The following translation is an excerpt from Italian wine writer Alessandro Franceschini’s “Pillole di Barbera,” published earlier this week by LaVINIum.com. Translation by VinoWire.
During the four days devoted to tastings blind and otherwise, the favorite sport of nearly everyone who attended Barbera Meeting — journalists, bloggers, and buyers — was that of mercilessly searching out and mocking public enemy number one: barrique. Until not so long ago, if you dared to challenge the trilogy of new wood, black tar color, and sweet, overflowing super fruit, they would call you crazy. Today, if you don’t dare to question its wisdom, they’ll tell you that you don’t know a thing about wine. The thought of pondering the wine, attempting to move beyond the wood to understand whether or not the overall architecture of the wine makes sense, seems to have become a futile exercise.
Barbera is out of style, at least in Italy. And it’s been this way for a few years now. And my impression is that this is the case even more so, after tasting nearly 200 wines at Barbera Meeting and pretending that such a number is sufficient to evaluate three enormous appellations as large as the townships they cover. Over the course of four days of tasting, there were plenty of dark, tight, and (we might as well say it) woody wines. Sometimes the wines were simply boring. But in many cases, luckily, the wines were reasonable and some were genuinely good. There was once a time, not so long ago, when people looked for wines you could spread on toast. Today, it appears that everything has changed. Barbera, the color of tar, with vanilla flavors and powerful alcohol, seems to be out, outdated, and passé. As a result, Barbera continues to fall behind the times. Pretty much everywhere, something has changed and continues to change but they don’t seem to have figure this out around here, at least not in significant numbers as in other Italian appellations recently sampled. An analysis of the reasons behind this swerve will surely fill thick volumes on the subject of marketing and will be the subject of intense debate. But we’ll just have to wait to understand what has happened.
But there is also the risk of falling into extremism here. I heard some of my colleagues ask, angered to the point that you’d think their questions were a matter of personal injury, why is that certain Barberas had 14% alcohol? Such questions are senseless. There’s no point in underlining the fact that alcohol is simply one component of wine, a fundamental element, no doubt, but not the only one. There are wines with 15% alcohol but when they are well balanced they can be just as stunning. At the same rate, wines with 11% alcohol can be annoyingly pungent on the nose. Certain colleagues of mine asked, but why are you aging this wine for two years in barrique? This is another senseless question. Why? Just try the wines of Iuli, a young producer form Monferrato. Many of his Barberas are aged for more than two years in small cask. But they show no pointless toasty notes on the nose? Nada, zip. Why is this? How do we explain this? The answer lies in the fact that we are talking about the container and not the contents. Such conversations are as boring as wines devastated by wood.