REBEL GRAPE SOCIETY

JANUARY 2021

BARBERA: SO MUCH LOVE YET STILL SO MUCH TO LEARN

 

BARBERA [bar-BEH-rah]

Barbera has been a mainstay of the Piedmontese diet for-well, ever, but it went through a major identity evolution in the late 1970s. The grape variety has got acid and color to make any other grape varieties blush with envy, but it is most often very low in tannin, hence the aforementioned tradition of simple, juicy, and sometimes shrill Barberas. For balance, many producers both in Italy and domestically have played with deepening the structure of their Barberas with extended maceration, longer cellar aging and even blending in other varieties. Instead of the ubiquitous light and quaffable everyday glou-glou it had happily been, it was created for the first time to be a more refined and serious wine: more tannic and structured, aged in new barrels and built to last. But buyers be warned when putting Barbera in oak! It has a notorious tendency to suck up every ounce of wood flavor it can and in the blink of an eye can find itself irreparably changed. 

 

1. Giornata Barbera is exactly what 99% of the winemakers in the greater Barolo areas are sipping on right now with their lunch. Nebbiolo tannins are to be enjoyed later. 

2. Lepiane’s solution to create complexity is to sprinkle in about one-third whole cluster in the fermentation and to age the wine for nearly 2 years in barrels.

3. Unti’s approach to Barbera strives to that same modern approach, bold and robust ripe fruit aged with just enough new french oak to layer in tannin and savoriness.

 

All three are equally delightful and unmistakably wonderful examples of the Barbera grape. 

– Kevin Wardell, January 2020

 

DOWNLOAD PDF OF TASTING NOTES HERE

WINE NO.1: GIORNATA BARBERA

Paso Robles, California 2019
PURCHASE HERE

Giornata means “a day’s work” in Italian and these wines are the delicious fruit to enjoy after any day’s labor; meant to pair on any dinner table. Giornata wines are farmed and fermented by husband and wife Brian and Stephanie Terrizzi in the rolling oak hills of Paso Robles. Brian first fell for Italian wine while working for Rosenblum Cellars making Zinfandel/Primitivo, then traveling to work in Tuscany with Paolo DeMarchi at Isole e Olena. He visited cellars throughout Southern Italy and connected with distant relatives in a small village in Sicily, kindling his dream to make Italian grapes into California wines. Brian married Stephanie, a vineyard guru, and together they planted Giornata’s estate to Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, and Trebbiano. They make the case that the Central Coast mimics many of the best terroirs in Italy, and they practice winemaking that leans towards balance and subtlety over intensity and extraction. The Barbera comes from the 2 acre Panache Vineyard on clay loam growing at 1150 feet above sea level outside of Creston, with some of the hottest temperatures in the region. After fermentation in large-format oak casks and stainless  steel, the wine ages for a few brief months before a spring bottling to capture Barbera’s juicy, fresh fruit character.

Glowing like a black light, this is ink with a bright fuchsia rim. Red licorice, blackberry, brambly fruit and a subtle ferrous iron note. The palate is punchy (in both senses of the word) with vibrant boysenberry and anise, and Thai basil followed with earthy mushroom notes and waves of brisk, white-wine like acidity. A ‘table’ Barbera through and through, and that is in every way a compliment. Goes away as quickly as an afternoon eating your weight in salumi and cheese at a street side trattoria in Asti.

WINE NO.2: LA LEPIANE BARBERA

Walker Vineyard, Los Olivos, California 2018
PURCHASE HERE

Alison Thomson’s story emerges from her deep family roots in Italy. The wines are named for her great-grandfather, Luigi A. Lepiane, who came to America from Calabria to make a better life for his family in the backwaters of Hollister, California, where he started his own winery, L.A. Lepiane. Three generations later that Calabrian dream persists in Alison, who pursued biology and Italian at U.C. Santa Barbara. She spent a semester studying in Siena where her passion for Italian food and wines became a full blown obsession. She earned a Master’s in Viticulture at U.C. Davis, and worked a vintage in Barolo before landing back home in Santa Barbara to make her own Cal-Ital version of LA Lepiane.  She believes these hills have a unique ability to grow Barbera and Nebbiolo. The Walker vineyard in the inland Los Olivos District of the Santa Ynez valley is grown on well-drained sandy loam, which contributes to the mineral edge and brilliant acidity of this Barbera. The wine was fermented 30% whole cluster to build in a bit more structure, then aged- patiently- for 20 months sur lees.

This wine shows what that extra time in the cellar can do for our hero Barbera. That little bit of age translates to so much savory spice box: white pepper, fresh thyme, fried sage, dusty cinnamon, and aged leather. The whole cluster is subtle but certainly gives a base coat of dried earth tannins and bitter chocolate, but the bright fruit flavors are characteristically Barbera through and through: dazzling fresh-from-the-field strawberries, inky boysenberries, and a touch of rhubarb and cola. 

WINE NO. 3: UNTI VINEYARDS BARBERA

Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, California 2018

George and Mick Unti have been verbosely championing Rhône and Italian grapes in the heart of Dry Creek Valley since 1997. While they are fanatical about Italian wines of countless styles, they recognize their estate’s terroir and its hot, continental climate, and so have focused on growing later-ripening varieties that retain acid through the heat of harvest. The Unti property has been organically farmed since 2003 and is still maintained by the patriarch George Unti, who travels annually to Italy and whose family lineage is tied to Lucca, Tuscany. The Unti estate is planted to 15 different varieties spanning over 60 acres, with six acres of Barbera planted on the valley floor. They have found it to be such a vigorous and productive variety that they are now growing it on low vigor rootstock, and they cut down the crop load by 35-50% to promote ripening and concentration. The Barbera is fermented in both stainless steel and concrete tanks with indigenous yeast and aged for 10 months in Burgundy barrels, with about 20% new French oak for an added depth of tannin.

This royal magenta juice is so flamboyant it would make Prince flounce in this purple rain. This is electrified, amplified acidic punch; bright with a pucker of ruby cranberries and a heaping helping of finger-staining summer blackberries baked right into a buttery rich crust. The brilliant fruit and acid are met with a creamy richness in the finish like a frothy chai tea and black currant scones. This is a California Barbera that Piemontese producers raise a compulsory eyebrow to and can’t hold back their smile in appreciation, even if they try. And of course they do.