My favourite Italian
Paolo Conterno Bricco Barbera D’Alba 2014
Italian wine is kind of weird. When most people think of Italian wine, they either immediately conjure up ultra-premium Barolos and Amarones or cheap and cheerful Chianti in straw baskets and generic, rustic reds. But there’s a lot more to Italian wine.
There are actually over 300 native grapes in Italy. It gets confusing. Some grapes (or their regions, because their naming conventions can also be confusing) have become synonymous with Great Italian Wine™, others you’ve never heard of. Most grapes, if I’m honest, will never actually make it to Ontario (okay, maybe a couple will turn up on a fabulous wine list here and there, but most never cross the ocean). It’s the super famous wine that hog the spotlight, drowning out the other “lesser” wines that are usually more affordable. And it’s a real shame.
Take Piedmont in Northern Italy. It's primarily known for its most famous wine, Barolo. These wines are usually expensive, age-worthy, and covetable. They’re made from the Nebbiolo grape, which is super high tannin and really pretty. It also requires time (and money) to achieve drinkability and grace. But guess what? Barbaresco and Langhe are also made from the very same grape, cost less (sometimes significantly so), and can be ready younger.
You might already know that. You might also think that Nebbiolo is all that’s going on in Piedmont and you’d be wrong. They actually grow two “lesser” grapes, which produce lovely wines that are not only drinkable in their youth but are delicious, fruity, food-friendly, and exciting. These are the wines the locals drink; the wines the winemakers drink while they wait. These are the accessible bottles you should start paying attention to because they can offer super high QPR (quality-to-price ratio). They are, drumroll please, Barbera and Dolcetto.
Barbera also just so happens to be one of my top favourite grapes of all time. It’s found primarily in two areas of Piedmont, namely Asti and Alba. Each offers its own unique style, but both are equally yummy. Barbera, you see, is a tasty grape. It’s super high in acid, has tons of fruit and floral aromas, features lovely baking spice, and (oh yes) is incredibly easy to drink.
Sure there are high-end styles that get super serious. But even those are crazy delicious. They can have a bit of black licorice and violet, but they’ll always feature that cherry, cranberry, red-fruity deliciousness that makes these wines so more-ish.
This bottle is one of the best I’ve tried lately. I served it with Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, which can be tough to pair with all that pepper. The wine’s spiciness was elevated beautifully by the pepper while the fruit and acids cut through the cheesiness of the dish. It was a nice back and forth and kept me sipping (and sipping and sipping...). The wine is unfiltered so it has a liveliness you don’t get from super clean wines (it also means it’s been tampered with less and sees fewer additives, which is always a good thing). It’s a wow wine. From first sniff to final sip, you’ll love every drop.
Nose: Baking spices, cherries, cranberries. A bit of earthiness and tar. Very red fruit with a hint of black current and violets.
Palate: Super tasty, juicy, and high acid. It’s all red fruits (some sour, some brambly) and cinnamon. It’s perky and lively, fruity and savoury. It’s one of those wines that gives you a little bit of everything. And it’s totally balanced. I could go on and on about the palate, but it really is simple (in an interesting way) and delicious: red fruits, baking spices, and florality. The structure is fantastic: great acidity and soft, unobtrusive tannins. A real food-friendly wine you can enjoy after dinner.