The Barbera grape is grown in many parts of the world, but its real home is in the Piedmont region of Italy. In Italy, on the slopes surrounding Alba and Asti, Barbera grapevines take up residence in less valued, cooler vineyard spots that are not favored for Nebbiolo, which ripens later. It plays second fiddle to the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, but it also means that bottles of it cost half as much.
Barberas generally have pronounced acidity, and are made in medium-bodied, fresher styles as well as oak-aged versions.
In a very rare occurrence, two tasters brought the exact same bottle (producer, vintage and all), but while the group voted them first place and third place, none detected the repetition. Everyone agreed that these wines would be excellent to bring to a party, and would pair easily with food. There was also consensus that these had much more character and value than similarly priced Chianti.
First Place: Guidobono Barbera D'Alba 2007. Aromas reminiscent of cola, smoke, wet leaves, dark coffee, and caramel. Ali thought it smelled like home . . . "Like the boxes we kept our Christmas ornaments in." Musty with hints of clove. Tasted darker. Plums and blackberry. Feels rounder in the mouth, with a more tactile sensation. Noticeable acidity. Red delicious apple with bacon on the finish. Everyone voted it their favorite wine except for Kate. Received 30 points. Ali's bottle. About $12.
Second Place: Brovia Barbera D'Alba Brea 2005. Smelling like a can of coke, "Beet flavored coke" (Ali), green onion, rubber glove, cinnamon, and green bell pepper. Kate was reminded of her mother's "onion drawer." Perfume, green tobacco, forest floor, violets. Tasters found brown cinnamon, Kafta seasoning, beef, and dark spice flavors. Tart, flat on palate. One taster noted that it was "a cheap date". Kate's favorite of the night. Received 19 points. David's bottle. About $30.
Third Place: Guidobono Barbera D'Alba 2007. Had an animal quality on the nose, with a wet wool, barnyard, old mule quality. Kate was reminded of an "Irish cableknit sweater caught in the rain". Slightly closed and aloof on the nose, with hints of bubble gum. Flavors of cola, mocha, espresso, and blueberries. David felt that it had a "hollow mid-palate" and a "sprightly finish". Received 12 points. Kate's bottle. About $11.
Giacomo Fenocchio Barbera d'Alba Superiore 2005. Tasters found shitake mushrooms, earth, wet moss, mown lawn, "fresh grass and gasoline" (Kate), and rhubarb on the nose. Medicinal with "a hint of bad" (Ali). Lots more flavor, tastes very different than how it smells. Had "a hint of good" on the palate (Ali). Bright on attack, then turns darker. Fish at the end, with iodine, and medicine. Received 10 points. Andy's bottle. About $17.
Mattei Barbera 2005 (Colli Tortonesi). Glue, rubber cement, craftsy-smelling, pine needle, raspberry, mint, toothpaste, and Christmas scents. Bright and fresh, with tree, herbal tea aromas. Notes of socks emerged, and when asked to specify what sock quality, Andy specified, "Not dirty socks, maybe socks worn for an hour." Tomato, "strawberry shortcake doll" (Ali). Soft, velvety quality in the mouth, with a smoky attack, along with green bell peppers, evergreens, and grapefruit pith. Received 7 points. Brian's bottle. About $13.
Fontanafredda Barbera Briccotondo 2006 (Piemonte). Andy found notes of Play-doh on the nose, while others noted plastic, crayons, and acetone. Hints of a dried berry (maybe cherry) with dust, raked up leaves, and black pepper. Not particularly juicy. As the night wore on, the smell changed and Brian remarked, "I used to live in a commune, and it smelled like this." Noticeably tart, with cherry cola, vegetable, tomato, and under-ripe blackberry. Andy thought it tasted alive. Definitely needs food. Kristin thought it was almost effervescent. This one wasn't terrible, just no one's favorite. No points. Kristin's wine. About $15.