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  • Barmy for Barbaresco

    Your intrepid liquor reporter was trying to impress a special lady of recent acquaintance, so a night on the town in was called for, culminating in a stop at Wine Bar Kensington, in Calgary’s trendy Kensington district.

    As the name would suggest, Wine Bar Kensington is a wine and tapas bar, making it the perfect location to impress a lady on that all-important 3rd date.

    This locale has been good to me in the past, and I have not yet taken enough of those Internet dates there that the worry of crazy exes showing up and injecting unwanted drama into the proceedings is a risk to be avoided.

    For those unfamiliar with wine bars, it is the common practice to order by the glass instead of by the bottle, in order to sample many of the fine wares put together by the hard-working sommelier for your imbibing pleasure.

    Resisting the temptation of asking my dining companion if she would like a little Italian in her, I suggested a few glasses of Barbaresco, one of the premier Italian wines.

    For those not familiar with Barbaresco, it is actually the name of the village in northwestern Italy where the wine is produced, rather than the name of the grapes the wine is made from.

    For historical reasons that only make sense to stuffy old-world wine snobs, the term Barbaresco is a DOCG. The English version of DOCG roughly translates to Controlled Designation of Origin Guaranteed.

    In a nutshell, it means that wine with a Barbaresco label on the front is guaranteed to have been produced in a very particular collection of vineyards in one small part of Italy.

    The actual grape varietal that is used for Barbaresco is called Nebbiolo, although tiny amounts of other varietals are sometimes blended in to make a smoother flavour profile.

    The history of Nebbiolo grape goes all the way back to the 1st century, with none other than the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder waxing poetic about the joys of the wine from this particular region.

    The Nebbiolo grape is very special, loaded with polyphenols to give the wine a full body, as well as relatively high acidity, which allows the wine to age well for decades without spoiling.

    For hundreds of years, Barbaresco wines were sweet dessert wines, due to the fermentation technology available at the time. Since the grape does not ripen until late October, the temperatures were cool enough that fermentation would stop while there was still some residual sugar in the wine.

    It was not until the 1890’s that a crafty winemaker figured out that a heated fermentation tank could fully ferment all the residual sugar, resulting in the dry wine that is more common today.

    This was a godsend for the local winemakers, as dry wines commanded a much higher price, setting Barbaresco on a path to becoming a premium wine.

    By the 1960’s, Barbaresco was considered a premium wine, and was priced accordingly, much to the delight of the winemakers in the region.

    Strict regulations on the production of Barbaresco require the wines to be aged for a minimum of two years, with at least one year in oak barrels, although most producers age their wine for longer before bottling.

    These wines tend to be quite tannic when bottled, so most wine snobs recommend aging them in your own cellar for an additional 5+ years before opening them, which softens the rough edges, leaving floral aromatics reminiscent of violets, with flavours of licorice and leather coming out as the wine continues to age.

    Luckily, your intrepid liquor reporter was able to impress his dinner date enough with the Barbaresco that there was a 3rd-date nightcap back at the swinging bachelor pad with all the things that a 3rd date normally entails.

    If you would like to pick up a bottle of Barbaresco, be warned they can be a bit on the pricy side. Expect to pay $40-$80 for the average Barbaresco, with the rare vintages going up from there.

    Since there are so many great wines available for under $25, it makes Barbaresco a special occasion wine, something to put down in the cellar for a few years before cracking it open. Your intrepid liquor reporter plans to put a few bottles away today, in preparation for the special lady I hope to be meeting 5 years hence!