The Enosis “wonder” glass, the “entry-level” Barbera, and a couple of Barbera comments worth reading

Above: At Il Falchetto, we tasted in Donato Lanati-designed “Meraviglia” (“Wonder”) glasses by the Enosis laboratory. The ring in the middle of the balloon is intended to preserve and concentrate the wine’s aromas. That’s Scotsman and spirits wine writer Bill McDowall, left, with Barbera 7 members Stuart and Whitney. If you ever meet Bill, be sure to get into his good graces and enjoy his ever-present flask. ;-)

During one of the afternoon sessions of Barbera Meeting 2010, the Barbera 7 tasted at Il Falchetto, where we all liked the winery’s mid-level, as it were, single-vineyard Barbera d’Asti Superiore Lurei, which is aged in large cask. The winery’s flagship Barbera d’Asti Superiore Bricco Paradiso, which is aged in new, small French cask (barrique) didn’t impress me as much. Pretty much across the board, you would see the same thing, even at the wineries I liked the most: the entry-level and mid-level Barberas were juicy and fresh, with the bright acidity I love, while the flagship “important” Barberas tended to be oaky (often judiciously so, in all fairness, as in the case of Il Falchetto) and concentrated, with restrained acidity.

In other news…

My last two posts generated a couple of interesting comments worth re-posting here. In the first, Barbera 7 member Thor offered his transcription of Belgian wine writer Bernard Arnould’s polemical observations, uttered on that fateful, snowy night in Nizza last week.

    I was scribbling as fast as I could, and had Arnould as saying:

    “Why so much oak? Why so many uninteresting tannins? My quest is to find a wine with fruit, freshness, and tannins that are interesting and not dry, and…[there was a pause here, and while my memory is that he said “maybe” I did not write it down]…a little oak. If you think that putting oaky barberas on the market is a good idea, you only join the rest of the world in making big, oaky wine.”

And, in the wake of yesterday’s post, Londoner, organic grape grower, respected enologist, and Tuscan winemaker Cristiano offered a reality-check technical point-of-view:

    However when talking about acidity in Barbera, one should remember just how fierce this can be. One thing is taming slightly the acidic character of these wines and another is completely obliterating that zippy side, that works so well with food. Although not completely correct in technical terms but gets the message across: a wine with high acidity is one that has over let’s say 6-6.5gr/l (expressed in tartaric acidity), there are some Barberas that can have naturally over 12gr/l of acidity,now that wouldn’t do, would it ? It’s a question of common sense. I am however completely against the use of oak in Barbera.

Thanks, everyone, for reading and for all the insightful comments.

Tracie P are taking the rest of the day off and we’re going to enjoy some of the groovy SXSW festival that transforms Austin into the musical epicenter of the world…

The Barbera affair: what really happened that snowy night in Nizza

The following is my account of the events that took place on Tuesday, March 9, 2010, during Barbera Meeting 2010. The facts, ma’am, just the facts. See also the account published by Tom’s Wine Line.

Bernard Arnould

Above: Even after they traded words more acidic than an unoaked Barbera, Belgian wine writer Bernard Arnould (left) and winemaker Ludovico Isolabella shared pleasantries during the aperitivo after the conference on the wines of Nizza last Wednesday.

The controversy really began before lunch, when Italian wine writer Carlo Macchi, Austrian Helmut Knall, and Americans Charles Scicolone and Tom Maresca asked some pointed questions during the Q&A following a presentation by professor of enology Vincenzo Gerbi (University of Turin) and legendary winemaker Michele Chiarlo in Canelli before lunch. The speakers had presented the results of the Hastae experimental laboratory project. Researchers were able to reduce levels of acidity by employing non-traditional vine-training methods they said. I had been asked to interpret.

Why, asked the attendees, would you want to reduce the acidity levels of Barbera when its bright acidity is it’s defining characteristic? The answer, said the presenters, lies in a desire to make a wine more palatable to a wider market. The same held for judicious oak aging, they said. A heated argument on what defines “recognizability” and “typicity” ensued. Frankly, I had an easier time interpreting for the Italian foreign minister’s delegation and a hostile group of Chinese officials when I worked at the United Nations some years ago.

Above: Charles Scicolone addressed Michele Chiarlo directly during the afternoon session.

