By Celia Strong
Many people have negative opinions about lawyers, but we’re going to try to change that this week.
For this week’s wine, we are going to the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy, to the town of Asti. Yes, the same town that the well-known Asti Spumante comes from, but other wines have the name of this town attached to them. Not surprising, since the history of Asti and nearby areas includes wines and vineyards from before the Romans. Our grape variety is believed to have originated in this area in the 13th century. There are documents from the cathedral of Casale (castle) Monferrato (a nearby town) that are dated between 1246 and 1277. These are lease agreements for lands planted with vines of “de bonis vitibus barbexinis.” “Barbexinis” is the ancient name for our grape, Barbera. In 1985, the was a huge scandal in the Piedmont region. Supposedly, some Barbera producers were adding methanol to their wines and 30 people were killed and many others lost their eyesight. The bad press obviously hurt Barbera wine sales. Today, though, it is still the third-most planted red variety in Italy. Barbera may be related to the French variety, Mourvedre, also known in Spain as Mataro.
Barbera vines are vigorous and can produce high yields. Judicious pruning can control the yield and ensure the grapes that are harvested have good fruitiness and balanced acidity and astringency. Barbera can grow in a wide range of soils, including less fertile calcareous and clay loam. Barbera grapes ripen earlier than other Piedmont reds. There are more than 50,000 acres of Barbera planted in Italy. Around the Asti area in Piedmont, the climate is warmer and this variety ripens with sugar levels to balance its acid levels. Barberas from Asti are fresh, fruity and crisp reds with juicy textures, and meant to be drunk fairly young. It is known as the “people’s wine” in Piedmont — part of their everyday life!
Our winery, Coppo, has underground cellars that are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cellars are actually part of a network of underground cathedrals dedicated to history and the hard work of men. Built in the late 18th century, Coppo’s small cellars were intended to actually cellar wines. During the 19th century, they were expanded and now cover more than 16,000 square feet, 130 feet below the surface.
L’Avvocata is the name of our Barbera. Coppo L’Avvocata Barbera d’Asti DOCG. It is named for the female lawyer who owns the vineyard. A strict, stern and commanding woman, known to locals as just “the lawyer” — or L’avvocata! This wine is 100 percent Barbera, grown on the south side of Asti. The vineyards have calcereous clay-marl soil, with a lot of silt, and have southern exposures. The ripest, healthiest grapes are selected at harvest, macerated with skin contact and pumped over multiple times. A total malolactic fermentation is done, then the wine is aged in stainless steel tanks. It is a ruby red color, with just a hint of purple. It has intense cherry, raspberry and blackberry aromas and flavors, as well as orange peel, cocoa powder, rosebuds, and mint. As it should be, this wine is fresh and crisp, and best served with a slight chill to enhance the crispness. Besides pairing well with salamis, poultry and seafood, and meatballs in tomato sauces, this wine goes wonderfully with fried foods, sushi, Asian flavors including soy sauce and Chinese five spice, chilled meats and salads. Plus afternoon and evening sipping all by itself. Yes, a good lawyer is here, and a female one at that. For $14.99. Enjoy.
Celia Strong works at Bill’s Liquor & Fine Wines on Lady’s Island.