10 Barbera Wine Picks: Barberians Defy Heat
Can you really taste big tannic red wine in 115-degree heat? The answer is no. Unless they are properly chilled to the cellar temp at which they are supposed to be served. Which would be around 56. Ice is required. Thankfully, the organizers of the 3rd annual Barbera Festival, held at Cooper Vineyards in Plymouth, in the beautiful Amador AVA, had ice for anyone who knew what to do with it. They even sent out a reminder email to all the participating wineries regarding the hot weather forecast and the need for hydration and coolers.
Some people got it. Others just didn’t seem to be aware of how undesirable hot red wine is on a superhot day. The most popular food vendor had ice cream, including a Barbera flavored one. By 2pm, the event, which goes from 11am til 4pm, far too long for any wine event, especially one featuring red wine outdoors, had lost more than a few participants, both on the winery side and the consumer side. The unusual heat was simply unbearable.
For the most part, wineries were pouring their 2010 vintages: in some cases, they already had 2011’s on the docket. A few had 2009’s as well as 2010’s, which gave a good contrast. Chiefly, the 09’s are fruitier and more robust: the 10’s and certainly 11’s, show far more pretty red fruits and are more elegant, with sassy acidity and bright, long finishes.
With so many amazing Barberas to choose from, it’s hard to narrow down the field, but my criteria is a wine that has balance: it can’t be overwhelmingly high in alcohol, too oaky or too acidic. A classic Barbera has to have juicy fruit, earth and/or spice, reasonably fine tannins, and something to hold my interest in the mid-palate and on the finish. These wines all stood out for their structure and drinkability.
Top 10 Barbera Wine Picks
2010 Auriga Wine Cellars, Placerville: Smooth operator with bright bouncy cherries and awesome acid.
2010 Bella Grace Vineyards, Plymouth: Gorgeous structure, superb balance and amazing dark-fruited acidity. This was Best of Class at the 2012 State Fair.
2011 Borjon Winery, Plymouth: Seething with black cherry and lively tannins, this is a classic expression of Cooper Vineyards fruit.
2010 Cooper Vineyards, Plymouth: Splendidly crafted, this spirited wine won Best of Class at the 2013 Amador Wine Competition. Great finish.
2009 Deaver Vineyards, Plymouth: Solid and complete barbaric experience.
2008 Driven Cellars, Plymouth: High horsepower, black cherry rocket ride with racy acidity.
2008 Easton Wines, Terre Rouge, Monarch Mine Vineyard: Perhaps one of the most Italianesque, with fabulous earth, juicy fruit and tannins as firm as the leather seats in a new Maserati.
2010 Fiddletown Cellars, Plymouth: Another Cooper classic, this makes your mouth dance with joy. It’s a symphony of flavors and textures.
2009 Guglielmo, Morgan Hill: From Santa Clara county, this deftly executed earthy beauty was a gold medal winner at the 2013 State Fair, and a favorite of the crowd.
2011 Jeff Runquist, Plymouth: This paragon of Amador winemaking excellence offered three barberas. The pan-appellation blend was really lovely, with ripe strawberry jam and fresh raspberries. The Cooper Vineyard designate was positively as juicy as a fresh cherry. Loved them both.
2011 Rosa D’Oro, Kelseyville, Lake County: As energetic as a competitive swimmer doing the butterfly, this wine is a splashing wave of tangy cranberry and pomegranate. Simply a joy to drink. Their dry rosé of barbera and grenache is killer!
Where to Stay for Barbera Festival
If you go to next year’s Barbera festival, which will be held on June 7, 2014, or if you’re just visiting Gold Country for a winetasting getaway, stay at the Grey Gables Inn. This lovely B&B in Sutter Creek is run by a delightful British couple, Roger and Sue Garlick. They have decorated 8 exquisitely appointed rooms named for the major poets, so you can choose your fave, be it Keats, Wordsworth, Byron and so forth. The grounds are beautifully flower-infused, the air conditioning units are new and highly efficient and you are literally steps away from winetasting galore and many fun shops and restaurants. The Yorba, Bella Grace and Scott Harvey tasting rooms are a minute away on foot, and there’s more where those came from. When you’ve had your fill of wine, you should check out the fascinating cemetery and catholic church with well-preserved gravestones chronicling the relatively short, hard lives of immigrants from Croatia, Ireland and Portugal, who are laid to rest in this lovely town.
Dinner at Taste in Plymouth is a must: this top-drawer gourmet bastion of amazing cuisine, artfully prepared and sensationally plated, will wow any palate. Their list of wines by the glass is impressive and refreshingly diverse. Be sure to try the mushroom cigars: perfect with an earthy Barbera!
BY: LAURA NESS, WINE JUDGE & WINE WRITER
Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at myvinespace.com.