Barbera d’Asti is certainly the ultimate food friendly wine. (Steven McDonald)
Master Sommelier Steven McDonald serves as wine director for one of the top steakhouses in the U.S., Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston, Texas. Widely considered the state’s top destination for fine wine, he oversees a program that was recently awarded the prestigious Grand Award by the editors of Wine Spectator magazine (one of eight programs worldwide to receive this coveted accolade this year). Even though his program is focused on California Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux, Italian wine is his first love and his greatest passion.
What was your first experience with Barbera d’Asti?
My first experience with Barbera from a specific region was when I was working in New York at Ai Fiori. We had one by the glass and several by the bottle.
What do you like about Barbera d’Asti as opposed to other top Italian grape varieties?
As you allude to in your next question it is certainly the ultimate food friendly wine. The reasons are simple, it has great acid and fresh fruit flavors. Barbera is a grape that could certainly reach its full potential as one of Italy’s noble grapes alongside Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Aglianico but its beauty is in its finesse. I think it needs to be expressed as more Pinot Noir-like.
Barbera is often called “the ultimate food wine,” thanks to its freshness, bright fruit flavors, and versatility. What’s your favorite traditional pairing and your favorite creative pairing?
Traditional – pasta and pizza! Anything better in life?! Ha!
Creative – Black Tea Smoked Duck (remember the Pinot comment?)
Are your clients familiar with Barbera d’Asti?
No, unfortunately they may be familiar with the varietal but they are certainly not versed enough to know which region is ideal.
Do your clients associate Barbera d’Asti with Piedmont? (If not, where do they think it comes from?)
They may associate that it comes from Piedmont but understand that the confusion comes from Alba vs. Asti.
What’s your advice to Barbera d’Asti producers on how to reach American sommeliers and consumers?
Be careful that you are not pushing too hard to make Barbera something it isn’t. Keep making more site specific and elegant wines, keep the pricing down and watch the sommelier community get behind it in a big way.