Wine

The Magic of Wine

Drinking Time and Space Did you ever stop to think that when you are drinking a glass of wine, you are actually drinking the elements of time and space and eons of geological evolution? In a sense, wine grapes are tiny, juicy, complex time capsules that have captured the energy of the sun, gained sustenance […]

Drinking Time and Space

Did you ever stop to think that when you are drinking a glass of wine, you are actually drinking the elements of time and space and eons of geological evolution? In a sense, wine grapes are tiny, juicy, complex time capsules that have captured the energy of the sun, gained sustenance from the soils and weather conditions during their months-long ripening process and delivered all of this through the magic of fermentation to the glass in front of you.

Winemaking is first and foremost farming, and like many other crops, grapes are sensitive to the conditions where they are grown. Bananas like the tropics, apples prefer cooler climes, and various grape varieties are no different – Riesling prefers mildly cooler zones, whereas Bordeaux varieties thrive in warmer conditions.

But on a much finer scale than most crops, grapes can absorb detailed nuances in the geological and climate conditions where they are ripened. And unlike many crops that are quickly consumed after harvest, wine grapes are given a second life through the process of fermentation that preserves them, capturing their expression of the time and place where they were grown, sometimes for decades.

This character can easily be dissipated – too much oak and the wine tastes like oak. Poor soils and overcropping result in mediocre wine. Blend and manipulate the wine and the sense of place disappears in a sea of winemaking techniques and processing. But quality-oriented practices such as restricting yields, hand harvesting, minimal intervention and processing in the winery, all enhance a wine’s ability to preserve and express the elements of where it was grown.

Perhaps nowhere else is the essence of terroir so closely regulated and obsessed over than in the vineyards of Burgundy’s Cote D’Or. Over millions of years, geological evolution has created the fault lines, erosion and complex shifts in the ground underfoot that make each vineyard unique. Over hundreds of years, the vineyards that adorn these precious slopes have been farmed and observed, with every subtle nuance noted.

Each vineyard is delimited, named and ranked from basic Bourgogne Rouge and Blanc, through Village level, and up to the revered Premier and Grand Crus. Tiny differences in the mix of limestone and marls, or the position on the gentle slopes, can mean the difference in quality that is reflected in prices that can be hundreds of dollars per bottle different – even for wines made from grapes grown just a few meters apart in some cases. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown here are the conduits through which the elements of these fabled terroirs are conveyed. In Burgundy and many other regions, “place” is the key to a wine’s quality.

If the bones of a wine’s character are determined in the vineyard, it is during the growing season that its final expression is set. There are numerous conditions and risks that grape growers have to confront, many of which can influence the final wine. A quick look at the growing season gives some insight as to what farmers have to contend with to create a perfect bottle of wine.

The best years are those suited to grapes’ goldilocks personality – they like things juuust right. A dream vintage has a perfect balance of minimal but well-timed rainfall, warm, sunny days that are not too hot, and cool nights. These are conditions that set the stage for a slow rise of sugars, allowing time for the grape’s flavors to develop while acidity stays fresh and all of the grape’s components come together in perfect harmony.

In more challenging years, cool conditions may result in wines with higher acidity, more structure or greenish tannins, and less concentration and flavor and a shrillness. Hot years can show the heat with pruney, overripe notes, lower acidity and higher alcohol or wines that can be somewhat flabby. In these years, growers and winemakers have to adapt their vineyard management and winemaking practices to minimize the effects of the weather to produce the best wines they can. But the signature of the vineyard and vintage often remain an indelible component of the wines’ story.

In the end, the wine in your glass is the culmination of all of the influences of the vineyard where it was grown, the specific conditions during the season, and the winemakers’ touch, with each year unique in terms of its style. So the next time you enjoy a glass of wine remember – you are drinking in a time and place, and experiencing a unique liquid expression of a year’s worth of sun, earth, and hard work, all captured in a grape. Cheers!

Share This:

wines

Wines of the Rhône Valley

With its location in the sunny south of France and beautiful Mediterranean climate, the Rhône region is well situated to producing wines that range from some of the best values anywhere in the world of wine to some of the most sought after and expensive classics. The region spans from Vienne, just south of Lyon, […]

With its location in the sunny south of France and beautiful Mediterranean climate, the Rhône region is well situated to producing wines that range from some of the best values anywhere in the world of wine to some of the most sought after and expensive classics.

