The "Rolls Royce" of Barbera d'Asti
- Written by Diana Zahuranec
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In Piemonte, the greatest and most prestigious reds are defined by their vineyards and terroir, called a cru. Usually, this means a Barolo or a Barbaresco; but did you know that Piemonte’s most popular everyday wine, Barbera, has cru labels, too?
Answering the call to make wine—at 70+
Manfredo Moretti degli Adimari came to the high hills of Alto Monferrato, located just ten kilometers south of Asti, the “capital” of the Monferrato, and fell in love with a wine and a winery. In 2012, he bought the property of the Sorì San Giovanni and began producing wine. The surprising part about this is that Manfredo discovered his proclivity for vineyard cultivation and his passion for winemaking at the ripe age of 76, when he became the oldest new member of AIS, the Italian Sommelier Association. And while his family can trace their roots back to at least the 13th century, when a family member was placed in Dante’s Inferno (defamatory at the time, but now? A great piece of family trivia), they were not winemakers. What drew him? One of the aspects that struck Manfredo most of all about the area was the quality of the Tinella subzone and the fact that very few producers were making wine from it.
Today, the gem of the Moretti degli Adimari production is Barbera Tinella Superiore DOCG. Their 2012 vintage was awarded by Vinitaly in 2015, Douja d’Or 2015, and by Gilbert & Gaillard.
“Tinella” is what is known as a cru (or officially a subzone)in Piemonte. It is similar to a sorì, or the bigger tongue twister menzione geografica aggiuntiva. All three words denote a special vineyard and its terroir (because Italian wines aren’t complicated enough).
How many ways can you describe a vineyard? Cru, MeGa, Sorì
Since the 1970s, writing the cru on the label of a Barolo or Barbaresco has become common practice for the most prestigious bottles; and some of the most famous vineyards, like Cannubi, have been regarded as special since at least the 1700s. The crus are ideal wine producing spots on the hills in the production zones, and labeling it so also helps a serious wine lover know what he’s buying. The differences in the aroma, flavor, and structure from one hill to the next—especially in Barolo and Barbaresco—are astounding.
The word cru is, like many winemaking terms, French. It is also relatively unregulated. There is no certification process to put the name of a vineyard on the bottle, with the result being that some geographic impossibilities have emerged in the past several decades as crus become more highly prized. As Alfonso Cevola astutely notes, there are “15 "official" hectares and the 27.95 "reported" hectares of Cannubi.”
Menzione geografica aggiuntiva (MeGa)
The menzione geografica aggiuntiva (or MeGa) addresses this problem and officially defines the vineyards. They were regulated in 2007 (Barbaresco) and 2010 (Barolo) and delineate the boundaries of specific and prized Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards, with rules such as how many producers must be making wine from it, alcohol gradation, and so on. In fact, there’s an app for that.
Crus are mostly reserved for the “king and queen” of Piemonte; and only the two big B’s get to use the MeGa nomenclature. But Barolo and Barbaresco aren’t the only ones to get special mention. Barbera d’Asti of the Monferrato has found its special areas of production, too. Today, three crus define the Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG, which in itself has stricter production standards with the addition of “Superiore DOCG.” The crus are Nizza, Colli Astiani or Astiano, and Tinella. Actually, they differ from Barolo and Barbaresco crus in that they are larger areas and specifically defined on the disciplinare as “subzones” (kind of how the other crus are now defined as MeGas). Get a bottle with one of these names written on its label, and you’ll know you’re drinking a special Barbera.
Where does that leave sorì? In dialect, it means “sunny spot,” indicating a vineyard with excellent sun exposure and thus good quality grapes. The MeGas are sunny; why aren’t they called sorì? Traditionally, sorì has been used for Dolcetto d’Alba and Dolcetto di Dogliani.
A higher end Barbera d’Asti
Named for a brook in the Cuneo province, the Tinella production zone is the smallest of the three. It may only be produced in Costigliole d’Asti, Calosso, Castagnole Lanze, Coazzolo, and part of Isola d’Asti. That, plus the fact that its regulatory guidelines are the strictest—it must be aged at least 24 months, of which at least 6 must be in oak and 6 in the bottle—means that very few producers make this special Barbera. “As far as I know, there is not a single other DOCG that requires this in Italy,” says Manfredo.
In Piemonte, wine drinkers reserve the Barolo and Barbaresco for special occasions. These more costly wines are often claimed as people’s “favorites,” though the majority of wine drinkers consume Barbera and Dolcetto for their everyday dinners and occasions. Manfredo hoped to create the “Rolls Royce” of Barbera d’Asti when he bought the winery in 2012. With its several recent awards, it looks like he and enologist Flavio Mo—together with his son Andrea and the rest of the production team—are on their way to securing a spot in the market with a higher end Barbera d'Asti.
Producer’s tasting notes for the Barbera d'Asti Superiore DOCG "Tinella" 2012:
14.5% alcohol, intense, nearly opaque ruby red. On the nose, it is almost imperceptibly vinous, ethereal, with jam and mature, red fruits, vanilla, black pepper, coffee, and tobacco.
In the mouth, it is elegantly balanced between accented freshness and the warmth of the alcohol; it is velvety, full, and has great structure. The wine finishes with a pleasant note of black licorice and coffee.
Best paired with aged salumi, first dishes made with red meat, second dishes of roasted or braised meat, and aged cheeses. It is an excellent meditation wine.
Azienda Agricola Moretti Adimari
Click here to see where the Tinella stream is located in the Alto Monferrato.
Disciplinare: guidelines for producing Barbera d'Asti DOCG Superiore "Tinella," "Nizza," and "Colli Astiani" or "Astiano."