During the four days of Barbera Week 2010, my fellow bloggers and I tasted 174 wines at the supervised blind tastings in the mornings plus more at walk-around tastings before dinner on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and visits to wineries over three afternoons. Say, conservatively, 200 wines from Barbera d’Asti, Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba, primarily from 2008 and 2007 and a few from 2006.

We made our concerns known from the first day: Too many of the wines were dominated by new oak from small French barrels; too many of the wines were dominated by hard tannins; too many of the wines were dominated by highly extracted jammy fruit, as if they were competing with Amador County zinfandel. In short, these were modern New World-style wines. Where were the lighter, more refreshing Barberas of yesterday, wines that perfectly matched the region’s traditional cuisine? Certainly there many of those too, but we bloggers, and the other journalists at the conference, were dismayed to see this rush toward modernity in the belief that the (presumably) American market prefers oaky, jammy red wines. On the other hand, producers have to sell their wines or they’ll go out of business; who are we to dictate how they make their wines?

That philosophical and economic debate is for another post. My purpose today is simpler: To name the Barbera d’Asti wines that struck me as the best on March 8, the first day of the event, and the first half of the morning blind tasting on Tuesday, March 9. At that point we went into a line-up of Barbera d’Asti wines from the Nizza sub-region.

Already, however, there’s a caveat, because during Barbera Week 2010, the wines were encountered under different conditions. At the blind tastings in the morning, we averaged 20 wines an hour, meaning that we devoted about three minutes to each wine. At the walk-around tastings, where circumstances were a bit more relaxed (though there’s always that crowded feeling at the most popular tables), we could take more time with the wines that we wanted to think about.

Tasting at the properties is another affair altogether: You sit in a tasting room, before a spread of breads, cheeses and salamis; the pours are more generous and you can ask for more if necessary; you can chat about the wines with colleagues and the winemaker. In the first two situations, notes are telegraphic, almost coded; in the third, notes are more detailed and thorough. Compiling the lists that follow here, I tried to take these different circumstances into account. The organizational principle is day by day, and I will indicate in what setting the wine was tasted. An asterisk designates superior quality. (The designation Superiore in Barbera wines may hypothetically though not necessarily imply qualitative achievement but means, literally, that the wines must be aged in wood for at least a year and attain a half-percent higher degree of alcohol.) The Barbera 7 bloggers talked frequently among ourselves about how reactions to the wines varied due to the situation in which we tasted them, not to mention personal preference, a different issue entirely.

I make no distinction here about differences in style or winemaking. The Boeri Alfonso “Martinette” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, for examples, ages 12 months in French oak barriques (small barrels), while the Franco Mondo “Vigna del Salice” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, ages 7 to 8 months in large vats and 6 months in bottle and the Scagliola Giacomo & Figlio “Vigna del Mandorli” 2008, Barbera d’Asti, sees both barriques and tonneaux (large barrels) for two years. I liked all three.

The best Barbera d’Asti wines of Monday, March 8, and part of Tuesday, March 9, from 115 that I tasted.

1. Agostina Pavia e Figli “Moliss” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. (Blind tasting)
2. Bersano Cav. Dario “Ca d’Galdin” 2007, Barbera d’Asti. (Blind tasting)
3. Boeri Alfonso S.S. “Martinette” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore. (Blind tasting)
4. Ca’ dei Mandorli “La Bellalda” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
5. Cantina Alice Bel Colle SCA “Al Caso” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting; all stainless steel, no oak)*
6. Cantina di Nizza “50 Vendemmie” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*
7. Cantina Sociale di Mombercelli “Terre Astesane” 2007, Barbera d’asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*
8. Cascina La Ghersa “Vignassa” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting and at dinner)
9. Costa Olmo Azienda Vitivinicola 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2006 (Blind tasting)
10. Crivelli Marco Maria Azienda Agricola “La Mora” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)*
11. Damilano 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
12. Franco Mondo “Vigna del Salice” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*
13. Guasti Clemente “Boschetto Vecchio” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)*
14. Marcaurelio Vini Azienda Argicola “Terranuda” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting & at the winery)
15. Scagliola Giacomo & Figlio “Vigna dei Mandorli” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
16. Tenuta Il Falchetto Azienda Agricola “Lurëi” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (I was unimpressed with this at the blind tasting but loved it when I tasted it at the winery)*
17. Tenuta La Fiammenga 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
18. Tenuta La Pergola “Vigne Vecchie della Cappelletta” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting and walk-around tasting; at the latter also the version from 2006, which was excellent.)
19. Tenute dei Vallarino Azienda Agricola “La Ladra” 2008, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)

And the ones that seemed beyond the pale because of excessive oak and tannins and daunting austerity (or other flaws):

1. Agostino Pavia e Figli “La Marescialla” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
2. Antica Casa Vinicola Scarpa “Casascarpa” 2006, Barbera d’Asti. (Blind tasting)
3. Borgo Isolabella S.S. “Maria Teresa” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
4. Braida di Giacomo Bologna “Bricco della Bigotta” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting and walk-around tasting)
5. Cantina Vignasone “Selezione” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
6. Cantine Sant-Agata “Cavale” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
7. Casa Vinicola Dogliotti SNC 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
8. Cascina Galarin “Le Querce” 2007 & 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
9. Cascina Garitina “Caranti” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting; controversial, some tasters thought this was corked)
10. Castello di Razzano SSA “Vigna Valentino Caligaris” 2006, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
11. Cocito Dario Azienda Agricola “Violanda” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
12. Franco Mondo 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
13. Il Cascinone Gruppo Araldica “Rive” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting)
14. La Gironda di Galadrino “La Gena” 2007, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
15. L’Armangia Azienda Agricola “Sopra Berruti” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting & at the winery, where I liked it a bit better, though as the winemaker told us, he “likes an austere style”)
16. Tenuta La Fiammenga “Paion” 2007, Barbera d’Asti Superiore (Blind tasting; I truly admired La Fiammenga’s “regular” Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2007, but the Paion bottling was earthy, leathery, dry and austere)
17. Tenuta Olim Bauda “La Villa” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)
18. Villa Giada “Ajan” 2008, Barbera d’Asti (Blind tasting)

In a few days, I’ll be posting about the best wines of the Nizza sub-region and of Barbera del Monferrato and Barbera d’Alba, and then we’ll say adios to Barbera Week 2010, though I have a separate story coming about a visit to Gaja in Barbaresco.