The region spans from Vienne, just south of Lyon, for about 200 kilometers south to Avignon, sprawling along the banks of the valley created by the Rhône River. It is composed of two main sectors: the Septentrionale (Northern Rhône) and the Meridional (Southern Rhône), and each of these is broken down into smaller sub-appellations. The South is by far the larger in terms of production, with the North accounting for less than 5% of total Rhône wine production, and overall the Rhône is the second largest wine region in France after Bordeaux.

The north and the south are markedly different from each other in terms of climate, terroir, grapes grown, and wine styles. The Northern Rhône lies at a point where the Mediterranean and continental climate influences converge and is cooler overall. The south is full-on Mediterranean – sunny, dry and warm. The topography is different too, and the north’s vineyards often cling to the steep, rocky, terraced slopes along the narrow river valley. In the south the hills are more rolling, the valley wider. The mix of grapes changes as well, and in the north Syrah is the primary grape for the reds, and Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne for the whites.  In the warmer south, Grenache is the workhorse for the Reds, with a host of supporting varieties collectively known as Rhône varietals including Syrah, Mourvèdre and more blended in. The white can be made from a wide range of grapes including Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Roussanne and more
The Côtes du Rhône AOC makes up about half the region’s production, the vast majority of which are red although some very good rosé and white wines are made as well. The reds are primarily made from Grenache and Syrah, although a host of grapes is permitted including Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Carignane. They are typically light to medium bodied, fruity with red fruits and spice, versatile, easy to drink and food friendly and generally a great value.

As the wines move up the quality pyramid, the rules and regulations on growing and production become more strict, with lower grape yields allowed and higher minimum alcohol (a measurement of grape sugar levels and ripeness). Next, come the Côtes du Rhône-Villages, similar wines to the above, but from vineyards deemed to have superior conditions and the ability to produce higher quality wines. Also, there are about 20 villages, such as Séguret, that are allowed to be labeled with the name of the village. Many are scenic medieval hill towns with vineyards located on the sloping hills surrounding them, producing reasonably priced wines that are a step up in quality, body, and age-worthiness.

The next step up are the individual Appellations, subregions that produced unique wines based on their specific soils, climate and grape varieties. There are 11 in the south, the most famous of which is Châteauneuf du Pape, made from up to 13 grape varieties that include five white grapes. Grenache makes up the majority of the blend, and most focus on two or three grapes that include Mourvèdre, Syrah in the blends. Grown in soils deposited by the meandering Rhône river over millions of years, they are hearty, full-bodied wines that embody the warm sunny region where they are born. The best can age for several decades, and top cuvees from the best producers can run into the $200-300 range. There is also a small production of Chåteauneuf du Pape Blanc produced, a blend of grapes that can include Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Roussanne and more.

Gigondas is another well respected AC in the south, located in the hills of the eastern edge of the region near the jagged peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail. Similar to Chåteaunuef in grapes composition, it is a perhaps a slightly more rugged, rustic variation on the theme that typically sells for less money, and the top producers are well worth seeking out.

The eight northern appellations are located on both banks of the Rhône. On the western steeply terraced side of the river is Côte Rôtie, producing solid, age-worthy wines such as Guigal’s super expensive La Landonne, La Mouline and La Turque that can start at about $300. Hermitage lies on the right side of the river with world renowned Jean-Louis Chave making one of the most sought after red wines in the world in the steep granite soils of the massive hill above the town of Tain l’Hermitage. His white Hermitage made from Roussanne and Marsanne grapes is equally if not more sought after, and both will set you back hundreds of dollars – if you can find them.

Condrieu and Chåteau Grillet are white wine only appellations on the west bank just south of Côte Rôtie, producing lovely perfumed and aromatic wine from the Viognier grape grown in steep terraced vineyards. Cornas, Saint Joseph on the left bank and Crozes Hermitage on the right are regions that were somewhat sleepy and overlooked but have now come into the spotlight for their exceptional Syrah based reds, as well as a much smaller production of white. They have been traditionally less expensive, but top cuvees from the hottest producers (Voge, Clape, Vincent Paris to name a few) are becoming more costly and very difficult to source.

The wines of the Côtes du Rhône are generally incredibly versatile, food friendly, and for the most part extremely affordable. With a couple of great vintages in the cellar, especially the stunning 2015’s, it is an excellent time to explore the amazing variety of wines from one of the world’s top wines regions –  from everyday affordable to some of the world’s top classics for the cellar – Cheers!

