Can Barbera age?

One of the coolest things about Scarpa is that the winery has an amazing library of wines dating back as far as the 1960s and even beyond.

When I visited the winery last week, we tasted a lot of fantastic wines (more notes forthcoming).

But one of the most compelling wines, the one I just can’t stop thinking about, was this 1996 Barbera d’Asti La Bogliona — more than 20-year-old Barbera.

During our day-long visit, the subject of malolactic fermentation came up.

Nearly every red wine goes through two fermentations. The first is alcoholic, where sugar is converted to alcohol. The second and subsequent fermentation is malolactic, when malic acid is converted into lactic acid (which has lower acidity with respect to the former; sometimes the process is called malolactic conversion).

While white wine doesn’t necessarily need to go through malolactic fermentation to be drinkable, red wine has to undergo malolactic fermentation. Otherwise it would be undrinkable.

Over the course of conversation, we talked about how Barbera d’Asti winemakers occasionally had trouble provoking malolactic fermentation in the era before temperature controlled tanks.

Winemaker Silvio Trinchero mentioned that in the 1996 vintage, that’s exactly what happened at Scarpa. And of course, the winery still has some bottles, two of which he graciously opened for me to taste.

This was simply one of the best wines I’ve tasted all year. It was so fresh and so electric on the palate but at the same time the fruit was very nuanced and rich, as it should be for an aged Barbera. Because it hadn’t gone through malolactic fermentation when it was made, it retained an especially high level of acidity. It certainly wasn’t as pleasurable to drink 20 years ago as it was today. But man, this wine was really special — 23-year-old Barbera!

I’ve tasted a lot of old Barbera, including some great wines from 1996. They are elegant and delicious but they are lean and very fine — as old wine should be. This wine, on the other hand, was very much alive and kicking in the best of ways.

A wine gone wrong that ending up going extremely well.

Scarpa is one of the few wineries in the world where you would find something like this. Man, what a wine!

Jeremy Parzen

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top