The area of Monferrato, which lies between the cities of Alessandria and Asti in the Piedmont region of Italy, captures the imagination with its castles and lush landscapes. But Monferrato is also home to several indigenous grape varieties, including one of Italy’s most important grapes: Barbera. With its celebrated wines and numerous designations, there is much to discover in this historic region.
The Terroir of Monferrato
Monferrato’s vineyards are a designated UNESCO heritage site as of 2014, and one look at this rolling vine-covered terrain explains why the area is globally revered. Near Alessandria and the south of Asti, one finds marly calcareous soils, which produce full-bodied wines with great aging potential. In the rest of Asti, sandy soils from marine sedimentary deposits, create softer wines with more gentle acidity. Comprised of over 12,000 hectares (almost 30,000 acres), Monferrato makes up one-third of Piedmont’s vineyard area.
The Creation of the Consorzio
In 1946, a consortium was founded to bring Barbera d’Asti and other Monferrato wines to the broader world. What started as an organization of just seven producers blossomed over the years, and today there are over 400 members; 13 protected designations; 9 DOCs (Albugnano, Cortese dell’Alto Monferrato, Dolcetto d’Asti, Freisa d’Asti, Grignolino d’Asti, Loazzolo, Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco, Monferrato, Piemonte); and 4 DOCGs (Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Nizza DOCG, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG and Terre Alfieri DOCG). In 2015, the organization changed its name to Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato to further emphasize wines from the entire area.
Barbera d’Asti DOCG
The largest and most important of these appellations is Barbera d’Asti DOCG. The Barbera d’Asti DOC was created in 1970, a move that recognized the quality of Barbera d’Asti in wines. The year 2008 saw a new milestone: the elevation of Barbera d’Asti DOC DOCG status.
The Barbera grape is at the heart of these exceptional wines. It is believed to have been cultivated in the Middle Ages, with the first mention of the grape appearing in texts dating back to 1512. With its trademark high acidity and ruby color, it is a wine that can age, but its bright fruit flavors and low level of tannins also make it approachable in its youth.
While quality was always a focus, the 1980s saw an influx of new energy and ideas in the vineyards and the cellars. Clonal selection, careful pruning, and ripeness monitoring improved the quality of the fruit, while a better understanding of the role of malolactic fermentation and the role of wood during the aging process helped refine the style.
Barbera d’Asti DOCG and Nizza DOCG Wines
Fruit for all the wines comes from the best hillside sites and is usually harvested in late September. Barbera d’Asti DOCG wines are vinified and aged in steel, which allows the notes of cherry, plum, and blackberry to shine. Intense and persistent on the palate and with bright acidity, it is a fresh yet still complex style of wine.
Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore wines spend time aging in oak, which rounds out the flavors and aromas with notes of spice, cocoa, and vanilla. Balanced and round tannins create a wine that will age beautifully but is still enjoyable while young.
Barbera is also the key variety in Nizza DOCG. Wines must age for 18 months, with at least 6 months in oak, resulting in refined red wines.
Monferrato’s Other Treasures
The rare indigenous variety Ruché is having a renaissance in the wines of Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG. This resurrected grape produces wines with hints of violets, blackberry, and plum.
In Terre Alfieri—the newest DOCG—Nebbiolo and the white variety Arneis grow on hillside slopes and the combination of sun, wind, and soils produces fresh and elegant wines.
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