Long-time followers of my blog know about the long-planned Barbera podcast that finally took place on New Year’s Eve of last year. What you may not know is that there were a couple of wines that had to be dropped for the podcast due to time constraints, and due to a smaller crowd than was expected. One of those wines is now going to have its moment in the sun: the 2013 VSC Barbera from Caduceus Cellars.
The 2013 VSC Barbera is particularly unique, as it is the first example I’ve tasted of this varietal sourced here in the Verde Valley. (The only other vineyard other than the block in which Maynard sourced his which grows it here is at the Dos Padres site owned by PSC, but I have yet to see any releases from that block of wines.)
With the obliteration of Fort Bowie, Barbera is a harder grape to come by in Arizona these days; Dragoon Mountain Vineyards is now the only major accessible source of this grape for the average wine drinker. Some Barbera has recently been planted near Dewey by the owners of Mogollon Winery, though, so this will pass in time. (Also of note: the Sacramental wine at St. Pasius Monastery, near Safford, is made of Barbera, grown on site, but it is *really* not kosher to be commenting on terroir notes while taking communion–even if you are the Wine Monk.)
The 2013 VSC Barbera is probably the most cerebral Barbera I’ve encountered this year.
Notes about Barbera: Barbera is originally from the Piedmont of Northern Italy, under several DOC’s and DOCG’s. The most famous of these are Barbera D’Asti, and Barbera D’Alba is probably the most famous, and we tasted two of these in the aforementioned podcast. The Nizza DOCG is the newest area set aside in the Piedmont specifically for Barbera. By and large, Barbera is meant to be a table wine, imbibed while waiting for more tannic reds to age. It is also the third most planted red grape in Italy, and is attested in sources as early as the 13th century.
The Wine: The 2013 VSC Barbera is 100% Barbera, sourced from the (x) block, here in the Verde Valley. Like all of Maynard’s wines, the grapes for this vintage were handpicked and hand-sorted. The wine underwent fermentation and maceration in open-top fermenters, and of course underwent manual punchdowns during the process. The wine was aged in new and neutral French oak puncheons for 18 months. This wine is whole shades darker than Barbera sourced from Fort Bowie; almost a blood-red shade. Then again, this could be due to the soils geology: wines from Fort Bowie were historically always several shades lighter than their counterparts from other vineyards, and when compared with Barbera from California or Italy, the color is
The Nose: The wine has primary and secondary notes of sour cherries, unripe plum, cinnamon, smoke, and vanilla. Tertiary notes, collected in my new fun glass, consist of roasted marshmallows, sandalwood, crushed limestone, and raspberry.
The Palate: As one would expect for a Barbera, this wine opens with notes of dark cherry, strawberry, and plums, with additional notes of violets, and anise. There are also strong notes of vanilla, along with a lot more tannins than I was expecting from a Barbera, but it still has the high acidity that is common in this varietal. There is also a distinct, unique note that I’ve had some trouble placing in this wine on the finish–after some thought, it reminds me of a mossy piece of limestone. The finish of this wine lasts for 57 seconds, and is filled with notes of rosemary, violets, anise, and cherry, along with the aforementioned limestone.
The Pairing: Normally I’d be all for pairing Barbera with a friendly pepperoni and mushroom pizza, but this wine demands something a little more complicated and rustic. After some thought, I think a lavender and rosemary encrusted lambchop with a side of risotto would work well with this wine. A vegan take on tajarin pasta, using truffles and eggplant would also work well. Savory is the key here.
Impressions: Right out of the gate, I want to tell you that this Barbera is weird. Not in the same way as the Wild Ferment from Fort Bowie, mind you. We’re talking weird in the same way that people described me in High School. For one, I’d recommend decanting this particular wine for an hour–something I’d normally never suggest for a Barbera. You could also potentially age this wine for another year or so, too, for the same effect. This is a Thinking Man’s Barbera.
This wine, if personified, is the odd kid from high school who had a super-geeky interest in food. He would spend hours in the kitchen preparing awesome meals for his friends (and maybe for even those who were not his friends–he was a genuinely kind person, after all), based on innovative flavors and spices. Indeed, he has a collection of odd spices from far-away places, the same way other high school kids collected Pokemon cards or sports memorabilia, or Lord of the Rings action figures.He has different meal pairings for different sodas. You laugh at him for this, then try it, and see he’s right. He will grow up to be a celebrated chef, but at this point in time, he’s a little awkward.