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Elio Perrone Barbera d'Asti Tasmorcan 2014
By the late '90s, Stefano was looking for new challenges. He recognized that the Asti zone possessed many old Barbera vineyards on steepslopes that would be planted to Nebbiolo if they were just a few miles west. He purchased the great Mongovone vineyard in 1999. With vines planted in 1932, Mongovone gave him the material to produce something special. Yet, just like with his Moscatos, Stefano produces Barbera that captures the ethereal freshness for which the Asti zone is noted. At the same time that he was branching out into Barbera, Stefano produced his first vintages of Bigaro—a softly sweet, gently effervescent salmon-colored sparkler made from Brachetto and Moscato.
Recognized as the source of the best Barbera in all of Italy, Asti is a province (as well as major city) in Piedmont, consisting of a gentle, rolling landscape with vineyards, farmland and forests alternating throughout.
Barbera d’Asti can be made in an array of styles from relatively straightforward, fruity and ready for consumption early, to the more concentrated, oak aged version with an ability to cellar impressively for 10-15 years and beyond. Some of the very best sites for Barbera in Asti are concentrated in the subzone of Nizza Monferrato. Other red varieties grown here include Freisa, Grignolino and Dolcetto, which can be bottled varietally or blended into Barbera.
Historically consumers commonly associated the Asti region with Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti, both playful, aromatic, sparkling wines made from the Muscat grape. Asti Spumante is less sweet, fully fizzy and more alcoholic (yet still clocking in at only around 9% alcohol) while Moscato d’Asti is sweeter, gently sparkling (“frizzante”) and closer to 5 or 6% alcohol. Each is produced in stainless steel tanks to preserve the fresh and fruity flavors of the grape, often including peach, apricot, lychee and rose petal. Asti is also the spot for the pink-hued Brachetto d'Acqui, a slightly sparkling wine ready to charm with its raspberry and rose flavors and aromas.
Friendly, approachable and full of juicy red fruit, Barbera produces wines in a wide range of styles, from youthful, fresh and fruity to serious, structured and age-worthy. Piedmont is the most famous source of Barbera, but it is also planted in a few nearby Italian provinces and remains one of the most widely planted varieties in the country. Barbera actually can adapt to many climates and enjoys success in California—particularly in the Sierra Foothills—and some southern hemisphere wine regions.
In the Glass
Barbera is typically marked by flavors of red cherry, raspberry or blackberry and backed by a signature zingy acidity. Warmer sites produce Barberas with intensely ripe fruit and complex notes of cocoa, savory spice, anise and nutmeg. Cooler sites will produce a lighter Barbera with more finesse and intriguing notes of cranberry, graphite, smoke, lavender and violet.
Barbera’s prominent acidity makes it a natural match with tomato-based dishes, making it an easy pairing with a wide array of Italian cuisine. It works just as well with lighter red meat dishes, hamburgers or barbecue.
In the past it wasn’t common or even accepted to age Barbera in oak but today both styles—oaked and unoaked—abound, at least in Piedmont. In fact, many Piemontese producers today still make a deliciously pure, fruity and unoaked version, intended for earlier consumption. The wine world didn't realize Barbera's potential until the work of Giacomo Bologna in Asti in the 1960s. His debut of the barrique-aged Barbera called Bricco dell’Uccellone revealed this grape's true potential. Many of the better bottlings of Piemontese Barbera can age gracefully for 10-15 years or more.