by: Vino Joe (e-mail)
Much to the surprise of many people, there’s more to Italian wine than Chianti. WAY more. Consider this: the Italy’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has officially cataloged a total of 350 grape varieties growing in the country; however, most wine professionals agree there are at least another 500 types that have yet to be cataloged. So theoretically you could taste a wine from a different grape every day for two and a half years…. How’s that for variety?
One variety -- or varietal -- you shouldn’t miss is Barbera (bar-BEH-ra). Not to be mistaken with Hanna- or Streisand, Barbera is a black (red) grape that can produce a light, easy-sipping wine or a full-bodied, cellar-worthy monster -- as well as wines in between. It is similar to Sangiovese -- the base grape of Chianti -- in that it has a cherry-like flavor, soft tannins, and medium to high acidity. In fact, Sangiovese is the only red grape that is more widely planted in Italy than Barbera. The popularity is likely due to its relative ease in growing, winemaking versatility and, of course, people enjoy it!
For Vino Joe, one of the best things about Barbera is its affordability. The most interesting Barbera-based wines are from the Piedmont (PEED-mont) region, a place better known for Barolo, Barbaresco and Gavi. In particular, the sub-regions of Monferrato and Asti produce excellent Barberas, and can be had for less than 20 bucks. One of my favorites is Michele Chiarlo (mik-KELLY key-ARE-low) Barbera d’Asti, a fine bottle that will impress your friends yet is easy on the wallet: about 11 bucks. Open, friendly aromas of bright cherry, ripe raspberry and grape jam with mild sweet earth hints and a touch of tar are inviting to the nose. In the mouth it has a smooth texture with very clean fruit. The fruit is not over-the-top up front, but just right: it opens clean with ripe raspberry and blackberry flavors in the
mid-palate, then finishes with a nice meld of medium acidity and tannins to balance things out. An ultra clean, enjoyable red that will match with a wide variety of dishes. I matched it perfectly with eggplant parmigiana, and suggest it with pizza, gamey fish, chicken and grilled dishes. In fact, it will go with almost everything, and will be enjoyable for nearly everyone.
So next time you’re looking for something interesting and inexpensive, walk by the aisles and aisles of merlot and venture to the Italian wine shelf. You’ll find quite a variety, and likely a bargain.
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