Editor’s Note: While Carl is out recovering from a surgery to repair an aortic dissection we’ve asked some of his good friends to fill in with their wise words on wine in his absence. Today’s blog is another from guest blogger Tom Welsh, general manager and partner at Tapastrie restaurant in downtown South Bend, Indiana.
Piemonte, or Piedmont, is a legendary region of northwest Italy famous for its culinary traditions, its sought after white truffles, and of course, its wine. Piedmont borders France and Switzerland and much of its territory is the foothills of the Alps. The Po River cuts a large valley through the region as it collects water from the mountains which border it on three sides. As with any wine producing region, but especially in Italy, the grapes grown and the styles of wine here are numerous.
For an overview, we will look at the three main white and red grapes. Much of the grapes grown are around the towns of Asti, Alba and Acqui, which form a triangle in the southern area of the region. You have probably seen wines with these town’s names attached to them as it common there.
The most common white grapes in Piedmont are Moscato, Cortese and Arneis.
Cortese is the grape in wines labeled Gavi. These are crisp, flinty, acidic, citrusy wines that are great with seafood and for sipping on their own. These wines are rarely fermented or aged in oak. They are appreciated all over Italy and are fairly popular here in the U.S. as well.
Arneis wines are usually labeled Roero. These are subtle, mild wines with a fuller body, similar in ways to Viognier and Pinot Blanc in flavors and aromas which might include almonds, peaches, vanilla and flowers.
Moscato, undoubtedly the best known of the three, makes an extremely aromatic, usually quite sweet wine with floral aromas and flavors of orange blossom, apricot, peach and nectarine. It is often bottled with residual carbonation, producing a slight fizzy nature. This style is called frizzante, as opposed to spumante, a full sparkling wine. The region is famous for Asti Spumante.
The three most common red grapes are Barbera, Dolcetto and the king of Italian wine grapes, Nebbiolo.
Dolcetto, meaning “little sweet one,” does not make a sweet wine at all. It got this name mainly because, relative to the other two, it has much lower acidity than Barbera and Nebbiolo and is softer and easier drinking. It pairs well with a variety of foods and is good on its own. Dolcetto wines will have characteristics of ripe fruits, cherry, plum, balsamic and fairly high tannins. Because of their low level of acid in the balance, Dolcetto wines do not age for long so they should be drunk within a few years of their release.
Barbera is the counterpart to Dolcetto, in that it is much less tannic but has very high acid levels. It is a medium-bodied wine that also goes well with many styles of food. Barbera is dated back to the 7th Century, making it nearly 1,000 years older than Cabernet Sauvignon! The wines have characteristics of black cherry, strawberry, blackberry, violets, lavender and an herbaceous finish. They can be complex and age worthy or can be soft and fruity, depending on how they are made.
Nebbiolo is a late ripening grape and one theory of the origin of its name is that when harvested, often weeks after other red grapes, the vineyards are covered in fog (nebbia in Italian). Another idea is that it comes from the “foggy” white coating the skin takes on as it matures. Nebbiolo makes perhaps the longest lived, non-fortified wine in the world. Its intense acid and tannins make a wine that can take decades to tame.
Examples of these are the well-known Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Great Barolos can take 20 years to reach their peak and can still be great 20 years later. They are aged for a minimum of five years, usually in very large barrels made of Slovenian oak. Modern winemakers are taking cues from their cross-Alpine neighbors in Burgundy and aging in small barrels of new French oak which softens the tannins more quickly but results in a more non-traditional style.
Barolo and Barbaresco wines go through an amazing transformation over time with intense, mouth coating tanning and severe acidity becoming delicate and subtle like an older Burgundy with time. The light ruby color turns to brick/garnet and intense aromas of black fruit and mineral and becomes soft and delicate, with aromas of dried flowers and roses. The wines from Barbaresco develop a little more quickly, hitting their peak in 8 to 10 years. These wines are the royalty of Piedmont and should be experienced by everyone who gets an opportunity.
Other parts of Piedmont producing wines from Nebbiolo are Gattinara, Ghemme and Roero. You have probably seen wines labeled Langhe Nebbiolo. These are so called declassified wines, meaning that without the strict requirements for production and aging of a Nebbiolo or Barbaresco, producers are free to make a wine in a more approachable style and release them much earlier, thus having revenue while the others age. Langhe Nebbiolo wines can be delicious and show the primary characteristics of the grape, without the complexity to which they will evolve.
I hope this will encourage everyone to try some Piemontese wines. At every level they are very enjoyable at the least, and superbly elegant at their best
Calendar of Events
- April 17th – International Malbec Day
- May 4th – International Sauvignon Blanc Day
- May 9th – National Moscato Day
- May 21st – National Chardonnay Day
- May 25th – National Wine Day
- June 11th – National Rosé Wine Day