Share This:

Cru

Cru Beaujolais

The Other Burgundy Buoyed by a series of excellent vintages and led by a crop of energetic winemakers with something to prove, the Beaujolais region is on the rise. While the region has a wine making tradition and history that dates back centuries, the region has seen significant swings in its reputation and fortunes. Beaujolais […]

The Other Burgundy

Buoyed by a series of excellent vintages and led by a crop of energetic winemakers with something to prove, the Beaujolais region is on the rise. While the region has a wine making tradition and history that dates back centuries, the region has seen significant swings in its reputation and fortunes.

Beaujolais entered the second half of the twentieth century as a sleepy country cousin compared to its more famous neighbors to the north in the Cote D’Or. Like many regions back then, the development of modern winemaking tools has created efficiencies that allowed growers to churn out vast quantities of cheap, cheerful fruity wines, some not so cheerful ones, and a few more serious wines from the best producers and vineyards.

In the 1970’s, a local celebration of the harvest was marketed into an international fad, and the race to get Nouveau Beaujolais to market first (after the legal release date of the 3rd Thursday of November) became all the rage. The short-term prospects were good. Nouveau’s quick fermentation allowed producers to sell the wines in a matter weeks rather than months and years. Production soared, quality arguably suffered, but the impact on cash flow was monumental.

The problem was that they were building their reputation on a faddish wine of dubious quality, and when the fad died, as fads inevitably do, it left a bad taste in the mouths of many consumers. Even during the Nouveau boom years, there were a handful of growers who saw the writing on the wall, realizing the only way to achieve success was to focus on quality over quantity, and craft wines that captured the essence of the grapes and unique terroir of the region. These visionaries eschewed the modern dictates of commercial production and began to follow the lead of biodynamic pioneers like Jules Chauvet. They began with a move away from the methods that they felt resulted in bland, generic wines and moved “back to nature” with organic, biodynamic and natural grape growing and winemaking.

Today many more are following the trend. The top wines from these growers are highly sought after by connoisseurs and top Sommeliers and are now found on the lists of some of the best restaurants in the world. They have been helped by higher prices in Cote d’Or for Burgundy, and more flexible and open-minded consumers.

The region is comprised of the catch-all Beaujolais AOC producing lighter, fruitier wine mainly from vineyards in the south, or Bas-Beaujolais, which is flatter terrain with sandstone and clay soils. Carbonic maceration is widely used to ferment the wines without extracting hard tannins, and the result is soft, fruity wine for early consumption. North of Villefranche is the Beaujolais-Villages AOC, with steeper hills, higher altitude, and soils composed of sandstone, schists, granite and some limestone. The wines here must have a slightly higher minimum alcohol, lower yields per acre, and are a step up in terms of body while maintaining a fresh, fruit driven nature.

The best sites are the hillsides where the soils are mainly granites and schists in vineyards surrounding the ten Cru Villages of Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Brouilly and Côte de Brouilly. Each has its own subtle stylistic nuances, with more structure and complexity than simple Beaujolais – sometimes more reminiscent of their Pinot Noir based cousins to the north than the rest of Beaujolais. The best can age for a decade or more, yet most are medium-bodied, accessible when they are young, and work with food much like Pinot Noir, pairing with poultry, game birds, grilled meaty fish and lighter meats like pork or veal.

Some of the best can be found in the Kermit Lynch portfolio including Guy Breton, Nicole Chanrion, Chignard, Diochon, Jean Foillard, Marcel Lapierre, and more. Other noteworthy producers include Julien Sunier, Jean-Paul Brun, and Georges Descombes. The wines range in price from under $10 for Beaujolais to the high-teens to the mid $30’s for the Crus, making them quite a bargain. With a series of excellent vintages on the market, especially 2014 and 2015, it is an excellent time to explore a region very much on the move. Cheers!
Chris Cree is one of 40 Masters of Wine in the US and Director of Education and Retail Operations at the Pluckemin Inn, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winning restaurant and online wine shop.

Share This:

champagne

Champagne

The Ultimate Celebratory Beverage! Champagne is arguably the most celebratory beverage on earth. Just the mere act of popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly always seems to make the moment that much more festive. Versatile and food-friendly, these wines are the perfect starter to a great meal, great with a wide range of […]

The Ultimate Celebratory Beverage!

Champagne is arguably the most celebratory beverage on earth. Just the mere act of popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly always seems to make the moment that much more festive. Versatile and food-friendly, these wines are the perfect starter to a great meal, great with a wide range of appetizers, and with the right menu and chef, can work wonderfully throughout the dinner.

