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Elsa Bianchi San Rafael Barbera 1998
Today, Valentin Eduardo Bianchi and Ricardo Stradella Bianchi have brought the winery into the modern era. Valentin is the President of the winery while Ricardo is the Chief Financial Officer. Recently, they enlisted the aid of California winemaker, Robert Pepi. He has helped them refine some of their techniques and the new wines show the style that this new breed of management exemplifies. Pepi believes that Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are the future of this winery.
Stretching from the Andes to Patagonia, Argentina's unique terroir lends to high quality wines. Formerly associated with inexpensive bulk wine but dramatically shifting focus from quantity to quality, Argentina is the most important wine-producing country in South America. Certainly excellent values abound here still, but increases in vineyard investment, improved winery technology, and a commitment to innovation since the late 20th century have contributed to the country’s burgeoning image as a producer of great wines at all price points. The climate here is diverse but generally continental and agreeable, with hot, dry summers and cold snowy winters—a positive, as snow melt from the Andes Mountains can be used to irrigate vineyards. Grapes very rarely have any difficulty achieving full ripeness.
Mendoza, a large and famous region responsible for more than 70% of Argentina’s wine production, is further divided into several sub-regions, including Luján de Cuyo and the Uco Valley. Red wines dominate here, especially Malbec, the country’s star variety, while Chardonnay is the most successful white. The province of San Juan is best known for blends of Bonarda and Syrah. Torrontés is a specialty of the La Rioja and Salta regions, the latter of which is also responsible for excellent Malbecs grown at very high elevation.
Friendly, approachable, and full of juicy fruit flavor, Barbera produces wines in a wide range of styles, from young and fruity to serious, spicy, and age-worthy. Piedmont is the most famous source of Barbera, but is also planted in the Italian provinces of Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna. It is one of the most successful and lasting remnants of the Cal-Italian movement, grown throughout the state of California—particularly in the Sierra Foothills—and has also found a foothold in parts of Australia.
In the Glass
Barbera is typically marked by red cherry, raspberry, and blackberry flavors backed by a signature zingy acidity and smooth tannins. More complex examples can include notes of cocoa, savory spice, anise, and nutmeg. In warmer New World climates, Barbera is all about the fruit, sometimes leaning towards over-ripe or dried fruit flavors that can give an impression of sweetness to the wine. Old World Barbera can develop intriguing notes of graphite, smoke, lavender, and violet.
Barbera’s prominent acidity makes it a natural match with tomato-based dishes, therefore 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.
Most Barbera wines come from one of two villages in Piemonte—Alba and Asti. Though it is difficult to generalize, typically Barbera d’Asti is softer and more elegant with bright, tangy acidity, while Barbera d’Alba tends to be fuller, rounder, and fleshier.