My Name is Barbera https://www.mynameisbarbera.com A storytelling Journey through Monferrato Wed, 10 Oct 2018 13:02:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 CAN BARBERA D’ASTI AGE? https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-aging/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-aging/#respond Wed, 10 Oct 2018 13:02:52 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4401 But there’s another factor that goes into the longevity and age-ability of red wines: Acidity! And acidity is something that Barbera has a lot of.   A recent wine tasting and seminar in Houston had a group of seasoned tasters literally swooning in their seats. They couldn’t believe it, they said, that they were tasting expressions of Barbera d’Asti that stretched back to the late 1990s. Most wine-savvy Americans think of Barbera as a wine to be drunk young. They love the freshness, bright fruit flavors, and  its light body. And they often sing the praises of its food-friendliness. But…

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But there’s another factor that goes into the longevity and age-ability of red wines: Acidity! And acidity is something that Barbera has a lot of.

 

A recent wine tasting and seminar in Houston had a group of seasoned tasters literally swooning in their seats. They couldn’t believe it, they said, that they were tasting expressions of Barbera d’Asti that stretched back to the late 1990s.

Most wine-savvy Americans think of Barbera as a wine to be drunk young. They love the freshness, bright fruit flavors, and  its light body. And they often sing the praises of its food-friendliness. But when you ask most American wine lovers, even those with a lot of wine eduction under their belts, if they’ve ever had an aged Barbera, the answer will most likely be no. And if you ask them if they think that Barbera can age, likewise the answer will probably be no.

In most cases, it’s because they have never had an aged Barbera. But a lot of people, especially those that have spent some time studying viticulture, will say that it can’t age because it lacks tannin and “tannic structure.”

It’s true that robust tannins help red wines to age. They act as a sort of anti-oxidant that stops the wine from oxidizing as quickly as it would otherwise. That’s why old red wines can still have rich fruit flavors even when aged over the course of decades.

But there’s another factor that goes into the longevity and age-ability of red wines: Acidity! And acidity is something that Barbera has a lot of.

I first discovered the joy of aged Barbera back when I was working in a wine shop in New York. Wines with ten and even twenty years of bottle age, I found, showed brilliantly, with great freshness and primary, secondary, and tertiary flavors. These were not tired old bottles to be drunk for curiosity’s sake. These were regal bottles to be enjoyed with aged cheeses.

It was no surprise to me that people enjoyed 20-year-old Barbera the other night in Houston. But it made me think about how, again and again, this true “king” of wines is often misunderstood because of how it is perceived.

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A Guide to the Glass: Barbera d’Asti https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/glass-barbera-dasti/ Wed, 03 Oct 2018 12:20:53 +0000 http://mynameisbarbera.com/?p=1371 Yes, the glass amplifies the organoleptic qualities of wine. Because different areas of the tongue and mouth, along the irreplaceable nose job, are responsible for us appropriately perceive the taste sensations to make the best wine.   Wine and Stemware. Which glasses choose? Objects of design. Beautiful, elegant, slender. Glasses with room for your nose, organic forms to release and give off the fragrance, ergonomic grooves for the thumb. The wine container has already enjoyed what it contains. How many different types of glasses are used? And what is the best glass to taste the Barbera d’Asti? Here are some tips to better enjoy the fragrance…

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Yes, the glass amplifies the organoleptic qualities of wine. Because different areas of the tongue and mouth, along the irreplaceable nose job, are responsible for us appropriately perceive the taste sensations to make the best wine.

 

Wine and Stemware. Which glasses choose?
Objects of design. Beautiful, elegant, slender. Glasses with room for your nose, organic forms to release and give off the fragrance, ergonomic grooves for the thumb. The wine container has already enjoyed what it contains. How many different types of glasses are used? And what is the best glass to taste the Barbera d’Asti? Here are some tips to better enjoy the fragrance and flavor of your favorite wines.

The right glasses for each wine
Is there really the right glass for the right wine?
Yes, the glass amplifies the organoleptic qualities of wine. Because different areas of the tongue and mouth, along the irreplaceable nose job, are responsible for us appropriately perceive the taste sensations to make the best wine.

Some Examples
To taste the bubbles of champagne the the flûte is better than the champagne coupe because with the flûte the freshness of the tiny bubbles goes and hits the central part of the tongue, the area with a greater palpable sensitivity and then it goes back of the tongue, where there we sense bitterness. That’s why we say bitter aftertaste. Partly because the bitter taste comes towards the end. But also because the area for bitter is in the back of the tongue. With a coupe the wine opens on the sides of the tongue, responsible for acid and salt, and the sensation is not enjoyable.To enjoy an aged red wine it’s better to use a large and open glass because the wine needs to be oxygenated in order to release its fragrance.
A rosé wine really needs the tulip glass because its aroma is delicate and must be guided towards the nose.

