Two expert selections from Garrett Kowalsky
Bruno Giacosa is where my love of wine started—and not just Italian wine, but the whole wide wine spectrum, wine from all corners of the earth. I grew up around wine; my parents owned a wine shop and my brother was a Burgundy fiend, but my love for it was not immediate. It took years of sweet drinks, bad beer, good beer and more before my palate finally came around. It was New Year’s Eve 2010 at La Pizza Fresca on 20th Street when a 1989 Barolo from Bruno Giacosa switched the wine light on. It’s been a love affair ever since and I see no signs of my passion slowing.
I’ve chosen two wines from the iconic Giacosa estate to celebrate my wine epiphany—and to deepen your wine love.
Barbera is one of the most widely planted grapes in Italy but it’s mostly known for being the little brother to Piemonte’s Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco. Nearly all of the producers who make these great wines also grow and make a Barbera because, realistically, you can’t have a Barolo every night. This Giacosa Barbera is bursting with sweet fruits, a lively acidity, and a surprisingly long finish. Feel free to pair this with pasta, risotto, burgers, pizza—nearly any dish under the sun. You’ll end up smiling each and every time. Drink now to the end of the decade.
While the Barbera is all about sweet fruit and accessibility, the Barolo Riserva or “Red Label,” as it is known at the Giacosa estate, is an absolute powerhouse. In its youth this wine’s Nebbiolo fruit is tight and foreboding, but as time passes and the tannins integrate, this bottle becomes a wine of extraordinary elegance and remarkable complexity. This bottle will never hit you over the head with bombastic flavors; it would much rather seduce you over a long, long time. Drink 2018-2035.
The core four: Barbera d’Alba DOC, Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Barbera del Monferrato DOC
Historically known as “the people’s grape,” and currently recognized as the “fun” alternative to Piemonte’s more austere Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco, the wines of Piemonte’s Barbera DOCs offer an easy-going, cheerfully acidic and very tasty way to experience the renowned region. The most widely grown varietal in Piemonte, there are two Barbera DOCs, Barbera d’AlbaBarbera del Monferrato, and one Barbera DOCG, Barbera d’Asti.
All three of these designations intersect with Piemonte’s Barolo regions because traditionally Barbera was planted along with Nebbiolo to provide an earlier ripening, and less finicky, crop of fruit—which means that Barbera is often crafted by Barolo producers. All three Barbera areas not only overlap Barolo regions, but they also touch borders with one another, suggesting just how intermarried they are. History indicates that Barbera arrived first in Monferrato in the late eighteenth century, but the grape’s longevity in all three regions is undeniable.
Wines from all three areas tend to be ruby-red and rustic in nature, showcasing a fresh red-fruit palate, and accented by a pointy acidity. Recent changes in viticultural techniques, however, have allowed producers to grow more fruit-forward grapes with a slightly lowered acidity. Regulations require Barbera d’Alba to be entirely composed of Barbera, while both Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato may add up to 15% of Freisa, Grignolino and/or Dolcetto. All three wines gain the status of superiore when aged for twelve months or longer.
Barbara d’Asti has gained much in its Barbera reputation for its Nizza sub-region, which not only has sunnier exposure than other regions but also a stricter set of regulations. Many producers, especially in Asti, have been experimenting with aging in barrique in order to tame the acidity, to add tannins, and to create a plusher, rounder and silkier Barbera. Though Barberas do differ from region to region and producer to producer, one thing is true: regardless which Barbera you choose, you’ll get an ideal food wine, one that cuts through the tang of tomato-based pasta sauces and complements all barbecue with equal aplomb.
For a full range of IWM’s fine Barbera wines, please go here.
The first in our series looking at the grapes that comprise Italy’s best loved red wines!
Last summer, we took a look at Italian white grape varietals (here’s the last installment of the white grape series with links to each part), so it feels right to take a wander through red grapes this winter. This winter, we’re detailing the red wine grapes of Italy. From the well-known to the obscure, this alphabetical list offers insight into the grapes that make your favorite Italian red wines. Today the first installment, Abbuoto to Brachetto!
This very old and quite rare grape grows primarily in Lazio in the Frascati zone. Abbuoto is the primary component of Cecuba, a modern-day interpretation of an ancient wine of the Latium people. This dark-blue, thick-skinned grape makes an intensely ruby red wine with a slight casting of violet and possessing a palate of plums and “frutti di bosco” (or wild blueberries, blackberries and raspberries). Although once verging on extinction, the Abbuoto has recently begun to make a comeback at the careful hands of devoted viticulturers.
