How Much Wood Should A Barbera Have If A Barbera Should Have Wood

Or more aptly titled, How Many Bloggers Does It Take to Write About How Much They Dislike Excessive Oak in Barbera Until the Winemakers Stop Doing It. But firstly, we’ve made the news! The bloggers are the talk of the town. Fredric Koeppel (Bigger Than Your Head) reads the fine print as Michele Chiarlo begins his discussion of vine training methods.

read all about it

We spent the day focused on the Nizza subzone of Asti. A small group of Asti winemakers (including Chiarlo) have spent heaps of dollar bills to test barbera’s vine training methods in hopes to further analyze the varietal’s acidity, tannin and color (and “improve” the wine). Which brings me to the main theme of the day…


on the left: guyot method. lighter more delicate color. on the right: the new cordon method and a darker more saturated color

What is in need of improvement exactly?  Beyond the need to pump up the color for aging (?) and reduce the amount of work in the vineyard, these experiments and changes made in the vine training open a larger discussion of the vinification of the barbera as well.  This is the when the day started to get interesting… after 2 full days of tasting Barbera d’Asti, most of us (journalists, buyers from all over the world)  were eager to start asking questions about the giant oaky elephant that’s been in the tasting room all week.

lunch vertical

The oak of the wine had become the star of the show up until that point. What happened to the barbera? And more importantly, what should barbera actually be? It’s subjective, as wine always is. But the general consensus of my fellow tasters is that barbera should be what it always was, what it is at its purest form: a light, racy, high acidity, fruit driven wine.

snow fall

as snow begins to fall in Nizza, we loaded in to another blind tasting


We moved locations to taste a slew of more Barberas from Nizza. This left us bewildered once again. The oak! Luckily, about 20 producers of the wines we had just tried were in attendance. What I will call the Nizza Oak Debate of 2010 began. For the sake of brevity as well as my lack of time I will list the main points discussed/argued and the resulting thoughts that dialogue left floating in my brain…

– The apparent need to create a universally more appealing style of wine specifically in hopes to sell more bottles to consumers.

– The American market (and all markets for that matter) and its supposed stylistic preference (big, fat Cali wines- is that what Italians think we only like?)

-Making barbera to taste like itself or just like every other non distinctive wine

-What makes a “good” wine? In the words of Michele Chiarlo, “A good wine is a wine that sells.”

-The manipulation of wine. How/if it should be altered to be something other than the true expression of the grape.

-The concept of creating a Superbarbera. Just typing that out makes me roll my eyes.

-Does a more “elegant” wine always mean less oak?


The debates remained heated as the temperatures outside continued to drop and the snow continued to fall. The producers defended themselves and we were left hoping to find a redeeming wine at our dinner table. Which we did in Andrea Faccio’s Villa Giada unoaked fresh 2009 Barbera D’Asti. As if sent from the wine gods above telling us to hold on for one more day.



Much more to write about- yesterday was filled with Barbera wines of Monferrato, a seriously awesome cellar tour and of course more eating and drinking. It was the day the Barbera 7 Got Their Groove Back. Stay tuned…

  • sarah @ syrupandhoney
    March 11, 2010

    Great post!

  • Shauna
    March 11, 2010

    I thought your report on the “Great Debate” was terrific! Do you think that the winemakers in the room actually took the group’s feedback as anything even approaching “constructive criticism”, or do you think that they’re just going to blow the comments off (ie, “those uneducated fools, they don’t know anything!”)?

  • Winethropology
    March 12, 2010

    To oak or not to oak….Argh! Superbarbera? More elegance? Universal appeal? Yes, what, excatly, needed improving upon?

    Barbera, sweet Barbera…I loved you when you were just a young unadulterated child. Whitney, tell those jokers to stop barstardizing our beloved friend! (And smuggle as much of it home as you can!)

    • whitney
      March 12, 2010

      i’ll try!! i am still working on your truffle vinegar too!

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