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There’s a Fire in Nizza

Fresh snow blanketed the Nizza wine consortium event hall on Tuesday night where Asti winemakers faced off with the press over the issues surrounding the use of oak in their barbera production.   Many of the major winemakers from the Nizza subzone of Barbera D’Asti were in attendance to both show their wines and to pitch their plans for attaining DOCG status recognition.   Having tasted nearly 200 wines this week from around the Asti region, including Nizza, the overwhelming criticism from attendees, myself included, has been the excess use of barrique or small, french oak barrels and the efforts to create a hyper-improved or “super barbera.”  If oak was on everyone’s mind, The Nizza conference staved these thoughts into a powder keg.

“What was wrong with the old Barbera?” was the question, and not just from our small group of bloggers from the US and UK.   Visitors from around the globe are puzzled why this unfortunate shift has occurred.   A crowd stunner came from Piedmont’s legendary producer Michele Chiarlo who answered that “A wine is good if it sells.” It makes me sad to think that this is where the industry may have arrived.  As a restaurateur myself I understand that you can’t always turn your business on a dime and that changes may take time and money, especially for the small family winery.  I simply ask that winemakers listen to the more traditionalist criticisms which are increasing in density and volume.   These are honest voices driven by a true love for your region and its wines.

The producers speaking at the event insisted that the use of oak is never intended to pander to any particular audience, but to give a good balance of freshness, acidity, tannins and overall structure.   While I believe that this statement is well intended, I hope that they take note when a sympathetic public is having trouble finding excitement in such a huge sample of wines.

A diamond in the rough was the Suri from Villa Giada by a young winemaker named Andrea Faccio discovered at the event by Do Bianchi.  The Suri is a stainless steel/large cask barbera that retails for around $11 in the US.  This wine was fresh with high acid, but also delicious ripe fruit.  It was a pleasure to drink after so many confused, overoaked and sometimes downright flawed wines.   The Suri was not actually in the day’s blind tasting, so Jeremy got a bottle directly from the winemaker for us to try.  Earlier in the day we had sampled his barriqued, upper tier Barbera, which was far less enjoyable than his less expensive Suri offering.  That this wine was being shown instead of the Suri showed the inherent disconnect of the conference.  I think many producers honestly think the wine drinking public enjoys barriqued wines far more than they actually do.

Fortunately some of the smaller producers like Villa Giada are getting the memo and taking advantage of this truly great event to both get the word out and to seek honest feedback about their wines.  Andrea was very open to my thoughts and showed a youthful passion for winemaking that was refreshing.  This wine will certainly find a slot at Jaynes.  There’s nothing really “super” about it, just a well made, tasty wine that I’d be proud to serve. Like Mr. Chiarlo explained, this is a business, and in the end it was a simple, traditional Barbera that won mine.

Wednesday in Monferrato….Very much looking forward to this.

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