The family-run Michele Chiarlo has been harvesting native Piemontese grape varieties for over sixty years. The vineyards are focused primarily on Barbera and Nebbiolo along with some Cortese, Moscato and Arneis.

Today, Stefano and Alberto, the sons of Michele, run the winery. I taste the Chiarlo wines from time to time, admittedly mostly at industry tastings. So, I appreciated this opportunity to “work through” a bottle of the family’s Barbera over a leisurely dinner.

I thought it might work nicely with the starter of chicken liver mousse on toasted ciabatta. (Barbera is known for its lilting acidity.) Alas, I underestimated this Barbera’s power. Instead, I saved it for the Grilled Duck Breast with Dried Cherries and Red Wine Sauce. (I used the remnants of a nicely robust, two-day-old Châteauneuf-du-Pape for the red wine sauce.)

Here’s what happened. We wine geeks have been trained by the generalization that Barbera is an “everyday wine”. If you’re a Barbera aficionado, you might know that Barbera d’Asti tends to be on the lighter, more delicate side of Barbera expressions. Granted, Nizza – one of Asti’s three sub-zones – is known to be a more vigorous style of the larger denominazione. It’s considered by many to be age-worthy. Yet, in my decision-making, I considered its (incredibly reasonable) $18 price tag along with the 2014 vintage, which was a challenging one (resulting in lighter wines) throughout almost all of Italy. That’s why I though this wine would be easier-drinking style. Though I had to do a fast switcheroo in my wine pairing line-up for dinner, I appreciated the lesson.

As ever with wine, expect the unexpected. Cin cin!

90
Michele Chiarlo 2014 Nizza Cipressi 14% $18
Impressive! This vino has a profound black cherry color in the glass, especially for Barbera, which can be more red cherry or even a paler strawberry in color. Its nose is noticeably ripe and almost brooding for a Barbera. This wine means business. It smells of underbrush and tobacco leaves, and its palate flavors are generously ripe for Barbera, especially from Asti and even from Nizza. They lean more toward black plum and show dashes of leather and Asian spices. Round and mouth-filling, this Barbera has grippy tannins that are more present than its rather suave and integrated acidity. You’ll likely drink this up right after you buy it, but it could hold easily to see its 6th or 7th birthday.
Drink: 2017-20