THE ELEGANCE OF BARBS
FEBRUARY 4, 2020 | BY MATTEW BROWMAN
Silly reasons to try new wine
One of our favourite things about wine is that it’s your journey, so you can take whatever route you want. We like to have some fun finding unusual angles to approach it. Today, we’re looking at the elegance of Barbs. What does that even mean?
Well, ever notice the confusion around wine naming sometimes? Like, what’s the difference between Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano? And how can a Burgundy wine be white? And there aren’t nine castles in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, by the way.
Today, we’re looking at great wines with “Barb” in the name: Barbe-Rac, Santa Barbara, Barbera, Barbi, and Barbaresco.
Barbe Rac is a single-vineyard bottling of Chateauneuf-du-Pape by M Chapoutier. Considered their top wine, Chapoutier unusually makes it from 100%, 100+-year old-vine Grenache. While straight Grenache Chateaueneuf is unusual, some of the region’s top names make the most revered wines this way. Chateau Rayas and Domaine de la Janasse‘s Chaupin vineyard round out the top three with Barbe Rac. Chateauneuf is typically a dark and powerful giant, but these Grenache wines dance rather than stride.
Santa Barbara is a cool-climate region in south-central California that has exploded over the last couple of decades for its outstanding Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It’s in a unique spot where the mountain range turns east-west instead of running north-south. This allows cool Pacific air to get sucked into the valley, cooling the grapes and focusing the flavour and acidity.
Its patchwork of soils and rolling hills create endless exposures, aspects, and altitudes. Syrah and some Cabernet Sauvignon also do well. Since the best producers don’t overdo the oak, the wines are magnificently energetic, pure, and highly rewarding.
In Roman Catholic lore, Saint Barbara was martyred by her father who was then punished with death by lightning. She’s now the protectress against death by fire. Considering the drought conditions and wildfires in California, we hope her miracles can protect the region.
Barbera is a wine named for its grape variety. This friendly, plump, purple wine’s home is Piemonte in northwest Italy, while Argentina and California make good versions, too. Barbera typically offers juicy plum fruit, medium to full body, and soft tannins. It’s like a beefy Gamay Noir in that most of it is gulpable and endlessly diverse, and we should drink far more of it than we do. Some versions see more serious treatment with lower yields, stronger oak, and more concentration, depth, and ageability.
In northern Italy, it’s a grape name. In the south, though, it’s a slang term for a dishonest woman, prostitute, or the “barber’s wife”.
Ellena Giuseppe Barbera d’Alba Superiore Alferi
Fattoria dei Barbi is another Italian Barb that’s a cornerstone of Tuscan winedom. The family history has a clear line back to the 1000s in Siena. Their influence throughout the region spans the church, politics, medicine, law, banking, and, eventually, wine. Barbi is most recognized for that wine of all wines, Brunello di Montalcino. Indeed, they established the great estates now known as Castello Banfi and Argiano. Historical innovators, they are credited with a number of Montalcino firsts: commercial wine shop, agrotourism, and exporting to France, England, the U.S., and Japan.
Now, Brunello is better known for its power and intensity. However, the best ones still show haunting complexity and coy, suggestive intrigue. The word “Barbi” is derived from “Barbo”, referring to the seashell fossils found in the vineyards.
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Like Barbera, Barbaresco is in Piemonte, but is the place name and not the grape. Barbaresco is made with Nebbiolo, which is famous for its supremely high tannin, high acidity, full body, complexity, longevity, and food-friendliness. The Barolo valley nearby is considered more serious; however, magnificent wines come from both zones. Barbaresco’s more fertile soils, lower elevation, and closer proximity to the Ligurian Sea mean quicker ripening than Barolo. Often, the wines are younger-drinking and more delicate. Nonetheless, the great producers with the great sites will turn out wines of equal depth to their Barolo counterparts. Like this one:
Produttori is a landmark wine empire, making supremely classic examples despite being a cooperative.
How do you solve a problem like Barb?
We could learn something from our love of these wines: the root of the words mean “strange” or “foreign”, a là “barbarian”. But these wines are no savages. They are subtle, deep, and pretty or straight-forward, open, and friendly. Overpowering intensity and hostile takeovers are not their calling. If we could see these traits in those strange and foreign to us, and share a bottle with them, maybe the world would be more peaceful.
Argentina, Argiano, Barbaresco, Barbe-Rac, Barbera, Barbi, Brunello di Montalcino, California, Castello Banfi, Chardonnay, Chateau Rayas, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Chaupin, Domaine de la Janasse, Ellena Giuseppe, Grenache, M. Chapoutier, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Nada Giuseppe, Nebbiolo, Piemonte, Pinot Noir, Produttori del Barbaresco, Santa Barbara, Syrah, Tuscan, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano