Little rascal: It’s just a name

in Wine by

By Celia Strong

Our wine this week is a “little rascal.” It’s a great find for summer weather and summer food. And, maybe, if we drink enough of it, we could be little rascals ourselves? 

We’re going to Italy for this wine, namely Northwestern Italy’s Piedmont region.

Sometime between 1246 and 1277, papers from the Casale Monferrato mentioned lease agreements for vineyards that were planted with “de bonis vitibus barbexinis,” as Barbera was called at that time. 

Today, Barbera is the third most planted red variety in all of Italy, after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Barbera produces good yields: wines with deep color, low tannins and high acidity levels. (We need to make a note of the latter, here, because it plays a role in serving temperature for these wines.) 

Young Barbera wines have intense aromas, including fresh red cherries, raspberries and blueberries, blackberry and black cherry. Lighter style Barbera wines are known for loads of fresh fruit aromas and flavors. 

Barbera d’Asti wines, meaning made from grapes grown in the town of Asti (in Piedmont), are generally the lightest and most acidic of Piedmont Barberas, and are brightly colored and elegant. These are DOCG-level wines. 

Wines labeled Barbera d’Alba (from the town of Alba) are DOC and they are a bit fuller and heavier than those from Asti. 

In Alba, though, Barbera has to compete for the better growing sites with Nebbiolo vines, which are more profitable for growers and winemakers. Barbera del Monferrato wines, for lack of any better way of describing them, are a blend of these two styles. 

Barberas are considered very food-friendly wines because they are robust but still have soft tannins, are crisp, and because of their higher acidity levels, they are also smooth and round.  

They can be drunk younger than their Nebbiolo counterparts, and they cost less, which means they can be enjoyed more frequently. These wines go well with grilled and roast pork, inexpensive cuts of beef (flank steak, skirt steak, hangar steak, burgers), braised lamb, stews, Italian sausages, pizzas with meats and sausages, meat-filled pastas, heavier seafoods, poultry and duck, spaghetti sauce and cream sauces. Did we leave anything out? If so, it’ll probably work with Barbera too. The more tomato or cream in your meal, the better the Barbera pairs with them.

Since the lighter styles have more acidity, the wines can be chilled for half an hour or more to tweak their acidity. The best thing to do is to taste your Barbera with a chill and at room temperature and see where you like it best. 

Our Barbera this week is the Marchesi di Barolo Maraia Barbera del Monferrato. Marchesi di Barolo is a superb Piedmont producer. They own about 430 acres of vineyards in the Langhe area of Piedmont. Their cellars are located in the town of Barolo in the castle of the Marchesi Falletti di Barolo. The originator of Barolo wine!  

The Marchesi and his wife, the Marchesa Giulia, did not have children. When they died, there was no heir to the Marchesi di Barolo business. Their family assets were donated to charity and a nonprofit foundation was created in their name to help needy people in nearby Torino. That foundation still exists and wine sales from their vineyards still fund the charity. 

In 1929, Pietro Abbona bought the winery and, eventually, its vineyards. Pietro’s great grandson, the fifth generation, still operates the business. 

The Maraia Barbera del Minferrato is made from 100-percent Barbera. 

The grapes are handpicked and gently pressed. Maceration lasts eight days and the wine is aged in Slovenian oak barrels for one year. Its color is a lively, brilliant dark ruby red. The aromas are perfume-y with berries, currants and sour black cherry notes and hints of vanilla and toasted oak. The flavors are warm and robust, full bodied, smooth and balanced. 

This wine is known as “Maraia,’ which translated from the Piedmont dialect means “little rascals,” which helps us understand the sassy character of this wine … and maybe the sassy evenings we can have with it. Little rascals that we are. 

For $12.97. Enjoy.

Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.