But things really heated up after we had tasted roughly 50 wines in the afternoon session in Nizza and Belgian wine writer Bernard Arnould took the floor and openly challenged the winemakers present: the wines we had tasted, he told them, were so oaky and concentrated that they were barely drinkable. They did not resemble Barbera, he said, and he couldn’t help but wonder out loud where they expected to sell these wines.

To this, winemaker (and one of Piedmont’s foremost lawyers) Ludovico Isolabella, owner of the Isolabella winery, responded by asking: “Do you know anything, anything at all, about wine?”

Following this, Charles Scicolone addressed the winemakers, and Michele Chiarlo in particular. He asked them for whom these wines were intended. They did not taste like the wines he had tasted 20 years prior, he said. Why, he asked, did they change their winemaking style? Were they making one wine for their own consumption and another to sell to America? The Barberas he had tasted, he explained, were no longer the high-acidity, bright fruit, low-tannin, food-friendly wines of two decades ago.

Above: The Barbera 7 watched on as the volatile acidity flew. You can see Polish colleague Andrzej Daszkiewicz in the background with Charles and Tom Maresca to his left.

That’s all I have time for today. I’ll have more to report tomorrow and I know that my colleagues are also scribing posts on the fateful events of that day.

In the meantime, I’ve spent the whole day (and last night) stuck at JFK. I kinda feel like the Tom Hanks character in Spielberg’s Terminal. Ugh… Hopefully, I’ll make it back to that beautiful lady of mine tonight. I don’t think I can stand another day without her…

The Barbera Boys and Girl make headlines in Italy

That’s my fellow “Barbera Boy” Fredric Koeppel reading one of the articles that has appeared about the “bloggers” who have come to Asti to taste Barbera. Photo by Thor Iverson.

It seems that the novelty of our visit here in Piedmont has raised a few eyebrows. Yesterday in the local edition of the Italian daily La Stampa and today in the national edition, headlines have appeared, talking about the “Barbera Boys.”

This morning, the third day of Barbera Meeting, we’re tasting Barbera del Monferrato and I’ve been frenetically reposting the others’s posts on our aggregate blog,

Above: Last night, we read the article that appeared in the national paper when it came online using my Blackberry. Photo by Cory Cartwright.

I didn’t have time this morning to translate the entire article but here’s what I was able to do… More later… and More on the heated exchange that occurred last night between Belgian wine writer Bernard Arnould, my good friend Charles Scicolone, and legendary winemaker Michele Chiarlo. Suffice it to say, sparks flew, and I’m not talking about volatile acidity. Please check out for updates.

Here’s the link to the entire article in Italian, “Barbera Meeting: this wine is good and I’m going to write about it on my blog.”

    Most arrived with their notebooks in hand and their laptop computers to take notes. These tasters were invited to the province of Asti to take part in “Barbera Meeting,” a conference open to food and wine writers, a tasting and debut of Piedmont’s Barbera…

    The tasters have 120 labels available to them. “Four days organized (and financed) by the Province of Asti to attempt,” says alderman Fulvio Brusa, “to reach beyond the borders of the province and seriously share our wines with the world.” It’s going to take some courage: this year, the invitation has also been extended to the bloggers, the “irreverent” plumes of the web.

    Since Monday, six Americans and an Englishman have been filling up the pages of their blog,, with lively notes. They’re doing so in real time, as they taste the wines, together with their impressions of their trip, praise, and criticism. They also include their photos: the last one today, a photo of Nizza Monferrato covered with snow. It’s also possible to converse with them in real time: “Today alone, we’ve had nearly 1,000 page views from America,” says Jeremy Parzen at the Enoteca in [the town of] Canelli, where the delegation was invited to attend a conference led by viticulture experts, including [professor and enologist] Vincenzo Gerbi and Michele Chiarlo.

    It’s the first time in Asti, Monferrato, and the Belbo Valley for the “Barbera Boys,” as they call themselves. “I’ve been to Alba many times,” confessed Jeremy, “but this area has proved a surprise.” He offers some advice: “Don’t let Barbera become a Californian wine. Let the wine speak for itself, with the voice of its terroir. Have faith in the wine and have faith in yourself.” …

    Have a good time surfing the web!