As much Piemontese wine as I buy sell and drink, this is the very first Barbera I can recall offering. If this were something rare like Pelaverga that wouldn’t be surprising but Barbera has to be the most planted variety in Piedmont (I could be wrong about that but I’ll bet I’m close).
The Langhe is famous for nebbiolo, specifically Barolo and Barbaresco, but wines like barbera and dolcetto are the everyday wines here and are generally great choices with the local food if simple and unassuming. The barbera you’re likely to encounter in the Langhe is generally from a Barolo or Barbaresco producer and a wine made from vines planted on hillsides not favorable to Nebbiolo production.That means just about anything not facing southeast to southwest. Nebbiolo gets the prime sites and everything else is planted to generally either Dolcetto or Barbera. These wines represent easy cash crops for a Barolo producer. Typically high yielding, easy to grow and vinify and sold the next spring or summer after relatively brief aging unlike Barolo which can’t be sold until at least 4 years after the harvest. Outside of the Langhe however, Nebbiolo starts to disappear and other varietals get a chance to take advantage of the best terroirs. For Dolcetto that means the Dogliani zone to the southwest and for Barbera it’s north and east towards Asti and the Monferrato.
Scarpa is one of the oldest wineries in Piedmont and one of the first to put the name Barolo on a label (for more on Scarpa, click here). Their winery and vineyards are in the Monferrato zone however and are perfectly suited to growing great Barbera. There is such a thing and it’s very different from the overtly fruity, high acid style it’s so commonly associated with. Giacomo Bologna and Scarpa became famous for their Barbera d’Asti bottlings in the 1960’s thought they couldn’t have taken more opposite approaches. Bologna, with his now famous Bricco dell’Uccellone bottling, wound up taking French oenologist Emile Peynaud’s advice and began experimenting with short term aging in small, new French barrique where Scarpa made and aged their Barbera like Barolo. Years of aging in giant Slavonian oak botti and further bottle aging with a 6-8 year old wine finally being released.
The I Bricchi site is Scarpa’s home vineyard. 50 contiguous hectares of which 27 are planted to vines. The remainder are left as forest and meadows to maintain biodiversity. Farming is essentially uncertified organic with minimal use of copper and sulfur treatments. 40% of this production is Barbera and the vast majority of that is from vines planted in the 1960’s.
The “I Bricchi” Barbera, the vineyard namesake, comes from steep hillside vines planted on pure clay which helps bring out tannins not usually associated with the varietal. Long aging in wood helps soften these and bring out unusual characteristics we normally associate with aged Nebbiolo. Dark fruit, spice and mineral are revealed. This is serious wine and as a current release of 6 years of age, it could use even more though ready to open right now. Beautiful, clear ruby red color with dark aromatics of black fruits, spice and flowers. Rich fruit and earth flavors with plenty of the telltale barbera acidity and a long, firm finish. A pretty solid ringer for an older Nebbiolo but just a little friendlier.
These wines are being brought into the US in small quantities so not much available though I buy what I can.