My Name is Barbera https://www.mynameisbarbera.com A storytelling Journey through Monferrato Wed, 06 Jun 2018 13:00:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 BARBERA, THE ORIGIN OF THE GRAPE NAME https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/what-does-barbera-mean/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/what-does-barbera-mean/#respond 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/#respond 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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WHEN BARBERA SAVED THE (WINE) WORLD https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/gallesio-oudart-barbera-barolo-cavour/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/gallesio-oudart-barbera-barolo-cavour/#respond Wed, 02 May 2018 12:00:18 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4240 The fact of the matter is that Barbera was the grape of Piedmont at the time and, gauging from Odart, possibly the grape of Italy.   First of all, we need to get something straight. There was no 19th-century enologist named Louis Oudart. And Piedmont statesman and winemaker Camillo Cavour (one of the architects of Italian independence) never summoned the imaginary Louis Oudart to come to the Langhe Hills from France so that he could teach the Piedmontese to make wine. It’s not clear where this nugget originated but it has sadly propagated itself throughout the literature devoted to Barolo — on…

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The fact of the matter is that Barbera was the grape of Piedmont at the time and, gauging from Odart, possibly the grape of Italy.

 

First of all, we need to get something straight.

There was no 19th-century enologist named Louis Oudart. And Piedmont statesman and winemaker Camillo Cavour (one of the architects of Italian independence) never summoned the imaginary Louis Oudart to come to the Langhe Hills from France so that he could teach the Piedmontese to make wine.

It’s not clear where this nugget originated but it has sadly propagated itself throughout the

literature devoted to Barolo — on both sides of the Atlantic.

I’ve pored through ALL of Cavour’s collected letters at the Columbia University research library. And while there are countless references to wine, the sale and purchase of wine, gifts of wine, comparisons of French and Piedmontese wine, there is no mention — whatsoever — of Louis Oudart.

There was however a famous 19th-century French botanist and expert winemaker named Alexandre-Pierre Odart (sometimes spelled erroneously as Oudart, with a hypercorrective “u”) who was keenly interested in Italian grape varieties and in Italian wines, especially Piedmontese wines. He was the author, among other landmark titles like his Manual of Enology, of Universal Ampelography, revised and reprinted at least 14 time during the 1800s.

In this groundbreaking ampelographic masterwork, he has high praise for the “magnificent work” of his contemporary, Italian botanist and ampelographer Giorgio Gallesio.

In my last post for this series, I translated  Gallesio’s entry on Barbera, a text widely referenced throughout the second half of the century as the definitive description of the variety.

Odart translates Gallesio’s entry almost in its entirety. But this is understandable considering his veneration for Barbera. He is so impressed with Barbera that he almost betrays the legendary viticultural pride of the French people:

“Barbera Vera [True Barbera] and Barbera d’Asti has all the necessary elements found in a good quality wine… especially for those who consider color as a desired quality. The wine that it produces is full bodied, with good flavor and alcohol. Recognized for its productivity, it can be helpful in many cases, [for example] in [challenging] vintages it can deliver 13 percent alcohol [levels]… Some place so much faith in this grape that one might conclude that the wines of Italy and Spain [sic] are better than the wines of Champagne and Bourgogne. But this this is an unsustainable proposition… excusable [if it were put forth] by a professor of physics but not by someone who has tasted the wines I mention above. Nonetheless, the value of this variety has been consecrated by the opinion of Count Gallesio”

Odart devotes nearly three of the work’s more than 600 pages to Barbera. Nebbiolo, on the other hand, get a barely cursory mention (Odart confuses Nebbiolo with Freisa and he is chiefly interested “Nebbiolo Bianco” or “White Nebbiolo,” which he considers a relative of Trebbiano; but that’s a whole other can of worms).

The fact of the matter is that Barbera was the grape of Piedmont at the time and, gauging from Odart, possibly the grape of Italy.

 

Why was Odart so interested in Barbera and why was it so appealing to him? It’s highly possible that he considered Barbera an antidote to the phylloxera scourge that decimated the vineyards of France during his lifetime.

 

A possible antidote, that is, if you’re a physics professor…

 

I’ll have a lot more to share and say about Gallesio and Odart in my next post.

Thanks for being here.

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MONFERRATO: BARBERA’S SPIRITUAL HOME https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-pomona-italiana-grapes/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-pomona-italiana-grapes/#respond Wed, 11 Apr 2018 17:00:45 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4185 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…

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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.”

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EVERY DAY’S A GOOD DAY IN MONFERRATO https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/monferrato-good-day/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/monferrato-good-day/#respond Wed, 04 Apr 2018 17:00:43 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4201 Now that I have arrived in Monferrato, I hope I have set the scene for a journey into this rich historic region.   I can still see it now: the golden light on the fertile plains of Piemonte flashing by our car windows as we drove down from the Frejus tunnel, past Turin on the E70, towards the lush rolling hills of Monferrato, and on to our holiday destination in Liguria. It was my first time to drive through this spectacular region of Italy, and to experience the surprise and delight at the sights and sounds around me – to…

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Now that I have arrived in Monferrato, I hope I have set the scene for a journey into this rich historic region.

