Wine drinking was really no different than beer drinking to me for a long time. I sucked at it. I didn’t know anything, liked everything, and did it primarily with having too much as an objective. In the case of beer, that changed when I went to Mons, Belgium, for a wedding a few years back, and was introduced to Trappists, other abbeys, and the incredible quality that all of the more than 1,000 Belgian beers have to offer in dubbels, trippels, quads, and other formats. Almost overnight, with the help of a few dear friends, I no longer drank beer, but rather, I appreciated it.
As it goes, Sonoma did for my wine drinking what Belgium did for my beer consumption: it made me better, made me more aware, made me think a bit. (Also made me spend more money.) In the case of beer, I don’t love trippels, but I love a good quadruppel, maybe a Rochefort 10 or a Gulden Draak 9000, for example. And similarly, in the case of wine, it helped me sort things out. Wines I do not love:
1. White Zinfandel. Any of it. Ever. For any reason.
2. Cheap Bordeaux blends.
3. Three-buck Chuck.
4. Napa-style Chards that are too Napa-y.
5. Anything that costs more than a reasonable, working-class human being can spend on a Friday night.
I could get into details on each of these points, of course, and most of our blog will be in some way related to the fifth, but in a more general sense, I’m just pointing out that it’s good to know you. When people ask me what “a good bottle of wine” is, I respond with a patent answer. I tell them: “A good bottle of wine is whatever you can afford that you enjoy drinking.” If what you love is a Chardonnay that tastes like burn oak barrel dipped in melted butter, hey, more power to you (just don’t ask me to drink it). If you love Charles Shaw’s Cab, well, hey, maybe they were out of Welches anyway. My point is that we all have different palates, and knowing yours will be really helpful. When I got to know my own, it pointed me to some really wonderful stuff, including the wine that this post is ultimately about.
I’ve only ever known a few people named “Barb.” The house mother of my fraternity was named Barb. My father-in-law’s wife is named Barb. Other than that, I get more barb in my life from the cacti that grow at our family ranch than anywhere else. Until now…
If you’ve never had Barbera, an Italian varietal that recently caught on in California, you might enjoy a taste of one. On our recent trip to Napa and Sonoma, we brought back several bottles. Tonight in HyVee, however, clerk one gave clerk two a blank stare, and clerk two, who is typically pretty good, just looked at me and said “Yeah, that’s an Italian varietal, we don’t have that.” A quick scan of the Chianti-laden Italian section confirmed his thesis. All that being said, you might have to go slightly out of your way for this one, depending on where you are. What I’ll say though is that if you’re a Cabernet or serious Merlot lover, it might be worth it. Let me explain.
Barbera, good ones anyway, combine the full body of a good Cab with the fruit-forward nature of a good Merlot. Unlike most Merlot, however, Barbera will have a little more tannin and a longer finish, like a Cab. Some are, of course, quite different, but I’ve found this to be true of most California variations of this Italian wine, and, with all respect to a nice Montepulciano, I like it leagues better than a lot of the blended, grape-y garbage the Italians have the audacity to call wine. Tonight, we paired the Barbera with a chorizo that I made, crossing cultures slightly. The spice of the meat brought out the fruit of the wine nicely. Tonight’s was VJB‘s 2011 Barbera, but a few other places making a nice one in Cali include Imagery, B.R. Cohn, and Jacuzzi. I ordered a few Italian Barberas tonight, mostly out of curiosity. I’ll report back on them later. Pair this fruity, full-bodied, decently-tannined wine with anything red and slightly spicy, and I don’t think you’ll be sorry. If you are, geez, send it to me. I’ll take it off your hands no questions asked.
Ultimately, I’m standing by my statement that good wine is whatever you think it is. You be you. We’ll talk wine production costs in another blog sometime, because that’s pretty interesting stuff, but the bottom line is that you don’t have to fork over a ton of money to enjoy a nice bottle of wine, believe me. We’ll keep pointing you to wines we like, and we hope you’ll share your faves with us as well. We recently discovered a few Rose wines we thought we good, so clearly palates can change over time, too. For now, check out a Barbera and tell us what you think. We’d love to hear from you.
Peace and vino,