Vietti Barbera d’Alba ‘Scarrone’ 2006
Barbera is a difficult grape to consolidate into a single stylistic character. It varies from traditional bright and fruit driven high acid styles to richer, darker, more brooding oak aged styles. A recent series of articles by Cory Cartwright of the fantastic Saignee blog saw Cory tasting through a ton of oak aged barberas in Piedmont much to his disliking. In fact, the oak aged style of barbera has come to be quite controversial, with traditionalists believing that barbera’s true character becomes overwhelmed when it is aged in oak.
And, of course, Oak is only one of the factors to consider with Barbera. There is also the site in which it is grown, with Alba providing more of the high quality single vineyard sites than Asti, both in Piedmont. Barbera’s versatility and vigor also makes it possible to plant all over northern Italy, so it is not that challenging to find examples from some of the less famed regions such as Rubino or Gabiano.
Not having had the opportunity to taste through as many of the oaked wines as Cory did on his trip, I have to admit that this particular wine from famed producer Vietti (which was aged in oak) impressed me and piqued my interest in the possibilities of barbera in oak. Perhaps the Vietti example is one of the few that does well with oak, but I found several elements quite enjoyable about this wine.
First off, Vietti managed to maintain some of the classic barbera aromas of black cherry – but this wine also added felt tip marker, a brooding figgy quality and other dark fruits. If barbera could ever approximate nebbiolo, then this would be the wine that does it, being the densest barbera I’ve ever tasted.
The palate offered more cherry, but also chocolate, fig, plum, along with smoke, tobacco, and tea (likely brought to the scene by the oak). The massive structure and dense and as yet undelineated mid-palate makes me think this wine needs another 3-5 years. The big question is, how will it resolve in that time?
If you are curious to see the good things that oak can do to barbera, or at least one of the better examples of the style, you could do a lot worse than the Vietti Scarrone.
$60 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars and Marquis [I got mine at Esquin in Seattle]