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barbera d’alba

Jessica would cry

This morning’s tasting, which explored the barberas of Alba, has been a return to form. Unfortunately, I don’t mean for barbera, I mean a return to the abuses and abrasive aggression of our Asti and Nizza tastings. A brief run of authentic, high-quality samples at the beginning (I was particularly taken by a Costa di Bussia 2008 Barbera d’Alba, which had been gently nudged towards suppleness but not in a way that deformed the wine) gave us some hope, but then the nastiness returned. Much could be (and has been) said about the wooden abuses being committed, so often expressed as vanilla and chocolate in these wines, but I continue to think that the bigger problem is tannin…which, of course, is related to that same oaky source. At this point, I’d welcome a plague of micro-oxidation just to tame the brutal tannic onslaught. But I don’t want to give the local producers any more ideas for fun technological doodads that don’t fit underneath the Natale tree.

Yes, age will help. But I would be very, very surprised if it helped enough. And based on some of the older examples of the modernistic style we’ve tasted, it will not. The combination of tannin, wood, often overt heat, fruit driven to and beyond its useful life, and biting structure is just not appealing in any way.

Cascina your chips

Giacomo Conterno 1998 Barbera d’Alba Cascina Francia (Piedmont) – Barbed-wire acidity with its points through a forest of wild lingonberries and a sea of cranberries. This is barbera. (9/08)

Vajra infection

Vajra 2004 Barbera d’Alba (Piedmont) – Gorgeous, with far more mature aromatics of autumn leaves and freshly-baked fruit pies than the age of the wine would indicate. Structurally, it’s quite youthful, perfectly melding precise acidity and impeccably placed fruit and tannin, and based on the palate it should go a number of years. The question, however, becomes: is the wait worth it when it tastes this good now? (5/08)

Ba, ba, ba…ba, barbera

[bottle]Bruno Giacosa 2005 Barbera d’Alba (Piedmont) – Even though the grapes don’t have that much in common, aspirational barbera reminds me of zinfandel in that it pairs delicious, friendly fruit with good acidity. Of course, barbera has, in its non-spoofulated state, more acid than zinfandel. OK, so maybe it’s not the best comparison. Anyway, this is polished without being overworked, showing vivid red fruit with fine acidity enveloped by a supple, rounded structure. And yet, through it all cuts that beautiful core of acidity. Very, very good. (10/07)

Abbona to pick

[label]Abbona 2005 Barbera d’Alba Rinaldi (Piedmont) – Passionately expressive, with spiky acidity and vibrant red fruit spiraling around the palate; this has one foot in tradition and the other in some sort of free-flowing Dalí painting. Fun, and compelling at the same time. (10/07)

The Grasso is always greener

Giuseppe Grasso “La Granera” 2004 Barbera d’Alba (Piedmont) – Tasting this brings back memories. Because I remember when barbera used to taste like this: crisp, biting, all red-hued berries with a little bit of sizzle. This isn’t one of the really old style thin and linear versions, however; it’s richer and a little bit wider around the waist, with a lovely finish that seems to begin to fade, then re-emerges with an angular vengeance. Perhaps it’s lightly wooded, perhaps just the result of better fruit. In either case, it’s not one of the overworked, overwooded monstrosities that infect the appellation. It’s not a “great” wine, but then part of what makes it so good is that it recalls a time when barbera wasn’t supposed to aspire to greatness. Bring out your tomatoes! (9/07)