The Asti and Monferrato areas of Piedmont, east of the Barolo zone, are Barbera country. Barbera may be indigenous to this region, and (although grown elsewhere in Italy and increasingly here in California) finds its best expressions here, ranging from bright, raspberryish wines aged in stainless steel, to darker, more substantial examples aged in small French oak. Agliano is one of the best-known Barbera villages in the Asti zone.
Agostino Pavia and his sons Giuseppe ('Pino') and Mauro make two styles of Barbera from two different single vineyards, less than five thousand cases in all. Barbera d'Asti used to have a reputation for having acidity like that of a car battery, apparently due to high yields and an occasional lack of malolactic fermentation. These wines are different, zesty but balanced, with luscious fruit to match the acidity. I drink them with all kinds of food; the very low tannins of barbera make it versatile. The Bricco Blina is delicious with grilled salmon, for example.
Barbera d'Asti 'Blina'
'Blina' is the name of the vineyard. This wine is a direct, straightforward rendition of the Barbera grape. Fresh acidity and berry flavors are the hallmarks of Barbera, but low yields and old vines give this wine very good depth and concentration, too. Fermentation and aging are completed in stainless steel, and the wine is bottled before the following harvest. (There are two things I like about wines that aren't aged in oak; one of them is that they taste of fruit, rather than oak, and the other is that they are better value. New barriques cost $800+ each.) Notes: bright red color with a violet rim; aroma of red berries and mineral; palate is classic Barbera, bright raspberry/cranberry flavors with a very long finish.
Barbera d'Asti 'Moliss'
Moliss is a Piedmontese word, not Italian, meaning the 'middle son'. This is another single vineyard wine made from old vines and aged in large Slovenian oak ovals ('botti') and 500L barrels; it is the closest thing to a traditional Asti but cleaner and more concentrated. (These larger oval barrels, usually made of Eastern European oak, give the wine only a hint of oak aroma, when new, and a different texture.) I drink a lot of this wine, fresh acidity and low tannin makes for a very useful table wine. Notes: medium red color with purple glints; aroma of raspberries with a hint of herbs; palate similar to the Blina but with a broad, meaty quality from the aging in large barrels and good acidity, not to mention a long, persistent finish.
I was walking around my house the other day looking for my reading glasses, then realised they had been in my shirt pocket the whole time. Which reminds me of walking around the Piemonte stand at Vinitaly one year tasting as many different Grignolinos as I could, feeling stuck when I couldn't find what I wanted, then tasting with my longtime Barbera d'Asti producer Pino Pavia and voilà, the perfect Grignolino, right under my nose. Misleadingly pale color, but a very distinctive and flavorful wine; wild strawberries, rhubarb, a touch of herbs, the perfect wine with salumi or pizza. I put it in the fridge for 20 minutes to bring out the fruit. Screwcap. (Pino says his older customers used to buy all of this traditional indigenous wine type, often in huge 'demijohns' to be bottled later at home.)
Check out their website.