I love alcohol, all alcohol. Aside from a few misadventures in the cocktail world* there has almost never been a drink that I didn’t immediately appreciate or that I couldn’t learn to appreciate. Barbaresco was one of the few drinks I could not manage to wrap my head around, until tonight that is. Barbaresco and her** cousin Barolo are regions in Italy that produce, what a lot of seasoned wine drinkers would describe as, the pinnacle of flavour in Italian wine. Both regions must use exclusively the Nebbiolo grape in the creation of their wine, although rumors abound that this rule is loosely followed at best.
If you have never herd of Nebbiolo there is good reason, not only is it a fickle grape to grow, but it produces what the average wine drinker might describe as a mildly appealing sour cherry flavour for upwards of $30. Italians know better. Nebbiolo, much like other classic Italian grapes has not yet managed to gain international success. Italy has a total planting of just 5247 hectares Argentina comes in a distant second with a measly 189 ha, I could drink Argentina’s crop in a day! Compare that to one of France’s most successful exports, Cabernet Sauvignon, where nine countries have at least and quite often well over 8500 ha, it becomes painfully obvious that Nebbiolo has been shunned by the international community.
What separates varieties that have managed to gain international success from Nebbiolo is food. Many of the varieties that have risen to fame are not only adaptable to various climates but are also quite pleasant to drink even in the absence of food. To quote Oz Clarke from Grapes & Wine “many old-timers would never dream of bringing out their true treasures [aged Barbarescos and Barolos]… without platefuls of Piedmontese fare to accompany them.” This I learned is the important secret to enjoying a Barolo or Barbaresco.
Nebbiolo has the habit of creating very tannic and very acidic wine, to balance these features it is important to serve a dish with protein and substantial acid. Tannin chemically reacts with protein softening the astringent mouth drying feeling a tannic wine can impart, that’s why a really big Cabernet Sauvignon will seem softer when accompanied with a steak. Likewise an acidic wine needs acidic food to match, if the acid content of food and wine are unbalanced, the flavours too will be thrown off kilter.
At the suggestion of one of my co-workers I put together a pasta dish to go alongside the 2005 Ricossa Barbaresco I picked up. The sauce was composed of crispy bacon (for protein), diced tomatoes (acid), seered green and red pepper, sautéed mushrooms in basil and garlic cooked with the left over bacon fat, olives and about a quarter of a lemon’s worth of juice just to add a little extra acid. It’s important to match flavours of wine with the flavours of food, Barbaresco is often described as having a tar flavour, I wasn’t about to put tar in the sauce but the earthiness of the mushrooms and olives worked nicely. There is also usually a cherry and rose component to the wine, hence the seared bell peppers, to bring out the sweetness, and the natural sweetness in the tomatoes complimented these flavours nicely. Credit where credit is due my coworker is the one who suggested all the ingredients it was not of my own creation.
The pairing brought out the best in the wine, a wine that is nice to drink by itself was transformed into a truly outstanding wine with layers upon layers of complexity. The food too was enhanced by the wine, and this is exactly what a good food and wine pairing should accomplish an enhancement of your entire flavour experience!
Region: Barbaresco, Italy
Notes: I'm going to have to argue that this wine should not be drunk without the appropriate meal. On its own this wine is nice with flavours and aromas of cherries, green peppers, floral, leather and tar, nice flavours but the acid and tannin are high enough that it is a bit much by itself. To truly get the full effect of this wine have it with a high acid dish with some protein that will match the flavours and aromas present in this wine. With the proper dish this wine is Awesome!
*Sometimes you want a drink, and sometimes you only have low quality whiskey, raw eggs, a few milliliters of beer and other various ingredients. Do not believe any cocktail recipe that claims you can make a tasty beverage out of this bizarre assortment of beverages and raw eggs, in fact I’d go ahead and just avoid pretty much any drink that contains raw eggs with a few notable exceptions.
**I say her only because Barbaresco is often described as the more effeminate of the two.