Jason the Barbera-ian 09/06/11
Those of you who know me, or have read my blog before, or intend to finish reading this sentence know that I’m a passionate proponent of Piedmontese wines. Apart from being home to my favorite grape of all, the oft-reviewed Nebbiolo, Piedmont is known primarily for Dolcetto and Barbera, the former of which you can read my thoughts on here, and the latter of which you can read about…well, here here.
Barbera, like Nebbiolo and Dolcetto, is used to make red wines. They tend to be high in acidity and medium- to full-bodied, with the bigger ones having more aging potential than others. Phonetically appropriate, “Barbera” is a name at once evoking two powerful yet disparate images: on the one hand, that of a rampaging marauder smashing cities and pillaging maidens; on the other, that of a friendly barber. And both are accurate, in their own ways.
But here’s the catch: there’s something about Piedmont reds that’s been bothering me as of late. Now, it hasn’t perturbed me to the extent that I’m drinking fewer of them, of course, but nonetheless nags at the back of my mind, day after day after day. And while nagging is never pleasant, it does give me an excuse to use the same picture of Marge Simpson twice in under a month, which is definitely some consolation.
As for my problem with Piedmont reds, surprisingly it isn’t price (although that is certainly problematic…) but rather a recurring tasting note I perceive when I drink them, despite its seldom being used to describe red wines. The culprit – red apple – has appeared to me in the form of three varietals to date, all specific to the region: Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Ruche (a really obscure grape that I’ve only been able to find once). This suggests that the origins of the apple mystery lie somewhere in Piedmont’s soils, and not merely in my imagination, as is so often the case with mysteries these days.
Of course, even more often, I find myself turning to Twitter with all my oenological concerns, and in short order I’d confirmed (thanks to @PNrieslingfan) that I was not, in fact, suffering from any nasal deficiencies, but that the apple notes I continually detected were a result of high acidity. One helpful wino (@minoritywine) took it even further, informing me that the apple notes were in fact orange notes with “floral acidity.” So how about that, folks? Comparing apples and oranges is, in fact, not like comparing apples and oranges.
Anyway, I might as well get around to the Barbera itself – in particular, the La Spinetta Ca di Pian 2006 Barbera d’Asti, which cost me around $25. Painful, yes, but I had to do it, in the name of blogging. Plus, the bottle had a rhinoceros on the label, which is always a good sign.
In the glass this poured an inky purple tone, with the coloration becoming more brick-like toward the edges. On the nose, however, my first impression was that of those infamous apples, which I now know to be a product of the acids in the wine (and which, upon repeated sniffing, could indeed be interpreted as a combination orange-floral scent, though it still strikes me as far more apple-like). This wasn’t a one-note wine though, with equally strong notes of blueberry and blackberry coming into play, as well as clove after the wine had breathed a bit.
On the palate it was, predictably, strong in the acid department, with a combination of blackcurrant, blackberry and boysenberry notes supported by slight spiciness. A bit of the apple returned here, but it wasn’t as pronounced as a flavor as it had been as an aroma. Nevertheless, this wine was fruit forward more than anything else, with a medium-full body and nice, long finish.
Still a bit simple for the price, I give the La Spinetta Ca di Pian Barbera d’Asti thumbs up.