Barbera, the shut-up-and-drink-it wine
A dozen or so years ago a wine/foodie contrarian named Willie Gluckstern came out with a ridiculously cheap (in a good way) $12 book called The Wine Avenger, guaranteeing that you can “become a wine/food genius in one hour.” This was actually an exaggeration: it would probably take a person of reasonable intelligence and functioning eyesight less than 30 minutes to “get” Gluckstern’s basic, on-the-money, plainly spoken premise, neatly summarized in this illustration from Gluckstern’s book:
“First, do no harm,” Gluckstern writes, about selecting the best wine for a dish. “Food amplifies everything in a wine. That mean lighter wines have more room to grow. They are actually fleshed out by contact with food.” Heavier wines, especially higher alcohol wines often pumped up further by oak flavors (namely, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot), “tend to land on the diner’s palate like an anvil… so massive and overpowering that they obliterate the flavor of all but the richest red meats and sauces.”
And who eats red meat with powerful sauces every night?
By this logic, Gluckstern concludes that German Riesling — as light, crisply balanced and unoaky as a white wine can get — is one of the finest wines for foods in the world, and of many today’s food/wine cognoscente would not disagree. The best red wines for food? For Gluckstern, that would be those made from the Barbera grape, for several reasons: “… mouth cleansing acidity, modest alcohol, soft tannins, and vibrant red-cherry sweetness.”
Note well: Gluckstern mentions acidity first, for there are few red wines in the world which come with as much natural, zesty grape acidity as Barbera. This is why, according to the wine avenger, Barbera “revels in the most difficult culinary challenges, especially in the wine-bending arena of tomato sauce. Only citrus fruits contain higher acidity than tomatoes, and only Barbera offers high enough acidity to sluice through red sauce with its personality intact… its sweet red-berry flavor can shine through even the most highly seasoned and spicy preparations.” Marinara alla diavola (red peppers), puttanesca (olives, anchovies and chili peppers), or arrabbiata (bacon and peppers) anyone?
Historically, Barbera has always played a major roles in Lodi winegrowing precisely because of that natural acidity, which the grape retains in the Delta’s Mediterranean climate. Today, a number of Lodi’s specialty, handcraft producers are putting out consistently fine, flavorful varietal bottlings of intrinsic fruit forward charms, while avoiding the common downfall of a higher acid grape like Barbera — a mean, lean, unpleasant sharpness (there is such a thing as too much acidity).
In recent weeks, we’ve revisited three of Lodi’s finer Barberas, as good as any found in the world:
2007 Uvaggio, Lodi Barbera ($18) – Uvaggio winemaker Jim Moore’s current release fits Gluckstern’s criteria to a T: zesty, yet pointedly unsharp acidity, light-medium alcohol body, negligible vanillin oak, and luscious, almost sweet, strawberry/black cherry fruitiness in the profile, landing on the palate with a rounded, gushy, bouncy feel through a soft, dry, easy finish. The only drawback: this Barbera has such an ease of drinking, you’ll probably need two bottles, not one, to get through even the simplest la casa preparò la cena di pasta.
2009 Sorelle, Belleza Fra Lodi Barbera ($25) – There is even more of the natural varietal zest than in the Uvaggio in this bottling; also flashing achingly youthful, pure, sweet black cherry varietal fruit tones in the aroma and flavor, laced upon a sleek, slender, medium weight body. Re the story behind this outstanding new producer in our previous blog, 2 sisters+1 cool dad — this wine is a must-experience!
2009 Macchia, Delicious Lodi Barbera ($18) – Winemaker/proprietor Tim Holdener has never made any bones about the fact that he prefers a denser, more concentrated style of wine; and since Barbera can never really get too big anyway, this wine is a revelation of judiciously scaled intensity: bright, energetic, sweet toned blackberry/black cherry fruit qualities tinged with mild, chestnutty oak tones, riding on a sturdy, medium sized body underlined by moderate yet firming tannin and, of course, the classic, zesty, food lovin’ varietal acidity.
… or as Gluckstern has oft-times been quoted, “shut up and put it in the glass!”