Barbera the Underdog: Bava Pianoalto Barbera d’Asti Superiorie Nizza 2014

bava barberaWhy do we root for underdogs?

Maybe we resent the top dog so we root for the underdog out of a sense of schadenfreude .

Maybe we identify with the underdog because we’ve been there too.

Perhaps we want the world to be fair and think the top dog has too many advantages

Or we just like the excitement of a competition in which the competitors are more evenly matched.

Maybe we get more joy from unexpected successes than from expected ones.

In the hilltop villages of Piemonte where Barolo and Barbaresco reign, Barbera has long been an underdog. It was usually planted in less expensive real estate, in cooler sites where ripening can be a problem. It’s often harvested for higher yields and sees less oak. It’s a table wine for everyday drinking.

Can it be great? Can Barbera ascend to the throne held by Nebbiolo? Probably not. It’s usually too light, too tart, too simple.

But I am rooting for it. Barolo has burned me too many times.  I want payback for all the pale, tight, VA ridden, tannic monsters I have paid too much for that still taste like sandpaper after 20 yrs. in the bottle. This one’s personal. It’s all about the schadenfreude.

This Barbera Superiore is from the recently created denomination of Nizza DOCG. Carved from the better hillside vineyards in the Barbera d’Asti region in 2014,  Nizza producers such as Bava are changing the way they think about Barbera, finally taking this grape seriously.

This one is gorgeous, like drinking a gothic romance novel, stately, mysterious and full of wonderful turns of phrase.

Blackberries spiced with cinnamon and star anise, a hint of tea sweetened with light brown sugar, surreptitious aromas of root beer surrounded with a halo of old wood. The palate brings out cherry and acquires a licorice note. It all knits together like a spider’s delicate handiwork

Soft and elegant with lovely mouthcoating viscosity, it’s full bodied without being heavy. Mouthwatering acidity drives the evolution but it doesn’t dart around the mouth. It  leisurely  builds to a glorious, late crescendo as the fine tannins creep up on you. Like Gregorian chant—The Abbey of Notre Dame’s Alleluia was a fine match—its occult majesty is uplifting without being loud or brooding, until at terminus it reveals a tart lemon note as if it’s saying “ha, I’m really not that profound.

This wine loves tomatoes. It was delicious with a baked, cheesy, cherry tomato bread salad and with a coriander/fennel/citrus infused tomato sauce served over pasta.

Almost every top dog starts out as an underdog. Watch your back Barolo.


  1. Dwight ,

    Barbera has come a very long way (in many respects) since Victor Hazan wrote about it in his 1982 book on Italian Wine, in which it was essentially described and treated as an integral part of “La Cucina Povera,” aka “peasant food,” the food and drink of the lower class. Because of that I made a special effort to ignore it. No Mas!


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