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Barbera is a fantastic grape, and it makes very joyous, pleasurable wines that are generally in the role of sidekick to the hero of Piedmont: Nebbiolo. But not today! The iconic Barolo estate Oddero has some pristine vines in the newly created Nizza DOCG, the heart of Barbera d’Asti, and not surprisingly they are making what is easily one of the very best iterations in the world. Oddero’s old vines growing in this distinct terroir accentuate the silky, sappy fruit that is balanced perfectly by lively, crunchy acidity, but that’s just the beginning. A bevy of complex aromas and flavors explode from the glass, proclaiming loudly that this is a serious, and seriously good wine. A peak performance, with true pedigree, and it’s also a remarkable value. Grab as much as you can.
Poderi e Cantine Oddero is one of the most historic estates in Barolo, tracing their roots back several centuries and bottling wine under the family label since 1878. Today, they continue to produce highly rated, traditional wines that are must haves for Piedmont lovers. Everything they make is a pitch perfect encapsulation of history and terroir, but today we get to focus on their newest wine, and the newest DOCG in Piedmont: Nizza. Officially recognized in 2014, this small geographical zone is inside the much larger Barbera d’Asti boundary, and was conceived with the goal of elevating the special relationship between the grape and its preferred terroir. The soils of Asti vary widely, but in the tiny, southeastern pocket of land surrounding Nizza, the ubiquitous clay mixes with a very high percentage of sand. Combined with some of the steepest slopes in the region and extra sunshine, the sandy soils help Barbera achieve the rich, robust fruit while maintaining surprising lift and aromatic intensity. It’s a best of all worlds scenario, and of course the Oddero family knows just how to ensure that special terroir gets transferred directly to the bottle.
Mariacristina Oddero has been at the helm since 1997, and is now in the process of turning operations over to her son, Pietro, and niece, Isabella. It was Mariacristina’s father, Giacomo, and her uncle, Luigi, who labored tirelessly for decades and brought the winery into the modern era through countless upgrades and remodels. The vineyards and cellar are in tip-top shape, and the entire team is in lock step, so the seventh generation enters as stewards, making sure that everything continues exactly as it has for the past 30 years. All the farming is Certified Organic, and the cellar work is clean and traditional: The goal is always to ensure that the fruit and the vineyard shine through, without any added flavors of oak, or any flaws.
The family parcel in Nizza has vines that are between 30 and 60 years old. The fruit is hand picked for optimal balance, and fermented with indigenous yeast in steel tanks. After a 15-day maceration, the wine is racked into very large oak barrels (4000 and 6500 liters!) for 16 months before being bottled without filtration. Serve cool, at about 60 degrees, in a Burgundy stem and you’ll first be wowed by the beautiful, deep ruby color with hints of violet. After a brief decant a whole range of aromas and flavors begin to unfold: Morello cherries, black plums, rose petals, dark chocolate, clove, espresso, and a hint of Valencia orange, to name a few. The deep, rich texture is balanced perfectly by lifted acidity and a core of saline minerality. This is Barbera as it is truly meant to be. It’s also one of the most versatile food pairing wines out there–I love it with a greasy diner burger or smoked pork ribs, though a hearty, homemade pasta is always a match made in heaven. It’s a perfect red to elevate weekday dinners, so I recommend stocking up so you always have a bottle or two on hand!
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