And Barbera d’Asti?
A wine so pleasant, fresh and versatile lends itself to the use of red wine glasses, round with a long stem. The younger Barbera d’Asti’s are more suitable for a glass with the edges which open slightly allowing you to really taste the fruit notes on the tip of your tongue. For a Barbera d’Asti Superiore or a Nizza, which are more complex wines, wine glasses that start wider and then taper in towards the top and the edges are more suitable. This is so the bouquet is properly released balancing the concentration. As the wine flows toward the center of the mouth, taking it over and releasing all of its flavor and intensity.

 

 

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LOOKING BACK ON BARBERA https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/looking-back-barbera/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/looking-back-barbera/#respond Wed, 19 Sep 2018 17:00:40 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4071 “Monferrato. Home sweet home” the Barbera said.   As we wrap things up on my gastronomic journey through the wines of Monferrato, my penultimate task is to take a look back on the vino that started my jaunt: Barbera d’Asti. The first thing that I should tell you is the same thing that I told a room full of Italian press and wine producers during a tasting: this is not just a popular grape; it’s an insanely, almost unfathomably popular grape. Barbera is the third most-planted fine red wine grape variety in Italy, which is no small achievement, considering that…

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“Monferrato. Home sweet home” the Barbera said.

 

As we wrap things up on my gastronomic journey through the wines of Monferrato, my penultimate task is to take a look back on the vino that started my jaunt: Barbera d’Asti.

The first thing that I should tell you is the same thing that I told a room full of Italian press and wine producers during a tasting: this is not just a popular grape; it’s an insanely, almost unfathomably popular grape. Barbera is the third most-planted fine red wine grape variety in Italy, which is no small achievement, considering that Italy itself often vies for the number one spot on the annual list of wine production worldwide.

While Barbera isn’t planted much in Europe outside of Italy, it’s found pretty much everywhere else in the world. Italian emigration has brought Barbera to Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. It has been planted throughout Australia, the U.S. west coast winemaking states (and some of its East Coast states, too), and even South Africa. There’s an entire festival devoted to the grape, held annually in California’s Amador County, at which more than eighty wineries from throughout the state pour their Barbera wines for eager attendees.

In January of 2018, I visited Israeli wine country for the first time, and I tasted Israeli Barbera. And not just one; I had several Israeli Barberas. Barbera is just the kind of versatile, food-friendly, fruity grape that travels well, and lends itself to the type of popularity that’s usually reserved for pop stars.

But while Barbera can feel at home in just about any vineyard worldwide, it can only ever really have one place that it calls its true home. And if I learned anything during my trek through Piedmonte, it’s that Barbera’s real homeland is the place where it first grew up – and that place is in the soft light and the rolling hills of Monferrato.

It’s not that the world’s Barbera wines aren’t good. In many cases, they are very, very good, which is a testament to just how well this vibrant grape can take to different climates and soils. But Barbera d’Asti in Monferrato? That’s where this is just so clearly at home, where it’s so obviously most comfortable in its own skin. Monferrato is where Barbera most easily and effortlessly reveals its true colors, from its most affable and appealing and vibrantly fruit-forward personality, all the way to its most compelling, spicy, complex, and age-worthy presentations. Having Barbera d’Asti (particularly when you are in Asti) is kind of like watching a dominant football team compete on its home field, where it knows every nook and cranny of the stadium, and has the advantage of an enthusiastic home crowd cheering its head off in a unified show of approval, love and support.

After putting my boots on the ground in Barbera’s homeland, I’d say that one could make a serious argument that the reason Barbera travels so well – and why it is so good in so many other places around the globe – is because it comes from Monferrato. Maybe Barbera takes a little bit of its homeland’s delicate sunlight and rolling hills – a little bit of Monferrato and Asti soul – with it everywhere it goes. Maybe that’s why the entire world seems to love It so much that they’ve try to recreate a little bit of its spiritual Monferrato soul on pretty much every other continent where grapes can actually grow (that excludes Antarctica, just in case you were wondering). Barbera’s passport has collected its fair share of global entry stamps, but that passport says “Republica Italiana” on the cover, and its home address is listed as “Asti.”

In having this true sense of place, there’s an endearing irony in Barbera d’Asti. Few red wine grapes have seen as much globe-trotting expansion as It, and yet its best and most versatile incarnations and intimately tied to just a single, special place. You could physically travel throughout the winemaking world, and you’d encounter Barbera at almost every stop. But to transport yourself almost instantly in spirit to one beautiful little corner of the planet – Monferrato – requires only that you pick up a bottle of Barbera d’Asti, find yourself a corkscrew, and allow yourself to enjoy what I’ve learned firsthand to be one of the purest and most consistent examples of place that the wine world can offer.

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THE RUCHE’N’ROLL PARTY https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/ruche-party/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/ruche-party/#respond Thu, 13 Sep 2018 10:50:05 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4385 Yes, there’s a certain wow-factor about this obscure variety even sommeliers rarely admit having had tasted.   The national registry code is 313 and the color is red. It’s a purely Piedmontese experience to taste the wines made from Ruchè grapes, the experience you won’t likely soon to forget. Yes, there’s a certain wow-factor about this obscure variety even sommeliers rarely admit having had tasted. With Ruchè it gets quite interesting: it’s Piedmont, of course, but so different from the established luxurious image of Nebbiolo. The taste? It gets really wild, sometimes rustic, expressive and abundant with aromas, almost still…

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Yes, there’s a certain wow-factor about this obscure variety even sommeliers rarely admit having had tasted.