 

I can still see it now: the golden light on the fertile plains of Piemonte flashing by our car windows as we drove down from the Frejus tunnel, past Turin on the E70, towards the lush rolling hills of Monferrato, and on to our holiday destination in Liguria. It was my first time to drive through this spectacular region of Italy, and to experience the surprise and delight at the sights and sounds around me – to think that I had no prior idea as to the extraordinary beauty of the Piemonte region! This was before my interest in wine had really taken hold, but I knew in my heart that I would be back, and that Piemonte would play a significant role in my future.

Fast forward to my first wine trips to the area – I must confess that in the beginning my learning and knowledge was heavily biased towards the Langhe, and the other two Bs. I know, I know, how could I? Perhaps in the UK Barolo and Barbaresco have a higher profile than Barbera? It’s as if the first two Bs are the Bride and Groom, and Barbera is the Bridesmaid, working hard in the background to make life easier for everyone else, without getting enough attention for her beautiful self. Early WSET education about the region possibly diverted my attention westwards, and I must admit that my earlier visits to Piemonte were heavily weighted to the Cuneo region, and always included at least a quick visit to the elegant city of Turin.

Little did I know, however, what awaited me in Monferrato. Over time I met a number of tour operators and hospitality providers at business to business workshops. They were all enthusiastic and encouraged me to shuffle eastwards, assuring me of a warm welcome and great wine.

 

I thought I had better see what all the fuss was about, and how glad am I that I did!

 

Hilltop villages, castles and towers, colourful vineyards sweeping down towards the sun, hazelnut groves, and orchards of nectarines all provide the backdrop of this UNESCO World Heritage Site in which we can explore its traditional food and wine. With archaeological evidence of wine making in the area dating from the fifth century BC, it’s no wonder that UNESCO acknowledges the interaction of man and nature in the creation of these breathtaking landscapes. These landscapes have evolved over millennia and will continue to do so, as the people of the region continue to work together with the abundance bestowed on them.

Over the coming months we will discover together the wines of this area, such as Barbera d’Asti, Dolcetto, Moscato d’Asti, Ruché, Grignolino and Malvasia (not forgetting the grape spirit Grappa, of course). We will encounter the local cuisine – agnolotti, tajarin, bagna cauda, fritto misto, amaretti biscuits, hazelnut spread and, of course, the revered yet humble truffle. And we will meet the local people including the growers, the winemakers, the local mayors, hoteliers, chefs and sommeliers. We might even go truffle hunting!

Now that I have arrived in Monferrato, I hope I have set the scene for a journey into this rich historic region. Wherever I have travelled for wine, whether Piemonte, Italy, or elsewhere, there is one place where a great experience can always be guaranteed – Monferrato!

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WHERE IS BARBERA? THE ANSWER MIGHT SURPRISE YOU https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-italian-swiss-colony-wine/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-italian-swiss-colony-wine/#respond Wed, 28 Mar 2018 07:00:14 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4166 If it weren’t for Prohibition and the disruption of the commercial wine trade in California, we’d probably be drinking Barbera today instead of “Napa Valley Cab”   One of the most compelling texts I’ve come across in my early research on Barbera popped up in the oddest of places: a 1910 petition sent to the California Supreme Court, asking for an injunction in trademark litigation between Italian Swiss Colony (the plaintiff) and Italian Vineyard Co. (the defendant). (Older Americans will remember Italian Swiss Colony as one of the state’s early pioneers of commercial wine production.) The latter was infringing on the…

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If it weren’t for Prohibition and the disruption of the commercial wine trade in California, we’d probably be drinking Barbera today instead of “Napa Valley Cab”

 

One of the most compelling texts I’ve come across in my early research on Barbera popped up in the oddest of places: a 1910 petition sent to the California Supreme Court, asking for an injunction in trademark litigation between Italian Swiss Colony (the plaintiff) and Italian Vineyard Co. (the defendant).

(Older Americans will remember Italian Swiss Colony as one of the state’s early pioneers of commercial wine production.)

The latter was infringing on the former’s trademark, according to the complaint. Italian Swiss Colony was hoping to stop Italian Vineyard Co. from labeling its wines with the trademark “tipo” indicating the type or category of wine. And here’s where it gets really interesting.

Among the “types” of wine that the two estates were growing and bottling at the time (for more than 10 years at least, according to the document), “the defendant has been manufacturing wines having characteristics similar to those of other Italian wines, to wit [sic], those known as ‘Barbera,’ ‘Puglia,’ and ‘Gragnano’ — and has branded and marked them as ‘Tipo Barbera,’ ‘Tipo Puglia,’ and ‘Tipo Gragnano,’ in order to indicate that its said wines were respectively, of the type of the said Italian wines.