Champagne, after all, is wine. Not all that bubbles is Champagne. So what sets these special and magnificent wines apart from the rest of the sparkling wines in the world? The first and foremost factor is what the French call terroir, a term that encompasses all of the elements of climate, soil, exposure and sun that affect how grapes ripen a specific region or vineyard. Champagne is one of the most northerly wine regions – if it were in North America, it would be on the same latitude, the 49th parallel, as Winnipeg, Canada. The region’s cool climate means that the grapes, even after a very long growing season, are still naturally tart and very high in acidity at harvest. The vineyards are mainly on gentle slopes composed of layers of tertiary soils a few feet deep (washed down over millions of years from the Isle de France, a geological formation that stretches west to the English Channel that also helps moderate the worst of the Channel weather), overlying deep chalk sub-soils. The region gets its name from the Romans who thought the chalky soils looked like the ash soils around Vesuvius in Campagna in Italy. While Champagne in its bubbly form was not created commercially until the 1600’s, the history of winemaking in the region dates back much further. The main sub-regions in Champagne are the Valle de la Marne. Cotes des Blancs. Montagne de Rheims. Cotes de Sezanne and the Aube, and the wines can be even more specifically identified by the name of the village where the grapes are grown. Each of these sub-regions has their own unique variations of micro-climate and soils that can influence the style of the wine.
The second factor is the grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier are the only permitted varieties. In this cool climate, they ripen differently than warmer regions like Burgundy, California or Oregon. The cool climate allows a long ripening with much lower sugars and higher acidities, in fact so much so that ordinary still wine made here is often so tart that it is actually unpleasant to drink.

Enter the third factor, the method of fermentation, the Methode Champenoise. The magic of Champagne, the bubbles being the most obvious, is created when the wines go through a second fermentation in the bottle, a labor-intensive and time-consuming process that is required for all true Champagne. First, a still wine is produced, then a blend is made of these wines, an addition of yeast and sugars are added, the wines are bottled and capped, and a secondary fermentation begins, capturing the CO2 inside the bottle and creating the signature bubbles. Cheaper bubblies can be made in bulk rather than in the individual bottle, but the unique environment in the bottle fosters an interaction between the wine and the yeast, called lees, creating finer bubbles and layers of flavor associated with the best Champagnes. In general, the longer the wine ages on the lees, the better it gets.

When deemed ready, the wine needs to be somehow rid of the sediment in the bottle, and this is done in a complex process called remuage and disgorgement. The method is called riddling, and the bottles are slowly turned from horizontal to nearly vertical, with a little shake, allowing the sediment to slide down into the neck of the bottle over the period of a few weeks. Traditionally this is done by hand in a rack designed specifically for the purpose, but in many cases has now been automated with the bottles turned in large baskets. The next step is disgorgement, where the bottleneck containing the sediments are frozen, quickly turned upright, the cap removed, allowing the sediment to blow out the top and leaving the wine in the bottle free and clear. The wine is topped, corked, and allowed to rest before being ready for sale.

Champagne is produced in a number of styles and prices. Vintage wines are more expensive and are made to show the specific qualities of that year, and nearly all of the famous luxury Champagnes are vintage dated. Non-vintage wines are generally less expensive and are a blend of wines from several years. Most Champagnes are a blend of grapes, but there are also Blanc des Blancs made from 100% Chardonnay and Blanc de Noirs, white champagne (sometimes with a little copper hue) made from all red grapes. Rosé Champagnes often have an addition of Pinot Noir to create their pinkish/ salmon hue.

Champagne can range from crisp, delicate and racy to toasty, full-bodied and creamy – with Rosé’s often having a little raspberry or strawberry nuance. Champagne can come with various levels of sweetness, with “Extra Brut” and “Brut” the driest. “Extra Dry” is ironically a little less dry; “Demi-Sec” has just a hint of sweetness but is not often seen. While we think of it as the ultimate celebratory beverage, it is actually quite a food friendly wine.

Most Champagne is ready to drink upon release, but some of the better Cuvees can age for 10-15 years or more. It should be kept like any other wine, on its side to keep the cork moist, in a cool, vibration free, dark environment. Serving temperature is generally a little cooler than still white wine as the bubbles tend to dissipate the chill faster. To open, carefully remove the wire and capsule (it’s under pressure – warm or shaken bottles are supercharged!) Grasp the cork and gently turn only the bottle while holding it at about a 45-degree angle. Slowly allow the cork to slide out, restraining it, so it emerges slowly and steadily. As unsatisfying as it seems, the proper sound is just a little hiss as the cork quietly leaves the bottle.

