Badgers and Barbera

Badger Barbera.

Badger Barbera.

Can you get enough of a good thing? HELLLL no!

If it’s a secret, then it’s the worst secret ever; I AM a Barbera hound. There I said it. It’s on the table. And here’s my litany why: Barbera is…

1) Affordable if not inexpensive considering the level of quality
2) Accessible, most halfway decent shops will have at least one on the shelf
3) Consistent, you seldom hear or read of a crappy Barbera vintage
4) Approachable, pop and pour – it doesn’t take a millennium to mature
5) Food friendly, it is after all on the dinner table throughout northwest Italy

With that said, there’s not much left to debate. Barbera is mostly grown in Italy’s Piedmont region but incredible domestic representations are available. And you’ll almost always see Italian Barbera as coming from one of two Piedmontese cities, Alba or Asti. Sure, there’s a bit of a rivalry there and purists will argue as to which is better, but truly… they both rock it out.

My Barbera of the moment is the Elio Perrone Barbera d’Asti Tasmorcan. Dried cherries, black licorice and some funky cheese notes are the leadoff to an almost afterthought of vanilla (that you might catch not long after the first sip). Look for a grape loving critter on the label. The badger, or tasmorcan in Italian, is perhaps the ideal mascot for any Barbera wine; the little guy just can’t get enough of it. Amen brother!

What’s your Turkey Wine this year?

We’ve been charged with bringing dessert pie to Zia Carol’s Thanksgiving Feast on Thursday. If it makes it that long.

My, my, me oh my! Nothing tastes better than homemade pie.

My, my, me oh my! Nothing tastes better than homemade pie.

Since I didn’t write a Thanksgiving and wine column this year, I thought at the very least that I should send out a reminder of some styles that go well with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. These wines tend to be very versatile and solid food supporters.

1 – Syrah & Grenache blends from the Rhone (French)
2 – Rieslings from the Mosel, (German)
3 – Dry Rose from Provence (French)
4 – Pinot Noir from Oregon
5 – Barbera from Piedmont (Italian)

Love to hear back about which wines you’re serving with Thanksgiving this year!

Happy Thanksgiving! – Roger

Wine of the People

Wine for the people!

Wine for the people!

There is nothing ordinary about the 2012 Le Cantine di Indie Vino Rosso del Popolo. It breaks Italian wine convention like long thin, brittle pasta hitting a hard floor.

The northwestern Italian region of Piedmont produces three very well known red wines including Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. But they are almost always wines unto themselves. Nebbiolo makes piggy-bank emptying Barolos, Barberas represent some of the regions favorite everyday table wines and Dolcettos persist on maintaining their “little sweet one” reputation.

I head never heard them mentioned as part of a blend in the same wine the way Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah often are in United States or for that matter the way Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre are in France. Not until, that is, I learned about this very independent minded red from one of Piedmont’s hilly areas, the Langhe.

Vino Rosso del Popolo translates to “red wine of the people” and the Le Cantine di Indie’s flavor profile and shelf price both live up to its campaign promise. For $14-15 you’re given a red wine with fleshy, nearly chewy plum fruit and bright cherry zing. Truly the newest flag bearer of a resurgent populist movement, the wine’s minimalist black and white label may scream “generic” but it’s just the first indicator of its reach for mass appeal and power to please. Wait until you try it!

Barbera & Bucatini

Pre-cooking ingredient round-up

Pre-cooking ingredient round-up

When summer just isn’t summer, pretend it’s something else. Hell, what else can you do when it’s been raining like the Asian sub-continent for the past few months!

So, last night I did just that and pulled out an old sample of one of my favorite varietals from the wine nook. Barbera is that everyday red wine from the Northwest of Italy with bright red cherry fruit flavors; an all-around pleasant drink. The region of Piedmont is where most Barberas come from, but attractive examples can be found stateside as well.

The Terra d’Oro and Montevina Wineries in California’s Amador County produce my favorite illustrations of domestic Barbera. And although the competing Piedmont cities of Asti and Alba will argue as to who makes better Barbera, I find them both to be solid, enjoyable wines.