Aglianico (ah-LYAH-nee-kah, ah-LYAH-nee-koh)
This black grape is often called the “Nebbiolo of the South” due to its amazing range of expressions, and while for a long time ampelographers thought this grape was Greek in origin, recent genetic research suggests that it’s indigenous to Italy. Grown primarily in Campania and Basilicata, Aglianico also is cultivated in Molise and Puglia, though to a far lesser degree. The grape’s best-known vinification is in Taurasi, the grape’s only DOCG designation, and in Aglianico del Vulture, its only DOC; however, it makes its most poetic appearance as a component of Lacryma Christi, or “Christ’s tears,” a wine of great mythical status originating from the gulf of Naples. Aglianico appears in a wide variety of wines throughout Campania, including rosés, whites, sparkling and, in the passito style, desert wines. Aglianico is usually ruby to brick red, full-bodied, and characterized by sometimes imposing tannins. It has a palate of black cherry, plums, berries and a hint of violet, chocolate or black pepper. Aglianico wines can be drunk in their youth, but due to their often formidable acidity, these wines do best when vinified for ageability.
This dark black, compact grape was rediscovered in 1950 by Fattoria Paradiso’s Mario Pezzi; he named it Barbarossa in honor of Emperor Frederico Barbarossa who lived in the nearby castle of Bertinoro. Although Barbarossa is also cultivated in Provence and in Corsica (where it’s called Barbaroux), in Italy it is grown exclusively in Emilia-Romagna–there is another rarely grown varietal called Barbarossa in Liguria, but it seems to bear no relation to the Barbarossa in Emilia-Romagna. Wines made from Barbarossa may be confusingly owing to their often eponymous name because wines grown in Barbarossa may or may not be made with Barbarossa. However, those wines that are made from Barbarossa tend to be garnet red, full-bodied, quite dry and somewhat austere. These balanced wines often age well, and their scent is reminiscent of roses and violets, while their palate contains notes of worn leather, earthy black fruits and vanilla.
A grape of astounding flexibility and breadth, Barbera is one of the two most planted red wine varietals in Italy (the other is Sangiovese). Barbera grows throughout Italy, but it’s best-known in Piemonte, where it figures prominently in eleven of the areas DOC designations. The best-known of these Barbera designations from Piemonte–Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti and Barbera Del Monferrato–are all uniformly high-quality expressions of the Barbera, and they are rivaled only by Piemonte’s Barolo in popularity. In fact, Barbera earned the nickname of “the people’s wine” because of both its high popularity and its historically lower cost relative to that of Barolo. Low in tannins, but very high in acidity, Barbera’s ruby-colored wines are surprisingly refreshing and complement a wide variety of foods from pizza to steak. While Piemonte’s versions of Barbera tend to be more ageable and more serious, the vintages from other locations tend to be lighter; there’s even a sparkling version in Emilia-Romagna. Wines made from Barbera are characterized by a fresh nose and a palate of lush fruit.
Bonarda is a very sly customer indeed. Most often associated with Argentinean winemaking, Bonarda is the second-most grown grape in Argentina (only Malbec is cultivated more), and it has long been considered an Italian import, though oenologists were uncertain exactly which grape it could be. There are three possibilities, and none of them are clear-cut: the Bonarda Piemontese grape, which is almost never grown and shows no genetic relationship to the other two possible types of Bonarda; the Bonarda Novarese, which is really the Uva Rara; and the grape called Bonarda, which is really more properly called the Croatina. Genetic testing has determined that the Argentine Bonarda is neither a Bonarda nor Italian; rather, it’s the Corbeau, or Charbonneau, from the Savoie region of France. However, in Italian winemaking, the Bonarda is grown in Lombardia and is also known as the Croatina, a grape that makes a soft, charming wine.
Cultivated in Piemonte, Brachetto makes delightful, refreshing, and chill-worthy wines that range between semi-secco and sweet. Created in small batches and exported minimally, the DOC designated light, elegant, frizzante Brachetto d’Acqui may be the best after-dinner wine you’ve never heard of. Only slightly sweet, minimally fizzy, and flourishing great bunches of berries, Brachetto d’Acqui is a perfect wine to accompany fruit and chocolate, two things Piemonte does best. Brachetto also appears in a passito style, where the grapes are allowed to dry by hanging or on lying mats; it also sometimes serves as a component of rosé.
Giacosa every day (and special days)!
Most of our clients already know and love Bruno Giacosa, but most don’t know that he’s responsible for two lines of wines: the estate’s négociant arm Casa Vinicola Giacosa as well as those from Bruno Giacosa’s own estate, labeled with legendary vineyard Falletto. Born in Neive in 1929, Bruno crafts some of the most prestigious Barolo and Barbaresco wines in Piemonte and holds the rank of one of the world’s most respected wine producers. One major point to know about Bruno Giacosa is that he never studied enology; he dropped out of school after the war at the age of 13 to work with his father Mario and grandfather Carlo, who had been making wine since the 1890’s.