In the world of Champagne, the big brands dominate the market, offering mostly good solid quality, but the buzz in the trade is all about small grower, estate grown and bottled wines. These boutique properties often sell for the same or less than the big brands and offer wonderful pure expressions of the villages and sub-regions where they are grown, rather than the “house style” of the big brands. These family domains bottle their wines in tiny quantities, whereas the large houses mainly purchase grapes and fruit and produce huge volumes. And while neither has a lock on quality (many of the Grand Cuvees of the big growers are spectacular wines) the smaller Domains perhaps give a better insight to the individuality of place. While nowhere near as recognizable as the big brands, and thus a bit intimidating if you don’t have good advice, the smaller properties often deliver top quality Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines at remarkably lower prices.

As we approach the holiday season it is hard to have too much Champagne on hand – the best-stocked cellar should always have plenty! It is ideal for gifts, parties, and entertaining holiday guests – but don’t forget about the rest of the year. It is also an even better way to make life’s simple moments that much more special - Cheers!

Share This:

Rosé Wine Comes of Age

One my favorite signs of summer is the arrival of the newest crop of crisp, dry refreshing rosé wines that start showing up in late winter and early spring. Practically a ritual in the cafés and Bistros from Paris to the Cote d’Azur, these quintessential summer wines initially met with some resistance here in the […]

One my favorite signs of summer is the arrival of the newest crop of crisp, dry refreshing rosé wines that start showing up in late winter and early spring. Practically a ritual in the cafés and Bistros from Paris to the Cote d’Azur, these quintessential summer wines initially met with some resistance here in the States, with memories of assorted “pop” wines from our youths, mostly sweet and often sparkly, leaving a bad taste behind.  Yet each year more and more wine lovers shed their fear of “drinking pink” and discover the beauty of these versatile summer wines, and today rosés are some of the best, and most popular, wines of the season.

Generally inexpensive, rosé wines are perfect companions to summer’s more casual entertaining and cuisine. They are great with all kinds of summer fare, and grilled tuna, snapper, chicken, salad niçoise, tapenades, grilled summer vegetables, olives and cured meats all work exceptionally well.  They are also great all on their own on a warm summer afternoon!

While there are several methods of production, rosé wines are basically made by leaving the juice of red grapes — almost all grapes, even red ones, have white juice — macerating on their skins just long enough to develop their signature pink hue rather than the multiple days or weeks for full bore red wines. The grapes are then pressed or the the juice is run off and they finish fermenting much like white wines. Another method, called saignee, (to bleed), is done by siphoning off some portion of red wine early on in the fermentation when it just has a faint hue, and vinifying it like a white wine. The juice, skins and grapes left behind continue on as a red wine for fermentation, except that it is now more concentrated by virtue of having less juice to skins, making for deeper fuller red, as well as the benefit of having a lovely fresh rosé. The third method, used mainly for inexpensive bulk rosé, is done by blending white and red wines together, with the notable exception of Rosé Champagne and a lovely Basque rosé called Txakoli that, among others, make beautiful wines with this method.

Somewhere between reds and whites, rosés are typically light to medium in body, crisp and wonderfully refreshing — with a trace of tannin from their red wine lineage. Contrary to popular belief, almost all are actually bone dry! Rosés can range in color from pale pink to brick/salmon to a light ruby red, and often offer flavors and aromas that range from raspberry and strawberry to citrus, melon and tropical fruits. Their individual styles are determined in large part by the grapes from which they are made and the regions where they are grown.

Today some of the very best are hard to find, selling out quickly after release. Domaine Tempier from Bandol, Vacheron Sancerre Rosé, Clos St. Magdeleine are all quite fleeting, gone as quickly as summer itself. Corsica has burst onto the scene with its beautiful Rosés from indigenous (and hard to pronounce) local grapes such as Sciaccarellu. And California Rosés have upped their game, with Sinskey’s Vin Gris of Pinot Noir and Bedrock’s Ode to Lulu, a wine inspired by Domaine Tempier and named in honor of Lulu Peyraud, two great examples. And the exquisite Rosé Champagnes from the top houses in France such as Krug and Dom Perignon can set you back hundreds of dollars per bottle.

While rosés don’t strictly have a season, they are more likely to be found in shops from early April through Labor Day and are generally best drunk young to capture their vibrant youthful freshness. A few exceptions include the rosé wines of Bandol that can be better with a little time in bottle, and those from Lopez de Heredia, who doesn’t even release them until they have many years of cask and bottle age. So this summer lose your fear of the pink and enjoy – but don’t wait! The selection tends to dwindle as the summer winds down and retailers begin to look to fall’s fuller bodied flavors.