 

The national registry code is 313 and the color is red. It’s a purely Piedmontese experience to taste the wines made from Ruchè grapes, the experience you won’t likely soon to forget.

Yes, there’s a certain wow-factor about this obscure variety even sommeliers rarely admit having had tasted. With Ruchè it gets quite interesting: it’s Piedmont, of course, but so different from the established luxurious image of Nebbiolo. The taste? It gets really wild, sometimes rustic, expressive and abundant with aromas, almost still fermenting in your glass. While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, well-made Ruchè is capable of showing how little we know even about such a famous wine region as Piedmont.

With the vineyards located around Castagnole Monferrato, the grape requires well-sunlit slopes, gently rolling here and there: there are not so many vineyards and producers in the young appellation.

Normally quite high alcohol levels of Ruchè (15% is something not out of the ordinary) combine with intense aromas that remind of no other wines you tasted before. So it’s in experienced hands where the grape starts shining brightly: in fact, some producers have been nourishing these vines since the 80-s. This discovery is fascinating, adding to other hidden jewels of Piedmont like Pelaverga and Grignolino. In fact, Ruchè had been used to add visual depth to lighter-colored wines of Piedmont.

Ruchè’s wild nature has to be controlled. Barrel-ageing is an option, but only works well when applied gently: killing intense grape aromatics is also quite easy. It’s in the unoaked versions where Ruchè shows its real character.

Not to say you have to cellar the wines, though: most of them are made without such a purpose in mind, they are made for immediate pleasure delivery, celebration of life and friendly parties. Herbal and floral aromas intertwine with rich bell-pepper greener notes, giving the wines adorable drinkability and rustic charm, in some cases, with dusty minerality depicting the individual character of Ruchè DOCG terroirs and winemaking.

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WHEN BARBERA WAS KING https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-king-italian-wine/ https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/barbera-king-italian-wine/#respond Wed, 05 Sep 2018 13:00:12 +0000 https://www.mynameisbarbera.com/?p=4371 I believe that this poem gives us yet another example of how Barbera is the true king of Piedmont wines. Or is it a queen?   There’s a saying, too often repeated in the Italian wine world: Barolo is the king of wines and the wine of kings. That may be true. And many point to the fact that Italy’s King Vittorio Emanuele II (1820-1878) was one of Barolo’s pioneers and one of its earliest advocates. So, technically, Barolo was the wine of a king. The fact of the matter is that no one would have ever uttered that phrase during…

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I believe that this poem gives us yet another example of how Barbera is the true king of Piedmont wines. Or is it a queen?

 

There’s a saying, too often repeated in the Italian wine world: Barolo is the king of wines and the wine of kings. That may be true. And many point to the fact that Italy’s King Vittorio Emanuele II (1820-1878) was one of Barolo’s pioneers and one of its earliest advocates. So, technically, Barolo was the wine of a king.

The fact of the matter is that no one would have ever uttered that phrase during Vittorio Emanuele’s liftime. At the time of his death, no one could have even imagined the popularity that Barolo would obtain in the period following World War II. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1990s, really, that Barolo became an international powerhouse.

One of the things that I kept thinking about as I translated and annotated the famous poem “A Ciapin” by Giovanni Pascoli (one of the greatest Italian poets, literary scholars, and critical theorists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries) was how the wine that stars in his celebrated ode wasn’t Barolo.

 

It was Barbera.

 

Originally, published in 1899, some 20 years after the king’s passing, the poem was inspired by a letter written by the renowned Italian soldier Giuseppe Galliano (1846-96) who had fought and died famously in Italy’s first colonial war in Ethiopia. Galliano knew that he would perish in Africa and he knew that he would never return home. And so he wrote to a friend in Piedmont asking him to save him a bottle of his favorite Barbera — a wine he knew he’d never drink.

Pascoli was so moved by the poem that he adapted it into one of his most famous poems. The ode would ultimately become a “pop hit” of its day. Click here for some background on the poem’s composition. And click here for the translated poem.

From a cultural and viticultural perspective, I believe that this is one of the most important takeaways from the poem. It’s important to remember: Galliano was a towering “pop icon” of his time, an Italian martyr who died in the service of his country (it’s part of the reason Pascoli was aware of the letter and was aware of Galliano).

He was a genuine Italian hero. And the wine that he longed for — the wine he would never get to drink again — wasn’t Barolo or Nebbiolo. It was Barbera. Earlier this year, I wrote about how Barbera was one of the most widely planted grapes in the world at the end of the 19th century, with vineyards stretching literally from Italy (and not just Piedmont) to California.

I believe that this poem gives us yet another example of how Barbera is the true king of Piedmont wines. Or is it a queen?

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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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