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Exceptional wines of Piedmont, Italy

By Wayne Crawford

When asked why you enjoy wine, your responses can vary widely. It relaxes me in the evening. It pairs well with the food I enjoy. It stimulates me to unwind and enjoy a meal with friends and family, rarely exceeding my allotted alcohol intake. Perhaps, more importantly, you love wine and, like 6,000 years of wine drinkers, you drink what you like. All this works for me; perhaps it is healthy along with enjoyable—I think so!

Some of the diverse wines of the Piedmont region of Italy are to be enjoyed soon after bottling, but some require years to evolve into exceptional wines when well cellared. Italy, a cornerstone for vineyards and wine production for several thousand years, today is one of the largest exporters of wine in the world; thank you! Perhaps it was the expansion of the Roman Empire that moved wine forward in the greater Mediterranean region for a thousand years. No army I have served with moved without booze or nightly conviviality when not fighting. The Roman legions, very wisely, granted vineyard land to those who had served loyally along the great routes in which the army trekked and certainly would need wine in future travels.

The Big Canoe Wine Group blind-tasted Piedmont wines in February. We acquired both barbera and nebbiolo grapes in our assessment of 11 wines. Of these, two were duplicated to test our skills and one was two years apart in vintage. This was an interesting challenge only achieved with a blind-tasting to keep you sharp.

Before discussing our selections, let’s start with developing an appreciation of the Piedmont’s prodigious diversity in grapes.

Italy has 20 states, which match its wine regions. Piedmont and Tuscany are two of the exceptional, renowned centers for great wine. Piedmont, or Piemonte in Italian, is in the northwest region of Italy, bordering both France and Switzerland and surrounded by the Alps. This is the second largest region in Italy, after Sicily, and is well known for its wines. In fact, the Piedmont has more Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) wines, the highest wine rating in Italy, than any other region. The great reds include barbera, which is the most widely planted red grape and much preferred by the locals. Very approachable at a young age, it makes a medium-bodied wine and a wonderful complement to local food. Other leading reds include Dolcetto, Bonarda, Freisa and Grignolino.

The “King” of Italian red grapes in Piedmont is nebbiolo; it showcases cherry, rose and anise aromas and the flavors of Barbaresco and Barolo, two miles away. This full-bodied wine with chewy tannins needs a longer aging time to soften into a remarkable wine and is a great wine for collectors to savor after aging. The most remarkable nebbiolo comes from the Barolo region.

Not to be overlooked is the white moscato grape, well known for Moscato d’Asti. In addition to great wine, the Piedmont is well known for white truffles, chocolate and hazelnuts. When pairing food to the red wines, consider pepperoni pizza, pasta and grilled meat with the Barbera. For the Barbaresco and Barolo, consider roasted or grilled beef, Fontina cheese and game birds, like quail and duck. If you can find them, white truffles go exceedingly well with Barolo.

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Gary Cherry, left, and Ed O’Donnell enjoy the wines of Italy’s Piedmont region. 

‘Wines Drinking Well Now’

Silvio Grasso Barolo 2010 Nebbiolo, $36.99. Dark-red with deep saturation and a bright appearance, this wine has complex aromas of plum, cherry, anise, tar, floral roses and pepper with hints of vanilla. A full-bodied wine with black plum and cherry, balanced with soft tannins. A long finish with fruit and oak creates a smooth mouthfeel. This is an exceptional wine typical of the region and was our first choice in the tasting. Highly Recommended. Look for later vintages.

Eraldo Viberti 1999 Azienda Agricola Barolo, Piedmont, Italy, $54.99. Dark-red with deep saturation, this wine has aromas of plum, black cherry, rose and anise. On the palate, it is a full-bodied wine accented with black plum, black cherry and smooth tannins from 18 years of aging. It provides a long finish with a wonderful mouthfeel. This excellent wine shows what a well-aged Nebbiolo can achieve. The drinking window for this wine was 2014-2020; nonetheless, I think we drank the wine near its peak. Highly Recommended. Look for a 2010 or later vintage.

Fontanaredda Briccotondo Barbera 2011, $16.50. A dark ruby-red color with hints of purple hues on the rim, this wine has robust aromas of cherry, strawberry, anise and plum. The wine is medium-bodied with cherry and strawberry fruit dominating the palate, along with some black fruit, balanced with pleasing acidity. It provides a medium- to long-finish in a dry wine with smooth tannins and pleasing fruit flavors and is an excellent wine, well-crafted and typical of the barbera grape. Best Buy. Available in a 2014 vintage.

Other wines to consider: Villa Sparina Barbera del Monferrato 2013, $22; Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne 2014, $17.99; Colombera & Garella 2013 Lessona, $35; and Pio Cesare 2012 Barolo, $35.

‘Drink what you like!’

In my next article, the focus is on white and red wines from Alsace, a French wine region historically in conflict between Germany and France. Exceptional age-worthy wines—along with crisp, fresh wines using riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, pinot gris and pinot noir as primary grapes—come from this region.

Wayne Crawford is a French Wine Scholar (FWS), a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) and a member of the Wine Scholar Guild, Society of Wine Educators and American Wine Society.


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