Wine Review: 2007 Cogno Barbera d’Alba Bricco Dei Merli

16 05 2011

So the label's beige, coral pink and orange? It HAS to be good!

I haven’t had a Barbera in awhile, but it’s one of my all-time favourite red grapes, so it’s high time to change that trend.  Barbera is mainly grown in the Piedmont region in northwest Italy, which is much (much much) more famous for the Nebbiolo-based wines from Barolo and Barbaresco, which are some of Italy’s most prestigious and expensive.  While Nebbiolo is the show-dog grape of the region, Barbera is the lovable mutt who sleeps beside your bed at night; Nebbiolo is deep, complex, layered and pedigreed, while Barbera is rustic, juicy, fun and earthy.  Although Nebbiolo is what generates the most cash for winemakers in Piedmont, Barbera is what they drink at night.  Barbera is a great intro grape for those people who want to start learning what European wines are all about but have been used to the overt fruitiness of California and Australia:  it features ripe red fruit flavours that are eminently drinkable but also has the underlying flavours of the land and the ground common in the Old World, all thrown together with a bit of wildness, some colouring outside the lines.  All this, usually, for $15-$25 a bottle.

You’ll notice that this wine is a “Barbera d’Alba”.  Italian wine labels don’t give a lot of hints about the info they contain, but this is one exception:  if you ever see an Italian wine that says “______ d’_____” or “______ di _______”, the word in the first blank is almost always the name of the grape and the word in the second blank is almost always the place it’s from.  In this case, Barbera is grape and Alba is a village in the heart of Piedmont (“Barbera d’Alba” = “Barbera from Alba”).  Similarly, the wine I had awhile back that was corked was a Dolcetto d’Alba — same place, different grape.  Other examples of this label wordplay that you may come across are Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Montepulciano is a simple but juicy red grape from Abruzzo in central-eastern Italy) and Primitivo di Manduria (Primitivo is another name for Zinfandel, and Manduria is a wine region in the heel of Italy’s boot).

Cork Rating: 3/10 (I've been told I'm a harsh cork marker...but come on.)

After all of that lead-up about Barbera, I wish this Cogno was more of a quintessential example of the grape, but alas, not so much.  It was a deep, blood-red/purple colour and had a nose that was half bright cherry fruit and half dusty chocolate, smoke and charred wood; the latter aroma notes are usually characteristics of oak barrel aging.  On the palate, it was quite heavy and full for Barbera — usually a lively, medium-bodied grape — and had substantial, teeth-coating tannin that made the wine seem almost chewy.  Ripe cherry and raspberry fruit were the story on the initial attack, but they were promptly subsumed by more oaky flavours like charcoal, campfire and tobacco.  All the smoke/fire-related notes almost make me wonder if Cogno toasted the barrels that this wine was aged in (which some winemakers do to expand the range of flavours coming out of oak aging)…I’m guessing not, but he could have fooled me with the flavour profile on this bottle.

Part of the charm of Barbera is its never-overly-perfect rusticity, and this one has lost that charm by seeming a little forced and overworked.  The producer doesn’t just let the natural appeal of the grape shine through, and the resulting wine seems manipulated, maybe to justify its higher-than-average price tag for this varietal.  At the end of the day, there are a half dozen sub-$20 Barberas that I’ve enjoyed way more — the best I’ve had are those from Marcarini, Conterno and Gomba, all stellar bargains.  This one isn’t bad, but at almost twice the price, it’s a clear pass.

I’ll end with a quick thank you:  I’ve now surpassed 50 posts and 2500 views for Pop & Pour, neither of which I really thought I’d get to, and all of which is due to the people who read this blog.  You all have my gratitude — I REALLY appreciate your support!

85 points

$30 to $40 CDN

[Wine Jargon Notes:
Old World Old World wines are those that come from Europe; New World wines are those from non-European locations like the US, Australia, South America, etc.
attack when you taste a wine, the initial taste impression you get is called the attack; the final taste impression as and after you swallow is the finish; everything in between is the midpalate.
varietal a varietal is a type of grape, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, etc.]
 
 
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