Barbera: masculine or feminine?

Let’s clear all doubts: we use the feminine. Because Barbera is female. We know, we should use the masculine talking about wines in Italian, but the everyday language, even the dialect, is the best language to talk about “the” wine of Monferrato par excellence.

It’s not a case that in the past, people in “piole” (local inns) sang “… e la Barbera an pò veiota, fa stè alegher/fa stà en piota, fa pasà/tuti i sagrin…” [and the Barbera is a bit old, it makes you happy, it keeps you fit, it lets you forget concerns]. Even the poet Giovanni Pascoli, in its ode “A Ciapin” writes “Serba la tua purpurea Barbera” (Set aside your purplish Barbera).

Paolo Monelli, in its “O.P. ovvero il vero bevitore” (The real drinker) specifies that Barbera “is one of the few feminine wines”, even if he describes it as “ … the infantryman of wines from Piedmont, “pista pauta” and “scaccianebbie”, grouch, all wine, with dark colour, in the spots it makes on the tablecloth, in the smell it gives to your breath, in its strong scent … “

So, almost a double identity: masculine in its body, but feminine in its soul. Prof. Calosso underlines Barbera double character: “ … it’s a kind of a masculine wine, even if its name is a feminine word, and nobody has the right of naming it masculine, as many people say getting wrong. Barbera is feminine among the natives and it must remain feminine”. Even Di Rovasenda, an academic who lived at the end of the XIX° century, and the writer Mario Soldati, agree with the theory of the feminine Barbera.

The Literature Nobel Prize Giosuè Carducci, described Barbera as “generous”, even if in a letter to a friend he wrote that “  … when I have the honour to have lunch alone with you: Chianti isn’t the right choice and barbera is too strong”. We can gladly forgive him, above all because we can concede everithing to a winner of the Nobel Prize, and then because we must thank Carducci for the last version of the most beautiful myth of Monferrato, the one about its founder, the legendary Aleramo, and his three-days and three-night ride to define the land which would become Monferrato Marquisate (known at that time as Aleramic Marquisate). Also the Piedmontese writer Giovanni Arpino has a propensity for the masculine: “I venture to mumble because even the oenologists mumble. Otherwise, where could we find the courage of speaking ill of Barbera, Freisa, Barolo, Barbaresco?” (all at masculine).

Great Gianni Brera described Barbera “wine for every day which can also be phenomenal”, while Aldo Gabrielli found a final mediation between masculine and feminine: “We are into the densest dark… and so, in my opinion, we have just to accept the feminine from the place where it is produced, both for the grape variety and the wine… So let’s line up with the feminine Barbera, and much good may it do you.”

There are many quotations on Barbera coming from eminent personalities. The fashion designer Missoni: “You have o know that it’s an important wine, suitable for the role of the leading man”, while Cesare Romiti “It recovered its real image: a great Italian wine”. Going back to the past, it’s interesting to notice how the humble and proletarian role of Barbera has been underlined by the great singer-songwriter Giorgio Gaber in two different songs: “Barbera e Champagne” and “Trani a gogò”.

We can’t miss to quote the forefather of wine journalists in Italy: Luigi Veronelli. He wrote the sentence “Barbera, the first, the most immediate to remember is Barbera d’Asti”.

In many quotations you can notice the reference to Barbera as the popular wine among farmers. And so it has been for msny years: it was served unpackaged, in carafes, in “piole” (the typical Piedmontese inns), and it distinguished itself thanks to its pronounced body (sometimes in sparkling version), to its strong sourness, to its purple colour which spotted tablaclothes rather than its refinement.

A trend which Barbera divert after its saddest period: the methanol wine scandal in 1986. As greats can do, after hitting rock bottom, Barbera, in its wounded pride, perk itself up. Wine producers from Piedmont seemed to realise that it wasn’t only a honky-tonk wine, but it could easily stand beside the other greats from Piedmont. They started to age it on wood and sell it after some years of aging and not young anymore. “The woman in red” was born, refined and mysterious. In other words, Barbera we know today.