Since this rain had recalibrated my food mood into something more fall-like, my preference last night was to create a heartier dinner. Join what you can’t beat, right?

That meant pairing the Barbera with a tomato based red sauce and stirring in some black olives, Italian style sausage, capers and a northern Italian cheese like Piave (Oro del Tempo). Choosing thicker long pasta like bucatini, which is also tubular, made for an appropriate and warm, belly-filling bowl of noodle indulgence.

The very tubular Bucatini -  totally!

The very long and tubular Bucatini – totally!

My old friend Barbera

Shuffling around in the wine nook tonight, I found this scratched up bottle of one of my favorite wines, Barbera. This affordable bottling of Araldica Barbera is from the city of Asti in the Italian northwest and imported through VIAS wines.

If Barbera’s ripe plum and juicy cherry notes aren’t indulgent enough, then bury your nose in the all-spice and smoky aromas. The Araldica Barbera makes for a versatile substitute when you need something to lean on at the last minute and don’t want to drop a big coin at the wine shop. Barbera is exceptional with a spicy Indian curry, complete with a cabinet full of flavors and smells like crushed cardamom, cinnamon stick, garlic, clove, cumin, coriander and masala.

Winter dinners and wine to fight the chill

The cold and rainy winter months keep us cooped up in the confines of our homes, affording us some extra time in the kitchen preparing home-cooked dinners that are hearty and warm. Some of my favorite recipes are usually reserved for these cold weather months. And for every season or seasoned dish, there is a wine to cozy up next to it.

Sausage, red beans and rice with a Barbera

The more I try Italian Barbera, the more I love it. In the Italian region of Piedmont, where Barbera is from, it is often the preferred red wine. Because it is meant to be consumed young and because of its bright fruit and rich texture, Barbera is an accessible and food-friendly red. This is a great wine to pair with a robust meal of sausage, red beans and rice. If you’re like me and still on that New Year’s diet, then I recommend turkey sausage as an easy-to-find substitute. Likewise, using a rice grain that is low glycemic can help you stick to that January nutrition plan. Basmati rice does have plenty of carbohydrates, but they are complex carbs that take longer to break down and keep you feeling full longer.

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Stock your bar with reliable ‘house reds’

Wine is one of those communal dynamics that bring people together. Most wine drinkers I know like to share good food and wine with friends over a little lively banter. They are entertainers and instinctively know that having quality wines around the house (for those last-minute get-togethers) is just as important as having a well-stocked fridge or liquor bar.

When it comes to selecting a dependable house wine, simplicity is the best path to pursue. You probably don’t want to get caught with something that’s either excessively dry or cloyingly sweet. Likewise, you’ll want to avoid the trap of choosing an obnoxiously heavy wine or one that’s forgettable, mild and meek. Not knowing what any individual guest may enjoy from one moment to the next can be a daunting task, so it’s important to follow a three-step approach.

First, try and find something down the middle. If it’s an all-purpose “house red” that you seek, you may want to avoid big, bold Bordeaux or a watered-down California Pinot Noir. History can be a great guide for finding that middle-of-the-road compromise. Take, for example, the piedmont region in northern Italy. Piedmont makes great high-euro Barolos; however, what you’ll find on the everyday dinner table is typically a Barbera.

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Barbera wines little known outside Italy, but spreading

There is a long history and pedigree of revered Italian wines, but Barbera hasn’t yet been enrolled into that club.

Grown primarily in the northwest province of Piedmont, Barbera has often taken a backseat to other wines of the region like Barolo or Gavi. Its success in traveling to other areas of the world has been limited but the promise of the new world and early plantings by Italian immigrants has laid the groundwork for growth of the varietal.

The Barbera grape is characteristically fruity and focused, with a lighter mouth-feel and a supple cranberry color. You’re most likely to find the best Barberas from Italy; however, Amador County in California produces one striking version that’s worth seeking out.

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