Share This:

The Wines of Piedmont

From World Class Collectibles to Every Day Values Located in the Northwest of Italy, the Piedmont region is the home of two of the most renowned red wines in the world, Barolo and Barbaresco. Sought after by connoisseurs and collectors, these magnificent wines are fairly expensive and can need years of bottle age before they […]

From World Class Collectibles to Every Day Values

Located in the Northwest of Italy, the Piedmont region is the home of two of the most renowned red wines in the world, Barolo and Barbaresco. Sought after by connoisseurs and collectors, these magnificent wines are fairly expensive and can need years of bottle age before they are ready to drink. Yet what really puts Piedmont on the map for the majority of wine lovers is that it also produces a wide range of wines that are affordable, ready to drink, food friendly and perfect for everyday enjoyment.

Like all great wine regions, the style and quality of Piedmontese wines is the result of millions of years of geologic evolution combined with the influences of climate (Mediterranean meets Alps, Continental Eurasian meets African tectonic plate), the grape varieties grown and the traditions and wine making methods used to craft them.

Piedmont, which means “foothills” in Italian, lies at the intersection of two great geological forces where the African and European continents collide. This massive force not only created the Alps, which are visible on a clear day from much of the region but also pushed up an ancient seafloor to the surface creating a jumbled series of steep hills with a mix of different soils, slopes, altitudes and exposures that are perfect for growing the regions grapes.

The subtle differences between vineyard sites favor grapes with different ripening requirements and a host of grape varieties are planted in the region depending on the specific microclimate where they are planted. While Piedmont is best known for its reds, there are also delicious white, rosè, sparkling and sweet wines too.

Piedmontese whites are typically crisp, clean and mostly on the light, refreshing side. Some of the best-known are made from local varieties such as Arneis, Cortese (the grape in Gavi) and a few lesser-known indigenous grapes including Erbaluce and Favorita. There are some international varieties including Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc too.

Moscato is widely planted and is mainly used in the production of sparkling sweet wine called Moscato d’Asti and Asti (or Asti Spumante). Red grapes include Grignolino, Brachetto, Grachetto, Friesa, Croatina and Vespolina to name a few obscure local varieties. The Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir are the international representatives. But the majority of its red wines, and arguably Piedmonts best, are made from Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo.

Both Dolcetto and Barbera are fairly early ripeners making lovely fresh, lively wines that have the dual benefit that wine makers can sell them a year or so after harvest (and get paid sooner) and that wine lovers can drink them pretty much when they are released.

Since they ripen earlier, they can be grown in vineyards in cooler sites and are a little less demanding than Nebbiolo. Dolcetto has a dark, edgy cherry character with moderate tannins and moderate acidity. It can be made in a slightly rustic style with more structure or in a more modern style that is juicier and more fruit driven. Either way, it can be drunk young and fresh within a few years of the vintage. Barbera is typically a bit higher in acid and slightly lower in tannins than Dolcetto. Most Barbera is pretty simple and straightforward, yet deliciously juicy wine with bright red fruits and cherry notes. When it is planted in top vineyard sites, it can morph into a wine with much more stature, depth and power. Barbera can be vinified in a more traditional style in stainless steel, large neutral barrels or concrete or in a modern style and aged in new French oak barriques. The best can age and improve for 8-10 years.

Nebbiolo, the sole grape in Barolo and Barbaresco, is a late ripening varietal. It is rumored that it took its name from the mist and fog (Nebbia in Italian) that is typical in the late fall when the grape finally ripens. While Dolcetto and Barbera can thrive in cooler sites, Nebbiolo destined for Barolo and Barbaresco needs to be planted in the best of the region’s sun exposed, warmer and south facing vineyards to capture the heat and become fully mature. It produces wines that can range in style from fresh, lively and ready to drink (Langhe Nebbiolo for example) to solid, densely structured and firmly tannic wines that need a decade or two to reach their peak when planted in the Barbaresco and Barolo DOCGs. The main determining factors in the quality and style of Nebbiolo are vintage conditions, vine age, vinification method, and perhaps most importantly, vineyard location or terroir.

When made in the lighter style, it undergoes shorter fermentation and maceration in order to keep its red fruit and freshness. Nebbiolo destined for Barolo and Barbaresco undergoes much longer fermentation and maturation, with several years of barrel and bottle aging required by law before they can be sold and only the best Nebbiolo grapes are used.

