Tasting Group: Italian Barbera



By John ~ March 30th, 2010.

With the first three months of 2010 almost behind us, I’m happy to report that we are continuing to make good on our New Year’s resolution to explore more wines from around the world. Since we live in Washington State and often drink wines from Washington State, we want to make sure that we continue to hone our knowledge of the entire world of wine and maintain well-rounded palates in order to make us even more objective when we evaluate wines from Washington State. As a result, we have put together a Wine Peeps Tasting Group which includes what we think is an excellent peer group of knowledgeable wine lovers to taste, share, and learn more about wine together. Unlike our monthly wine tasting dinners in which the guests rotate, this tasting group includes people who are committed to getting together once a month which we hope will benefit all of us. In addition to trying varieties and regions that we do not taste frequently, the other main difference between this group and our wine tasting dinners is that each group member will bring a bottle consistent with the month’s theme so no one will know all the wines in the blind tasting.

Last week, we met for the third time and explored Italian Barbera. Kori was out of town visiting the Paso Robles wine region of California so I am recapping this month’s tasting group. This was a good time for us to try Italian Barbera, because a group of wine bloggers just recently visited the prime Barbera growing area in the Piedmont region of Italy and reported very mixed opinions on today’s Barbera. While there were some more traditional as well as newer style Barberas in our tasting, the consensus of our group was that this was a very good set of wines to explore.

The home for Barbera is in the northwest part of Italy known as Piedmont. Barbera plays second fiddle to Nebbiolo on the best vineyard sites because Nebbiolo wines generally sell for more in the marketplace. Most of the better Barbera is grown around Asti and Alba, thus the popular designations, Barbera d’ Asti and Barbera d’ Alba. The Barbera grape is a small berry, thus it is known for a deep red color. Barbera are also characterized by high acid levels and relatively low tannins. Because Barbera ripens late, it is also prone to some volatile acidity, although at such low levels that it is not always noticeable in the glass.

We tasted eight wines, and the consensus favorite was the 2003 Vietti La Crena Barbera d’ Asti. It was the oldest wine in the tasting and was the favorite of every one of us, a rarity in our tasting group and tasting dinners. While we did not have any exact duplicates, we did end up with four Vietti wines, including the 2006 vintage of our consensus favorite, which was the most controversial wine of the evening, but my personal 2nd place choice.

From 1st to last in the group consensus rankings:

2003 Vietti La Crena (Barbera d’ Asti, Piedmont, Italy): Medium ruby red. Aromas of dried red fruits and spice with good strawberry and cherry flavors. Tasted the way I believe a great Barbera should taste. Light to medium body and tart with low to medium tannins. Very well balanced. Clearly the best wine of the eight.
Quality: 4.5 stars (out of five)
QPR:  4 bangs for your buck (out of 5)
Where to buy: Esquin Wine Merchants (Seattle, Washington), $50; Available elsewhere, $38 to $43

2006 Vietti Tre Vigne (Barbera d’ Alba, Piedmont, Italy): Ruby red with medium depth of color. Licorice and a little bit of oak on the nose. Heavy on the palate with flavors of black cherries. Good acidity with low to medium tannins and a long, pleasant finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of five)
Where to buy: Pike & Western Wine Shop (Seattle, Washington), $25; Available elsewhere, $27

2005 Cogno Bricco dei Merli (Barbera d’ Alba, Piedmont, Italy): Ruby red color with medium depth. Low aroma intensity, just a hint of raw bacon. Fruit forward with flavors of plum and cherries. Light to medium body with high acidity, low to medium tannins, and a decent finish.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: 4 bangs for your buck (out of five)
Where to buy: Fred Meyer (Seattle, Washington), $25

2007 Vietti Tre Vigne (Barbera d’ Asti, Piedmont, Italy): Deep purple in color. Aromas of vanilla, spice, and chocolate. Very fruity in a good way. Flavors of plums, raspberries, and other red fruits. Medium body with good acidity and low to medium tannins. Well balanced.
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: 5 bangs for your buck (out of five)
Where to buy: Fred Meyer (Seattle, Washington), $18; Available elsewhere, $15 to $22

2006 Vietti La Crena (Barbera d’ Asti, Piedmont, Italy): Deep, dark purple in color. Aromas of ripe red fruits and hints of milk duds. Abundant black fruits. Very flavorful. Full-bodied with good acidity and medium tannins. Well-balanced with very long finish. A love it or hate it Barbera, because it is non-traditional. I loved it!
Quality: 4 stars (out of five)
QPR: 3 bangs for your buck (out of five)
Where to buy: Esquin Wine Merchants (Seattle, Washington), $42; Available elsewhere, $38 to $46

2007 Giacomo Conterno Cascina Francia (Barbera d’ Alba, Piedmont, Italy): Dark purple in color. Aroma of stale water in plastic. Great fruit flavors of cherries, even cherry cobbler. Crisp in acidity and low in tannins, making it fairly well balanced.
Quality: 3 stars (out of five)
QPR: 1 bang for you buck (out of five)
Where to buy: Pete’s Wine Shop-Eastside (Bellevue, Washington), $44; Available elsewhere, $38 to $55

2006 Podere Ruggeri Corsini Armujan (Barbera d’ Alba, Piedmont, Italy): Deep, dark purple in color. Aromas of licorice and a hint of volatile acidity. Good flavors of cherries, strawberries, and cranberries. Light to medium body, tart, with low tannin level. Good sipping, middle of the road Barbera.
Quality: 3 stars (out of five)
QPR: 1 bang for your buck (out of five)
Where to buy: Avalon Wines (Corvallis, Oregon), $27

2007 Paitin Serra (Barbera d’ Alba, Piedmont, Italy): Deep, dark ruby/purple in color. Aromas of onions and garlic imply a fault, probably mercaptans. Flavors of sour cherries. Medium body with super high acidity and low tannins. Not well-balanced.
Quality: 2 stars (out of five)
QPR: NR (not recommended)
Where to buy: Fred Meyer (Seattle, Washington), $18; Available elsewhere, $15 to $23


Filed under: Barbera, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Italian Wine, Red Wine, Tasting Group, Wines NOT To Buy (1 & 2 Star), Wines Over $25, Wines Under $20, Wines Under $25

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