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Hundred shades of Barbera d’Asti

November 10, 2019 Tags: 0 comments
Imagine tasting hundreds of Barbera d’Asti on all its denominations, from simple Barbera d’Asti to Superiore, from Barbera d’Asti Nizza to Nizza Riserva, multiplied for several vintages and dozens of producers and terroirs, from Astiano to Tinella, at the end of the two days I could not wait to drink a cold beer. Beer aside, it was an amazing journey into one of the most fascinating and mainly unknown Italian wine regions.

The Asti region is home not only to Barbera d’Asti in all its versions, but also to Moscato d’Asti, another wine too often associated to just a semi sparkling sweet wine to accompany biscuits, and plenty of other wines and grapes often bottled under incomprehensible and inexplicable italian appellations, from DOC Piemonte to Monferrato Rosso, but the star of the show was without a doubt the Barbera d’Asti.

As always there were average, good and great wines. Barbera d’Asti is often associated, and in part it is, to a fruity red wine with high acidity, an everyday wine, a one dimensional wine, a red wine to drink within the year. However, what I was able to appreciate is that even at the lowest level, even a simple Barbera d’Asti can have many layers and dimensions. Layers and dimensions given by the terroir. Asti has a wide variety of terroirs, from sand to stones to clay, and seeing the impact the terroir has on the wine, was, even for me, surprising. I tasted Barbera d’Asti so different between them, that more than once I questioned the producers on their wine making process.

But the real joy, pleasure, came when I started tasting Barbera D’Asti Superiore to reach almost a divine state with the Nizza DOCG, including a few Riserva, clearly a cut above the rest, not only because of its strict “disciplinare”, wine making process, with at least 18 months ageing with 6 in wood. Nizza only become a separate DOCG in 2014, until then it was part of the Barbera d’Asti together with the other two subregions, Colli Astiani and Tinella, allowed to have the region written on the label. The Nizza DOCG also include a Nizza Riserva, where the total ageing reaches 30 months with at least 12 months in wood, a Riserva only made in the best vintages, and I tasted a couple of great ones with a huge ageing potential.

Despite the classification only distinguishing between Barbera d’Asti and Nizza, Barbera d’Asti is much more than that, the classification doesn’t really explain the whole story. The producers I met and wines I tasted were all different, each producer following a different approach and philosophy. The barbera grape is known for its acidity and fruit, acidity that becomes very important for the ageing process and amongst the wines I tasted I found that Barbera fermented in cement had an extra gear compared to stainless steel tank, cement fermentation that takes some of the elegance away making the wine more rustic in the short term to give it back with interest in the long term.

My journey into the Barbera d’Asti and Nizza DOCG and the whole Asti region was only a short trip, a limited insight into a big wine making region, a journey I was happy to be part of. Producers in the region are facing the same climate issues as the rest of the world, with extreme weather becoming a real threat and sugar content, and alcohol, going up and up. Due to the Barbera high acidity, alcohol is not yet a problem but unless something is done urgently, Barbera d’Asti as we know it, could soon be gone.
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