I think it’s pretty funny that people keep asking me, “what’s a good wine to pair with Christmas dinner?” How the heck am I supposed to know what you eat for Christmas dinner? Roast beef? Roast turkey? Pork loin? Baked ham? Steak? And what about sides and sauces? Will it just be pizza? Or are you just ignoring tradition and going the Chinese food route!?
But then I realized what my answer ought to be before I ask any of those questions.
It goes with just about everything—and there’s no reason why some Barberas wouldn’t work with something unexpected, like Chinese. Innately high in acid and low in tannins, it tends to make fairly soft or light to medium-bodied red wine.†
The resilient Barbera vine is able to withstand a variety of environments. While its homeland is the Piemonte region in NW Italy, which has a continental climate, it also enjoys success in the Sierra Foothills of California (where the climate is technically Mediterranean but summer temperatures reach into the 100s Fahrenheit on a regular basis), high altitude vineyards of Argentina (where the climate has continental characteristics), and some parts of Australia.
In general, Barbera from Italy shows ripe red cherry and blackberry fruit complemented by perfume, spice, incense, rose, violet and earthy characteristics like graphite or mushroom. The varying soils‡ contribute to Barbera’s structure and aromas and the tradition of a conservative use of oak serves to preserve these nuances.
From the New World, while varying from country to country, it tends to give red and black cherry, strawberry, blackberry—riper fruit flavors from warmer environs—and more spice like nutmeg, anise and even vanilla given the general use of more (new) French oak.
While Barbera can be delicious from many parts of the world, some of the very best Barbera—if not the very best—comes from the Nizza subzone Barbera d’Asti. To understand how Nizza relates to the rest of Barbera-producing Asti, think about how Chianti Classico is defined as the superior part of the Chianti region—same with Soave Classico in the Soave region. It is in this way that Nizza fits into the Barbera d’Asti region. The Nizza DOCG defined zone is like a Classico zone of the Barbera d’Asti region. Barbera labeled as Nizza DOCG is recognized as superior in comparison. It shows consistent quality across the board and great potential for longevity.
Barbera d’Asti is a wine that can come from any of 169 municipalities surrounding the city of Asti. It acquired its DOC status in 1970. With the 2000 vintage, Nizza became officially recognized as a distinguished part of the Barbera d’Asti DOC, and self-imposed certain strict growing and winemaking guidelines. The result was the Barbera d’Asti “Superiore Nizza” wines. The entire region attained its DOCG status in the 2008 vintage. Finally in the 2014 vintage, Barbera d’Asti “Superiore Nizza” became simply “Nizza” and attained its own independent DOCG status. Nizza DOCG includes some of the highest caliber Barbera d’Asti made, coming from the most prized locations and adhering to the strictest grape growing and winemaking practices.§
Only eighteen of the 169 Barbera d’Asti municipalities make up the Nizza growing zone. And within this area the winemakers have collaborated for years with the common goal of elevating quality and getting the message to the world that their Barbera is worth attaining, drinking, and aging. It’s a beautiful area of farmland, hills, forests and of course vineyards.
The following wines consistently rise above their counterparts, and in my opinion, are examples of some of the very best of the Nizza zone. The following are all Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Nizza” DOCG from the 2012 vintage. Starting with the 2014 vintage these wines will be labeled simply as Nizza DOCG.
Tenuta Olim Bauda Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza 2012. Barbera d’Asti DOCG. Barbera 100%. Complex & perfumed bouquet, bright mid-palate with fresh raspberry and red & black plums. Impeccable balance throughout. The grapes are hand-picked in the beginning of October. Fermentation is in stainless and the wine ages for 30 months in 25HL botti (large barrels). ★ ★
Michele Chiarlo La Court (Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza) 2012. Barbera d’Asti DOCG. Barbera 100%. Beautiful clean and bright; red, blue and black berries; perfumed, concentrated and ready for the long haul. Since its first vintage in 1996, this wine continues to reveal some of the best of the best of Barbera. 12 day fermentation on skins in 55HL barrels with cap submersion is followed by another year in large barrels, and an additional 15 months in bottle before release. ★ ☆
Cantina di Vinchio-Vaglio Serra Laudana (Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza) 2012. Barbera d’Asti DOCG. Barbera 100%. Violets, wildflowers, wild blackberry and mint, this is a juicy, crisp, and fresh Barbera. 18 months of refinement in large wooden casks and then bottled. ★ ☆
Cascina Garitina Neuvsent (Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza) 2012. Barbera d’Asti DOCG. Barbera 100%. Quite a bit more perfumed and nuanced than the rest. Lush and gorgeous red cherry; a true joy to drink. Made from vines planted in 1924, 1949, & 1954! Cold fermentation for 4 days prior to a further week of alcoholic fermentation. Completes malolactic in stainless and then transferred to barrel for 24 months. Bottle refinement takes another year or longer. ★ ★
Cascina Guido Berta Canto (Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza) 2012. Barbera d’Asti DOCG. Barbera 100%. Herbs, cherry pie, dark cocoa; round and consistent structure. ★ ★
…and bonus! a 2007!
Coppo Riserva della Famiglia (Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza) 2007. Barbera d’Asti DOC. I didn’t write any notes but this wine was in a perfect spot! ★ ★ ☆
SO WHAT ABOUT FOOD PAIRINGS?
For a lovely Christmas dinner, I suggest making this pork loin from the book, ENOTECA, by Joyce Goldstein. The combination with Nizza Barbera is truly superb!
If you’re keeping the stress low, grab pizza and bottle of Barbera on Christmas. Incidentally, my local pizzeria, Tramonti, (literally 50 steps from my front door) serves a range of Asti Barberas, including one of Vinchio-Vaglio Serra‘s. Pretty stoked about that!
Chow Mein? Honestly I don’t know. But I will try the pairing soon (not on December 25th!) and report back!
For more on Barbera as a wine, check out Wine Folly’s Quick Guide to Barbera Wine.
– – –
† It could also make sparkling or still rose. Vinchio-Vaglio Serra makes an outstanding sparkling Barbera!
‡ This is a link to a soil map of the Nizza DOCG zone. Soils will differ in other parts of Italy where Barbera grows, namely Alba, Roero, Tortona in Piemonte and Oltrepo Pavese in Lombardia.