2011 Bronis Barbera Oltrepo Pavese

Hello friends. We all need weeknight wines. Friday night through Sunday is the domain of the big guns, the wines that require endless contemplation. Fine. But that leaves the rest of the week for wines that engage us with simpler pleasures. I love weeknight wines, the kind where you pull the cork within minutes of walking in the door. A glass for the chef, a glass into the pot, and the workday dissolves in the steam of a bustling kitchen.

Perhaps that’s why we keep going back again and again on the imports side to the $10 bottles. There’s a rich vein of well-priced old world wines, and we’re only beginning to tap into it (see Lou Ven Tou; see Fabla). Our Euro compatriots have had about five hundred extra years to amortize their vineyard and winery costs, and it shows, especially in regions that don’t have broad recognition outside their home countries.

Like Oltrepo Pavese.

Quick confession. Long-time readers know I’m smack in the middle of my WSET studies, aiming for a massive exam on January 8, and part of that studying involves the exploration of some seriously obscure regions. Well, I went back and looked at my notes for Oltrepo Pavese. Unedited: “Barbera, Croatina, Uva Rara, Welschriesling; biggest region in Lombardy; neighbor to Piedmont; mostly crap bulk wine.”

Okay, so not exactly a vote of confidence for Oltrepo Pavese, but the key word is “mostly,” because this is a damn fine Barbera, reminiscent of old-school Piedmont Barbera. For my palate, the Piedmont (or at least the Piedmont that gets exported to the USA) is going in precisely the wrong direction with Barbera. We get tasted on bottle after bottle of $20+, oak-aged, “serious” Barbera whose selling point is supposed to be that it converges with Nebbiolo in bottle and after ten years drinks like a Barbaresco.

Isn’t Nebbiolo serious enough? Do we really need serious Barbera? Can’t we have something young and fresh to drink while the Barolos molder in the cellar?

I don’t mean to shake my cane in the driveway (get off my lawn, modern Piedmont!), but even a palate optimist can get grumpy after one too many serious wines. No matter. If the Piedmont is going to move in that direction, it opens a door, and regions like Oltrepo Pavese can walk right through. This bottle is everything I want in Barbera. It screams Italy on the nose, with pure dark cherry, earthy soil, bitters, and smoldering herbs. The palate is juicy as hell (varietally correct!), with terrific energy and intensity. It hums across the palate with its bright, perfumed fruit. It invites another sip, or a bite of food. It beckons.

And honestly, my note on Oltrepo Pavese is too harsh. This is a pretty cool region (location here), tucked into the confluence of Piedmont, Lombardy, and Emilia-Romagna. The Seattle-based importer that brings this wine in has a knack for this part of the world. It’s the same importer that brings in our official most-surprisingly-popular-reorder-target-of-2013, Lini Lambrusco (why not; we’ll include a reorder link for that bubbly delight at the bottom of this offering), and if they continue to unearth gems from these under-appreciated regions, we’ll continue to write about them.

This Barbera would be a fine choice for many an autumn wedding or party, so let’s open it up: first come first served up to 60 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be ready for pickup or shipping during the next temperature-appropriate shipping window.

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