Wine Review: 2009 Paolo Conterno Barbera d’Alba

9 11 2011

Not to reinforce any improper stereotypes, but I totally dig the Mafia lighting in this photo.

Well, another week, another lone post on Pop & Pour — there’s no doubt that my brief foray back into academics has taken its toll on my blogging productivity.  Thankfully, my WSET Advanced exam is this Sunday, after which my writing schedule will get back to normal (provided I haven’t given up on wine entirely by then, something I might just do if I have to read my textbook one more time).  After two weekends of boot-camp-esque Advanced training and 30+ hours of class time logged, we’ve tasted and evaluated close to 80 wines and covered off every major world wine region except Spain and Portugal (which are coming up this Saturday), as a result of which everyone’s brain is in varying degrees of pain.  My head is so WSET-laden that I have random wine words like Trincadeira (Portuguese grape variety) and bocksbeutel (odd-shaped wine bottle used in Franken, Germany) floating around the edges of my consciousness at night as I’m trying to go to sleep, and I can’t pour a straightforward glass of vino with dinner without mulling over whether it has a medium or medium-plus body or a ruby-with-some-garnet or garnet-with-some-ruby appearance.  Tonight I poured one of my favourite kinds of inexpensive wine, Barbera d’Alba from northwest Italy, and even though I was fairly familiar with the grape and the region, I still felt compelled to dive into my text to find out what my new vinous Bible had to say about them.

Here’s what the WSET wants you to know about Italian Barbera:

  • It has high acidity and low tannin levels
  • It lends itself to oak aging
  • It has “textbook sour cherry and savoury” flavours
  • It is medium priced and offers excellent value
That’s about it.  In a 300-page textbook, Barbera gets 3 sentences.  To this succinct summary, I would add that, thanks to its high acid levels, bright red fruit flavours and cheerful rusticity and earthiness, Barbera is a pitch-perfect counterpart to any tomato- or tomato sauce-based Italian dish…I had this bottle of ’09 Barbera d’Alba with homemade pizza last night and it was a phenomenal match.  Too bad that pearl of wisdom won’t get me any bonus marks on my exam…

Cork Rating: 4.5/10 (Hard to get more average than that.)

I’m generally a big fan of Paolo Conterno’s wines, but while I’ve had previous vintages of his Barbera that knocked my socks off for under $20, this one wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as its predecessors.  It was a clear translucent purple in the glass and had a somewhat understated nose of strawberries, earth, flowers (violets?), dill, and yes, sour cherries (damn you textbook!).  On the palate it was a little thinner than I remembered, its lean frame made to seem even leaner thanks to the wine’s sharp, penetrating acidity.  Bitter cranberry and raspberry fruit mixed with oak-induced flavours of cedar and toast, and the finish had an almost citrusy component that was both surprising and refreshing.  All in all, a vibrant, food-friendly, impeccably Italian wine experience that would only be improved if the bottle had a little more meat on its bones.

If you’ve never had a Barbera before, I would highly recommend that you seek one out with your next pasta meal; however, in the sub-$20 range, I think the Barberas from producers Gomba and Marcarini outshine this decent but slightly underwhelming effort from Conterno.  Thanks to all for your patience in this brief era of PnP radio silence — I’ll be back next week with something appropriately celebratory to mark the end of the Advanced course.  Wish me luck on the exam this weekend!
86 points

$15 to $20 CDN

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