the Glass episode, I wrap up my tasting of Monferrato’s top Barbera class – the Nizza Docg –  by putting one of its biggest and boldest claims to the test. Nizza producers often tout their wines’ ability to age in the bottle as gracefully and nearly as long as Piedmonte’s often-celebrated (and usually much more expensive) reds wines.

Are they seriously onto something by singing the praises of long-aged Nizza from the bottle? Or is this just marketing talk? In my tasting of Nizza wines with one of the region’s strongest proponents, Gianni, I got a hands-on (and lips-on) chance to answer those questions for myself.

Gianni and I tasted Nizza wines going all the way back to the 2010 and 2009 vintages, so in this video we are putting red wines with nearly an entire decade of aging behind them under the critical microscope. Certainly, if a wine doesn’t have serious bottle aging potential, it is very likely to have already fallen flat on its liquid face by this point in its evolution. In other words, we could reasonably expect reds with these kinds of ages to taste a lot more like vinegar than like fine wine.

So… I know what you are thinking… What the hell happened? Did Nizza live up to the hype?

Well, I really don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I kind of stink at keeping secrets. What I will tell you is that Gianni and I were definitely not drinking any vinegar at the table on that day. In fact, what we did drink were Nizza that, if anything, wore their years as well as any aging heartthrob, while still possessing that streak of youthful enthusiasm and liveliness that beats through the heart of almost all of Astesan Barbera wines. Have a look for yourself in the video!

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