Bruno spent his youth learning from both his father and grandfather in the vineyards, and the most important talent they passed down to him was how to select great fruit. This was very important as the Giacosas didn’t own any vineyards; instead, they purchased grapes from select network of growers. By being familiar with each of the cru vineyards in the region, Bruno was able to “cherry-pick” the finest grapes. With time, Giacosa noticed he had less and less fruit to choose from, and in 1982, he decided to purchase the Falletto vineyard in Barolo, and in 1996, he added the Rabajá and Asili vineyards in Barbaresco.
Starting in 1996, Giacosa has divided the estate into two winery names—Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa and Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa. Azienda Agricola Falletto di Bruno Giacosa is located on top of the Falletto Vinyard approximately 400 meters above sea level and makes wines only from estate vineyards or from vineyards he owns. These are Barolo Falletto, Barolo Rocche del Falletto, Barbaresco Asili and Barbaresco Rabajà. Casa Vinicola Bruno Giacosa, on the other hand, is located in the town of Neive near Barbaresco and makes wines using grapes purchased from selected growers including Barbaresco Santo Stefano, Barbaresco Gallina and Barolo Villero.
The best way to distinguish the difference between the two is by the crest on the front of the label. Wines from the Azienda Agricola Falletto have the word FALLETTO in gold letters as well as a crest with a gold F on it. In addition the labels also feature a drawing of the vineyard and winery. The vineyard name on single-vineyard wines is always listed below the type of wine and above the vintage. The single-vineyard wines are also numbered. As opposed to the estate-bottled wines, labels from Casa Vinicola Giacosa say Casa Vinicula and have a crest with a crown on it and feature a drawing of the old castle of Neive on it.
Bruno Giacosa wines are a treat. Super elegant, marvelously perfumed, and full-bodied on the palate, Bruno Giacosa’s Barolo and Barbaresco wines require time and patience, but they will reward you with a spectacular experience. I had some leftover Barolo Falletto that I drank over the course of three days. This wine was like the every-ready bunny because it kept going and going. With each sip I experienced a new aroma or flavor: earth, fruit, minirality, cassis, tobacco, and crushed stone all mingled with elegant red fruit in the background. The only bad thing about it was when I tried to pour more and the bottle was empty.
Delicious, unpretentious, and under $17 Barbera!
When we think of Piemonte, we usually think of Barolo and the Nebbiolo grape, but there’s another important grape: Barbera. More widely planted than Nebbiolo and more often on the dinner table of Piemontese locals, Barbera is often made into simple wines for simple meals, but there are a handful of producers who take on the task of crafting seriously delicious and complex wines from the grape. As you might expect, many of the leading estates in Barolo and Barbaresco also produce a Barbera, and as a hopeless wine geek, I think it’s a lot of fun to compare and contrast the different styles and expressions of the grape across producers and terroirs. And while Barbera is not usually a wine capable of serious aging, it is always delicious and easy to enjoy in any season, and with just about any meal.
Today’s go-to wine comes from the De Forville estate in Barbaresco, and I love it for its juicy yet delicate fruit, cheerful personality and outstanding quality-to-price ratio. It’s not meant to be a complex or serious wine; it’s made to be enjoyed early and often, and without pretension. The family-owned-and-operated De Forville estate has been bottling wines in Barbaresco since 1940, and it uses a mix of modern and traditional practices in the vineyard and cellar, harvesting all its fruit by hand, fermenting in stainless steel with temperature control, then transferring the juice to large oak barrels for the ensuing malolactic fermentation.
My girlfriend and I enjoyed De Forville’s 2013 Barbera Cascina Buc on Sunday night with a nice fall meal of local Delicata squash that we rubbed with olive oil and spices, baked for a while, stuffed with a mixture of crumbled sausage and sautéed kale, topped with grated cheese, and then baked some more. Not surprisingly, the stuffed squash was perfect foil for the Barbera; its mouth-watering acidity cut through the spice and the richness of the melted cheese, and its lovely balance of bright red fruits and soft tannins provided a great counterpoint to the meal’s savory, meaty components. We finished the wine quickly, and my only regret was that I hadn’t picked up a second bottle.
De Forville’s Barbera is the perfect wine to keep at home by the case for everyday drinking, and at under $17, it won’t put a strain on your budget. If you’ve been searching for a new house wine that’s delicious, look no further than this Barbera!keep looking »