Wow… WOW!

There is a lot of juicy information (excuse the pun) loaded in this passage. It gives us glimpse of how Californian and Italian wines were marketed and perceived at the time (at least 10 years before Prohibition was implemented in 1920) and it also offers an indication of Barbera’s stature among the great grape varieties of the world at the turn of the century.

Man, I could write a dissertation on this legalese! But if we narrow our focus here to Barbera, there are a handful of important takeaways imho.

  • By the turn of the century, Barbera had already become a wildly popular grape variety — in Italy and the U.S. It’s telling that the author of the complaint lists Barbera first in the triptych.
  • Barbera was so popular by that time that it had already become a wine “brand.” In the implicit hierarchy in the passage, Puglia and Gragnano (Campania) are place names (there is also a mention of “Tipo Chianti,” another place name reference). That’s the only grape name.
  • Had Prohibition not disrupted the commercial wine trade in California in 1920, we might be drinking “California Barbera” today instead of “Napa Valley Cab” and Merlot

According to the great Italian ampelographer Ian D’Agata (Native Wine Grapes of Italy, University of California, 2014, a book I highly recommend to you):

  • Barbera is one of Italy’s five most-planted native grapes, and the third most-common red grape, found in almost every region of the country. It is also one of the 15 most-planted grape varieties in the world.
  • Barbera is grown mainly in Piedmont, Lombardy (in the Oltrepò Pavese near Pavia), Emilia-Romagna (Colli Bolognesi, Colli Piacentini, and Colli di Parma) and Sardinia, but nobody disputes the notion that the best examples hail from Piedmont.

Today, it’s widely accepted that it was planted across Italy in the mid-to late-19th century because of its natural resistance to oidium (a fungal disease also known as powdery mildew). In the course of my research and readings, for example, I’ve come across a number of 19th-century references to Puglia-grown Barbera (no joke). As D’Agata points out, Barbera is renowned for its ability to deliver quality even in high-yield crops. As phylloxera and oidium loomed over European grape growers in 1800s, it made perfect sense to embrace a resilient and highly productive grape (you could draw a parallel, for the same reasons, with Zinfandel/Primitivo).

In my next post for My Name Is Barbera, we’ll start looking at Barbera’s legacy in Piedmont, the grape’s spiritual homeland (as D’Agata points out above). Thanks for reading and please stay tuned!

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AGEING GRACEFULLY WITH BARBERA https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/ageing-gracefully-barbera/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/ageing-gracefully-barbera/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 18:00:44 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4135 Why are the best wines if the world are so ageing worthy? Is it because ageing gives wines more complexity, aromas and better balance? Or is it a mere notion of a time travel we are undertaking when drinking such wines?   Revealing the true grape potential means revealing its ageing abilities, isn’t it? I had many opportunities to confirm that Barberas can age beautifully. As it happens with many wineries in the world, only the strongest and biggest can normally find the will to lay down for ageing a decent number of bottles. In case of Barbera d’Asti it…

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Why are the best wines if the world are so ageing worthy? Is it because ageing gives wines more complexity, aromas and better balance? Or is it a mere notion of a time travel we are undertaking when drinking such wines?

 

Revealing the true grape potential means revealing its ageing abilities, isn’t it? I had many opportunities to confirm that Barberas can age beautifully. As it happens with many wineries in the world, only the strongest and biggest can normally find the will to lay down for ageing a decent number of bottles. In case of Barbera d’Asti it often happens that bigger coop wineries have bottles from the 80-s and 90-s to put Barbera to the test. As I found out, a ’89 Barbera can be a wonderful creature, not only alive, but very much so. Properly stored and made, these wines deliver great pleasure and still have the power to amuse today.

Barberas from 2000s represent — of course — much safer bets, both more available and affordable. It still won’t be easy to find them in a local supermarket and even a specialized retail shop. While the market image of a “drink-it-young wine” pushes Barbera producers to ship their wines ASAP, it might be wise to start thinking about laying down a few bottles as a new healthy habit. Imagine what it would be like for Barbera d’Asti producers to have consistently older vintages available for tastings and general public.

It’s not that we are talking about the prolonged wood ageing: probably Barbera has enough of that already and some delicate bottle maturation will increase the complexity and tune down the fruitiness, pushing us into the realm of pure pleasure.

Fortunately, more and more wineries can afford to crack open a bottle of a 10-years-old Barbera and even older. In fact, I recently tasted 2011, 2009. 2006 and 2003 Barberas — all amazing wines ready to be consumed right now and (all of them) grabbing much more professional interest than the current vintages — which are, well, young wines. Finding such a Barbera could be tricky, but I suggest you to start asking: the more we, Barbera consumers, send this message to winemakers, the better wines we will drink! And 2000s Barberas are now simply wonderful!

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