Most of the wine made in Piedmont is in the vineyards around the towns of Asti, Alba and Alessandria but there are five main regions: Canavese (including Carema and Caluso), Colline Novarese and Coste della Sesia in the north, Langhe – including the hill country around the city of Alba and the Roero and Monferrato which includes the areas around Asti and Alessandria.

The Barolo DOCG has several sub zones – Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba – and each has its own unique terroir and style. Barbaresco also has several sub zones – Barbaresco, Treiso, and Neive – again with subtle influences on the style of wines produced. In both Barolo and Barbaresco, producer is important as styles can range from very traditional, austere and almost rustic to much more extracted, riper and more modern styles. The grape, with its firm tannins, good acidity and relatively low color component makes wines that are rarely inky dark purple rather they have a little more garnet and lighter hues, almost brick hints at the edges. Barolo and Barbaresco are often described as “big wines” but to me, while definitely intense, they are more nervy, racy and highly strung, less generous and fruit driven. They are more reserved and tight especially when young, with more dried fruits, earth and leather notes than sheer power and opulence. In this sense they can be a bit stand-offish at first for lovers of riper, oaky and more fruit oriented wines.

The more traditional approach employs longer macerations and fermentations, often in large, neutral casks or concrete with aging in large neutral casks. These feature more of a dried red fruit character, again, sometimes a bit rustic with firmer tannins and structure especially when young. The modern approach seeks to keep the nature of Barolo but often with shorter fermentations and efforts made to soften Nebbiolo’s grippy tannins, with aging in new or partially in new French oak barrels. There also are some who pull a little bit from both schools of thought.

In the northern reaches of Piedmont lie the lesser-known regions of Lessona, Carema, Gattinara, Erbaluce and others. Wines from these regions, especially the reds, tend to be slightly more rustic, lighter in color and body but in intensity. They often show the rugged mineral laden elements from their roots in the rocky steep vineyards at the very base of the Alps.

The wines of Piedmont are fantastic partners at the table. From light fresh whites which are perfect as an aperitif, with fish, appetizers, risotto or pasta with seafood, to medium bodied reds like Barbera or Dolcetto which are great with light meats, pasta with red sauce or pizza. The Barolo and Barbaresco with grilled lamb, veal chops or beef are well worth getting to know. For after dinner there are sweetly sparkling Moscato d’Asti with its peachy pear notes or Brachetto d’Aqui, a sweet sparkling red that is like sparkling liquid raspberry. A series of great vintages has made a wealth of wine available for affordable everyday drinking as well as for the collector looking to stock the cellar with age worthy gems making this a great time to explore this excellent wine region.

Share This:

Piedmont

Italy’s greatest & most highly regarded wines Located in the Northwest of Italy, the Piedmont region is the home of two of the most renowned red wines in the world, Barolo and Barbaresco. Sought after by connoisseurs and collectors, these magnificent wines are fairly expensive and can need years of bottle age before they are […]

Italy’s greatest & most highly regarded wines

Located in the Northwest of Italy, the Piedmont region is the home of two of the most renowned red wines in the world, Barolo and Barbaresco. Sought after by connoisseurs and collectors, these magnificent wines are fairly expensive and can need years of bottle age before they are ready to drink. Yet what really puts Piedmont on the map for the majority of wine lovers is that it also produces a wide range of wines that are affordable, ready to drink, food friendly, and perfect foreveryday enjoyment.

Like all great wine regions, the style and quality of Piedmontese wines is the result of millions of years of geologic evolution combined with the influences of climate (Mediterranean meets Alps), the grape varieties grown, and the traditions and wine making methods used to craft them. Piedmont, which means “foothills” in Italian, lies at the intersection of two great geological forces where the African and European continents collide. This massive force not only created the Alps, which are visible on a clear day from much of the region, but also pushed up an ancient seafloor to the surface creating a jumbled series of steep hills with a mix of different soils, slopes, altitudes and exposures that are perfect for growing grapes. The subtle differences between vineyard sites favor grapes with different ripening requirements, and a host of grape varieties are planted in the region depending on the specific microclimate where they are planted. While Piedmont is best known for its reds, there are also delicious white, rosè, sparkling, and sweet wines too.

