Barbera d’Asti is often called “the ultimate food wine,” thanks to its freshness, bright fruit flavors, and versatility (Theo Greenly)
Sommelier and veteran food and wine professional Theo Greenly has worked at a number of top Los Angeles restaurants, including Sotto where he served as wine director. A lover of all things Italian — from Italian food and wine to Italian cinema and literature — he has traveled and tasted extensively throughout Italy.
What was your first experience with Barbera d’Asti?
I used to have the misconception that wines from Piedmont were huge and tannic. But I picked up a nice, sour-cherry, graphite tasting Barbera d’Asti from a local wine shop in Los Angeles that was full of finesse—it quickly set me straight.
What do you like about Barbera d’Asti as opposed to other top Italian grape varieties?
I am constantly thrilled by the versatility of Barbera d’Asti; its ability get my taste buds dancing at the opening of a meal, and its ability to pair well all the way through the end. Barbera is often called “the ultimate food wine,” thanks to its freshness, bright fruit flavors, and versatility.
What do like to pair with Barbera d’Asti? What’s your favorite traditional pairing and your favorite creative pairing?
Sotto never served agnolotti d’asino, but we did have a wonderful casarecce pasta dish that played with ragu d’agnello. The acidity cuts through the fattiness of the lamb in a delicate and beautiful way. On the creative side, I often get guests who order seafood but are just not into white wine. If a Barbera d’Asti is young enough, light enough, and bright enough, I think that it can pair nicely with grilled sepia or other seafood dishes, especially if there’s a little chill on it.
Are your guests familiar with Barbera d’Asti? What do they like about Barbera d’Asti and/or what are the impressions after tasting it for the first time?
I do find that guests are increasingly aware of Barbera in general, but they will order it by the varietal, not the appellation. The experience for first-time drinkers is almost always the same: the eyes widen with surprise, they smack their lips, and smile; they’re going to order the bottle.
Barbera’s spiritual homeland is Monferrato in Piedmont’s Asti province. Do your guests make a connection between Piedmont and Barbera?
I get a lot of guests who have travelled in Italy, and many of them do associate Barbera with Piedmont. If not, they at least associate it with Italy. Progress!
What’s your advice to Barbera d’Asti producers on how to reach American sommeliers and consumers?
Don’t go trying to chase the “American” palate by creating ever more extracted, oaky, full-bodied wines. Remain true to the varietal, the history, the place.