It stands to reason that Barbera is seemingly everywhere in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. It’s the most widely planted red grape in this territory, and while it’s found throughout Piedmont, perhaps its spiritual home is in the province of Asti.
Much of this has to do with the fact that the soils in Asti are better suited for Barbera than for Nebbiolo. The latter varietal represents 100% of the region’s two most famous wines, Barolo and Barbaresco; offerings that have captured the imagination of so many, not only for their complexity, but also their longevity, as the best examples from the finest vintages can drink well when the wines are 40 or ever 50 years old.
So in the province of Cuneo, where Barolo and Barbaresco are produced, Nebbiolo is the most important red grape, while Barbera has to take a back seat. That’s not to say that Barbera d’Alba (the DOC wine made from Barbera in Cuneo province) is not special, it’s just that Barbera is not the emphasis in this area.
However in Asti province, Barbera is crucial to this area’s wine industry, as there are hundreds of estates that grow the grape and produce Barbera d’Asti. While many of these wines offer deep color and appealing blackberry and black plum flavors, with high acidity and low tannins, too many of them taste alike. Now certain producers, such as Braida and Michele Chiarlo (the latter with their versions of Nizza, a Barbera from a limited zone in Asti), are committed to crafting very particular examples of Barbera d’Asti – some effusively fruity and meant for immediate consumption, some styled for a decade or more of aging.
One of the vintners who has embraced Barbera d’Asti in its various forms is Stefano Gagliardo. Best known for the various offerings of Barolo he produces at his family estate, Gianni Gagliardo, in La Morra, he purchased the Tenuta Garetto winery in 2017. Located in the commune of Agliano Terme, Tenuta Garetto was a well-respected producer of Barbera, but not that well known.
Gagliardo set out the change that and has succeeded remarkably well, as his different examples of Barbera are true to their type; ranging from the Rosina bottling, with luscious, juicy fruit, to the Barbera d’Asti Superiore, which is a bit fuller on the palate, to finally Favà, a Barbera from a stunningly beautiful vineyard in Agliano Terme, not far from the winery. Favà is a specific Barbera d’Asti Superiore identified as Nizza; the name is taken from the town of Nizza Monferrato, one of eighteen municipalities that comprise the Nizza production zone.
Gagliardo understands marketing extremely well, and has crafted his offerings of Barbera d’Asti for various tastes as well as price points. Each wine is an excellent representation of the plum and blackberry flavors that make Barbera so appealing, and he has done a splendid job of producing harmonious wines. Even with his Favà, a formidable Barbera that has excellent cellar potential, the wine is quite elegant, and not too oaky or overpowering.
So if you’re looking for a name in Barbera d’Asti that you can trust, one that represents noteworthy typicity as well as honest pricing, Tenuta Garetto is a name to remember.
Notes on Tenuta Garetto wines:
Grignolino d’Asti “Giassà” 2020 (Grignolino d’Asti DOC) – Along with Barbera, Gagliardo also produces Grignolino at Tenuta Garettto. Grignolino is a fascinating indigenous varietal, a red grape that has relatively rich tannins, yet one that is made into a lighter, very refreshing red wine, one that often served slightly chilled (the word Giassà in Piemontese dialect means “frozen”).
Offering appealing aromas of strawberry, pink roses, cranberry and carnation, this is medium-bodied, with very good depth of fruit that is bright and juicy, with a fruit-driven finish. This is a delicious red wine to be enjoyed on its own or with lighter foods, such as white meats or fish soups; drink now or over the next 2-3 years (90)
Barbera d’Asti “Rosina” 2020 – Enticing aromas of black plum, clove and molasses. Medium-bodied, this is very enjoyable, combining excellent fresh fruit with a clean, round, satisfying finish, and impressive complexity. Enjoy this with foods ranging from eggplant to pork chops over the next 2-4 years. Priced at around $16 a bottle on American retail shelves, this is a Very Good Value. (90)
Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2020 – Medium-intense purple; aromas of blackberry, incense, clove, mace and orange peel. Medium-full, this offers big, ripe, rich fruit that is juicy and zesty. Modest tannins, lively acidity, excellent varietal purity. I love the freshness and lusciousness of this wine, which gives it instant appeal! Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. (92)
Nizza Favà 2019 – The oldest Barbera vines at the Favà vineyard are between 80-90 years old. Intense ruby red/light purple; lush aromas of clove, boysenberry, allspice and black oolong tea. Medium-full with excellent ripeness, notable persistence and lively acidity. I love the varietal purity and intensity in this wine, as well as its overall harmony. This is very tempting now, but in reality, it will show better in another two or three years, with peak in 7-12 years. As Nizza is becoming better known these days, a few examples stand out for their complexity and structure; many – including myself – consider Favà to be one of the unofficial “Grand Cru” offerings of this category. The 2019 is particularly wonderful and should drink well for seven to twelve years. (93)