Piedmontese whites are typically crisp, clean and on the light, refreshing side. Some of the best known are made from local varieties such as Arneis, Cortese (the grape in Gavi), and a few lesser known indigenous grapes including Erbaluce and Favorita. There are some international varieties including Riesling, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc too. Moscato is widely planted and is mainly used in the production of sparkling sweet wine called Moscato d’Asti. Red grapes include Grignolino, Brachetto, Grachetto, Friesa, Croatina, and Vespolina to name a few obscure local varieties, plus Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir as the international representatives. But the bulk of red wine is made from Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo.

Both Dolcetto and Barbera are fairly early ripeners, making lovely fresh, lively wines that have the dual benefit that wine makers can sell them a year or so after harvest (and get paid sooner) and that wine lovers can drink them pretty much when they are released. Since they ripen earlier, they can be grown in vineyards in cooler sites and are a little less demanding than Nebbiolo. Dolcetto has a dark, edgy cherry character with moderate tannins and modest acidity. It can be made in a slightly rustic style with more structure, or in a more modern style that is juicier and more fruit driven. Either way it can be drunk young and fresh within a few years of the vintage. Barbera is typically a bit higher in acid and slightly lower in tannins than Dolcetto. Most Barbera is pretty simple and straight forward yet deliciously juicy wine with bright red fruits and cherry notes. When it is planted in top vineyard sites it can morph into a wine with much more stature, depth and power.

Barbera can be vinified in a more traditional style in large neutral barrels or concrete, or in a modern style and aged in barrique, and the best can age and improve for 8-10 years.
Nebbiolo, the sole grape in Barolo and Barbaresco, is a late ripening varietal. It is widely believed that it took its name from the mist and fog (Nebbia in Italian) that is typical in the late fall when the grape finally ripens. While Dolcetto and Barbera can thrive in cooler sites, Nebbiolo destined Barolo and Barbaresco needs the best of the warm, sunny, south facing vineyards to capture the heat and fully mature. It produces wines that can range in style from fresh and lively and ready to drink (Langhe Nebbiolo for example), to solid, tensely structured and firmly tannic wines that need a decade or two to reach their peak when planted in the Barberesco and Barolo DOCGs. The main determining factors in the quality and style of Nebbiolo are vintage conditions, vine age, vinification method, and perhaps most importantly, vineyard location. When made in the lighter style it undergoes shorter fermentation and maceration in order to keep its red fruit and freshness. Nebbiolo destined for Barolo and Barbaresco undergo much longer fermentation and maturation, with several years of barrel and bottle aging required by law before they can be sold, and only the best Nebbiolo grapes are used.

Most of the wine made in Piedmont is in the vineyards around the towns of Asti, Alba and Alessandria, but there are five main regions: Canavese (including Carema and Caluso), Colline Novarese, Coste della Sesia in the north, Langhe – including the hill country around the city of Alba and the Roero, and Monferrato which includes the areas around Asti and Alessandria. The region has 45 Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) and 12 Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG). The DOCG wines are: Asti, Barbaresco, Barbera d’Asti, Barbera del Monferrato Superiore, Barolo, Acqui, Dogliani, Ovada, Gattinara, Gavi, Ghemme and Roero.

The Barolo DOCG has several sub zones – Castiglione Falletto, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba and Serralunga d’Alba – and each has its own unique terrior and style. Barbaresco also has several sub zones – Barbaresco, Treiso, and Neive – again with subtle influences on the style of wines produced. In both Barolo and Barbaresco, producer is important as styles can range from very traditional, austere and almost rustic to much more extracted, riper and more modern styles. The grape, with its firm tannins, good acidity and relatively low color component makes wines that are rarely inky dark purple, rather they have a little more garnet and lighter hues, almost brick hints at the edges. Barolo and Barbaresco are often described as “big wines” but to me, while definately intense, they are more nervy, racy and highly strung, less generous and more reserved and tight especially when young, and with more dried fruits, earth and leather notes than sheer power and opulence. In this sense they can be a bit stand-offish at first for lovers of riper, oakier, more fruit oriented wines.

The wines of Piedmont are fantastic partners at the table. From light fresh whites that are perfect as an apertif, with fish, appetizers, risotto or pasta with seafood, to medium bodied reds like Barbera or Dolcetto which are great with light meats, pasta with red sauce or pizza, and Barolo and Barbaresco with griiled lamb, veal chops or beef, they are well worth getting to know. For after dinner there are sweetly sparkling Moscato d’Asti with its peachy pear notes, or Brachetto d’Aqui, a sweet sparkling red that us like liquid raspberries. A series of great vintages has made a wealth of wine available for affordable everday drinking as well as for the collector looking to stock the cellar with age worthy gems making this a great time to explore this excellent wine region.

Cheers!

Share This: