In Part 1 on Italian wine I shared some thoughts on Sangiovese, the blockbuster grape of Italy and star of Chianti and Tuscany. During a visit to the Piedmont (Piemonte in the Italian) I spent some time at Pio Cesare and at Marchesi di Barolo (which first gave the Barolo name to wine) tasting through their wines and further developed a fondness for the wines of the region while wandering villages like Serralunga, Barolo (pictured above), La Morra, Alba and more. I want to share that fondness with you.
The Piedmont region in the Northwest of Italy is perhaps where the most age-worthy and renowned grape of the country hangs on the vines – Nebbiolo. And it is also there where we get delightfully drinkable Barbera, Dolcetto, Gavi, Arneis and the fresh tingly sparking wines of Asti as well.
The village of Barolo is the capital of the Piedmont – not politically or geographically, but spiritually – because Barolo is where Nebbiolo finds its greatest expression, and Nebbiolo is to the Piedmont what Cabernet is to Napa, its face to the wider world of wine. What makes Nebbiolo such a terrific Sip? It starts with the aroma. When you take a sniff of Nebbiolo it’s like walking into a room with a dozen Valentine roses on the table, along with the woody smell of greens surrounding them. And then when you take a Sip there’s an abundance of red berry flavor, but typically with a richer, more intense taste reminding you of cloves or cinnamon. In fact, the experience of drinking Nebbiolo is very similar to Pinot Noir, especially because the wines have very good, food friendly acidity as their backbone. The difference with Nebbiolo is the astringency and tannin due to the cool growing conditions and its late ripening – The Piedmont is in the shadow of the Alps and is composed of high plains and hill towns. Nebbiolo wines need time to soften which is why there are strict aging requirements for Barolo and Barbaresco in particular since they must offer 100% Nebbiolo wines. Other areas of the Piedmont producing Nebbiolo wines are Gattinara, Ghemme and the Langhe hills, which can typically be drunk younger and appear at lower prices.
Barbera may be one of my favorite, easy to drink, ready any night of the week wines. It is the workhorse of the Piedmont along with Dolcetto. Barbara is at home with a burger or a pizza, and I love the blackberry and spice of it. The same goes for Dolcetto with its more full bodied texture. My appreciation for these wines was elevated on that visit and I regularly buy them now.
The best white wines of the Piedmont are Gavi (the grape is Cortese) and Arneis. These are floral and crisp and I especially love them as summertime and salad wines, and they are just awesome with lingini and clam sauce. I find them a bit richer and more complex than Pinot Grigio as a go-to Italian white.
And finally there is Asti. Asti is a village known for its Asti Spumante, the sparking wine that is an inexpensive and fruity fizzy and for Moscato d’Asti, a slightly fizzy (called frizzante) wine with some residual sugar that makes it pleasant to Sip along with some cookies for desert. But don’t be confused, you will also see both Barbera and Dolcetto d’Asti, which are reds we noted above.
The Piedmont wine culture is just as strong, but perhaps not quite as well known as Tuscany – yet it’s a quick drive from Milan. What more of an excuse do you need for exploring more of Italy!
2012 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Le Orme $14
2014 Vietti Dolcetto d’Alba $20
2013 Damilano Nebbiolo d’Alba $20
2009 Travaglini Gattinara $30
2011 Ceretto Barolo $45
2012 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco $30
2008 Marchesi di Barolo Antiche Cantine Barolo $50
2009 Pio Cesare Barolo $60
2009 Vietti Barolo Brunate $135
2011 Gaja Barbaresco $190