Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Diary 52: Mapping Barbera

DOC/DOCGs in Piemonte

Piemonte is proud to have no fewer than 60 wine denominations and no IGT wine. But this number of DOCs/DOCGs brings problems as well. Mapping Barbera denominations in Monferrato shows these very clearly. In the 1970s, there was a rush to create the newly available accreditation as a DOC. Barolo and Barbaresco led the way in 1966, and many others followed in the following years. The problem lies in the fact that there was no central oversight, no consideration that too many DOCs would create confusion rather than a clear message.

Mapping Barbera denominations


Barbera denominations in Monferrato

Why ‘d’Asti’ and ‘del Monferrato’?

The map above illustrates some of the issues. There are two large denominations in Monferrato, the heartland of Barbera. They are called Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato. As you can see from the map, the two share a boundary on the northern and western sides and some of the boundary on the eastern side. However, Barbera del Monferrato has additional extensions north of Alessandria (the Pinocchio nose shape!) and a rather larger segment in the south-east which includes towns such as Ovada. These two denominations were both established in 1970 and there has to be a story behind why this came about1 as the two share the great majority of their territory. This duplication makes no sense at all and leads to a loss of identity. Since the 1970s, Barbera d’Asti has gone from strength to strength. By contrast, ‘del Monferrato’ is only used by those who are not in Barbera d’Asti or who want to make a Barbera frizzante for which there is currently no option within Barbera d’Asti. If ever there was a case for amalgamation, this is it.

What about Nizza DOCG? Nizza used to be a subzone of Barbera d’Asti. It is a historic area for Barbera and aspires to the very highest quality. The denomination is associated with great names of Barbera production such as Michele Chiarlo and Coppo. It became a DOCG in its own right in 2014 which required lower yields, 100 per cent Barbera and longer ageing time. Nizza DOCG has enough that is distinctive to justify a separate denomination.

Barbera vineyard outside Nizza Monferrato


Barbera vineyard outside Nizza Monferrato

Too many, too small

The other common problem in Piemonte is simply the number of small, tiny or even minuscule denominations. On the map, you can see Gabiano DOC and Rubino di Cantavenna DOC. If they had been drawn to scale, you would not be able to see them. Gabiano is a beautiful town with a magnificent castle, which, incidentally, has a very good producer. Rubino di Cantavenna is a poetic name: Cantavenna is a hamlet within the comune of Gabiano. But in terms of wine production they are miniscule: 1.5 and 2.5 hectares respectively. With a slight adjustment, both DOCs’ wines could be made as Barbera d’Asti. Alternatively, they could be sold as Monferrato DOC Barbera or Piemonte DOC Barbera. Local pride apart, these denominations add to the confusing number of DOCs in Piemonte. But they are not alone in this. The same could be said of Strevi DOC, Loazzolo DOC and around seven others. None of these declares more than 10 hectares of production a year. Of course, it is nice to have a DOC named after your town. But the downside is that no one outside of the area will have heard of it before.

Mapping Barbera in Monferrato is an important exercise. No official body produces a map like this due to the historic rivalry between the two large Barbera denominations. Surely it is time to have a re-think? How can producers communicate with an outside world which is simply not interested in 60 separate denominations?

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