Vinous Holiday Companions

I’m now in the heart of the Langhe until the beginning of my 20th year of over 30 visits to Piemonte that included one successfully published book on the region’s wine families.

Thanksgiving morning, while sipping my morning cappuccino and visiting cyberspace, I came upon several articles about Thanksgiving wine advice. Although the holiday has come and gone, there is still a lot of merry to be made before the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. Being in Piemonte, I couldn’t help but share some of my own  suggestions and some shopping tips for your vinous companions this holiday season.

Treiso (Barbaresco)
The village of Treiso in the Barbaresco denomination of the Langhe.
Vinous Experiences

Wine is an experience, not merely a beverage, so my tip for any meal is to serve wines with stories behind them (of course I would say that). Make the wine producers and their terroir part of the meal conversation by telling their stories. There are lots of them out there in cyberspace (and in my bookLabor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte). Or, even better, you could visit their wineries with me and meet the wine families on a Labor of Love tour. Talking about them and their labor of love certainly beats the heck out talking politics at the table (or anywhere else).

Book cover
Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte

In our Colorado high country home, we don’t pair wine with food. The opposite. First we choose the wines we want to drink and then figure out what to cook. More often than not, those wines are from Piemonte, Sicily, or Valais Switzerland. Since I’m in Piemonte for the holidays, let’s go with some of my thoughts on those wines.

Twinkle Twinkle, Little Sparkler

My go-to sparklers I love are Metodo Classico bubbles from Piemonte (aka classical style…think Champagne, not Prosecco…please). I particularly like Ettore Germano Alta Langa, Deltetto Spumante Brut or Extra Brut (try the Brut Rosé – 50/50 Nebbiolo/Pinot Noir), and Contratto For England Pas Dose. Can’t go wrong with any of those. If you can find it in the States, Marchesi Alfieri Blanc de Noir (100% Pinot Noir) is an excellent choice for your holiday bubbles.

Spumanti aging
Deltetto spumanti aging at their winery in Canale (Roero).

Whatever you choose, please don’t think the word “spumante” is not associated with quality wines. Far from it. Spumante merely means “sparkling wines” in Italian. Personally, I believe the Asti Spumante commercials of Christmases past put a damper on today’s  efforts to market spumante in America. Sad because there is some excellent Asti Spumanti out there.

Bottom line, each type of bubbles has its place.

Not all Rieslings Are Created Sweet

Regarding Riesling. Nails on a chalkboard when people say to me “Riesling is too sweet for my taste.” Trocken (dry) Riesling is NOT sweet. So please, taste one from Piemonte because as far as I’ve experienced, they are all dry. My particular favorites are Ettore Germano “Herzu,” G. D. Vajra “Petracine,” and Cà del Baio Riesling Langhe Bianco DOC.

For a great primer on Riesling (and all other varietals), visit Wine Folly or buy the book by the same name.  Sidebar: this book makes a great Christmas present for the oenophile in your life. I look forward to the day when Madeline adds Piemonte to the list of regions where one can find dry Riesling. Hint.

The Little Rascal

Arneis is more than a white wine. It’s also the name of my dog who, like the meaning of his name, is a rascal. When I began spending more time back in the States in the early part of the millennium, Arneis — the wine — was hard to find. It is now readily available across the U.S. At the risk of upsetting my Langhe producer friends, I am partial to the Roero Arneis. To my palate, sand makes for a better Arneis and there is much of it to be found in the soil of the Roero north of Langhe across the Tanaro River.

Fortunately there is a wide range of Arneis producers exporting to America. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say there are many importers in the States who got wise to the grape’s appeal and are importing it. Whichever way you look at it, there are some great Roero Arneis choices of different styles to be found in the U.S., such as Deltetto, Matteo Correggia, Monchiero-Carbone, Negro, Malvirà, and Vietti.

Arneis the dog
My little rascal
The Next Big Thing

Paola Grasso of Cà del Baio said to me today, “Timorasso is the next big thing in Piemonte.” She’s savvy, with a keen eye for developments in the market and judging from the growing interest in the grape from journalists and importers, she is no doubt onto something.

This past week I visited Elisa Semino of La Colombera in Colli Tortonesi in the far southeastern corner of Piemonte. It was love at first sip for me. I dream of her Timorasso! Hard to imagine that before the 1980s, many Timorasso vineyards fell victim to the popularity of Cortese. Vintners ripped out Timorasso vines and replaced them with the high demand grape from which Gavi is made. Now, vintners like Elisa and her brilliant mentor, Walter Massa, are ushering in the renaissance of the Colli Tortonesi’s signature wine. Sadly, it’s what’s happening today with Dolcetto, so the rebirth of this superstar gives me hope that the trend of ripping out the Dolcetto vines in favor of Nebbiolo and hazelnuts will end.

Lots of great articles can be found online about Timorasso. I can’t wait to add this precious white wine to my cellar back in Colorado.

Elisa Semino
Elisa Semino at home in her family’s winery in Colli Tortonesi, La Colombera.
A Red for All Tables

A great go to red for nearly every meal is Barbera. Whether bearing the names of Alba, Asti, or Monferrato, Barbera is a versatile red and high quality bottles at great prices from a myriad of producers can be found everywhere. Some of my favorite wineries for Barbera d’Alba are Chiara Boschis – E. Pira e Figli, Elio Altare (now in the hands of his charismatic daughter Silvia), Punset, Cigliuti, Mauro Molino, Paolo Scavino, Matteo Correggia, Monchiero-Carbone, and Albino Rocca (the Gepin is a particular favorite of mine). For Barbera d’Asti, look for Marchesi Alfieri’s queen of their portfolio, Alfiera, and their La Tota named for the last Marchesa of Alfieri, Adele.

This list is far from exhaustive! Check out the Table of Contents of Labor of Lovesince producers like Cantina Marsaglia make a delicious Barbera, but you’ll have to visit them in Castellinaldo d’Alba since their wines are not available in the States.

Table of Contents vinous companions
You can find many vinous companions from the Table of Contents of Labor of Love
King of the Table

Of course, the big daddy of Piemonte’s vineyards is Nebbiolo and the two wines consisting of 100% of the noble grape: Barolo and Barbaresco. A wonderful selection of these wines is available in the States, but since I live in Colorado I’ll list some of the producers well represented there: Ca’ del Baio (Barbaresco), Chiara Boschis (Barolo), Elio Altare (Barolo), Paolo Scavino (Barolo), Oddero (Barolo), Albino Rocca (Barbaresco), Cigliuti (Barbaresco), Mauro Molino (Barolo), Marchesi di Grésy (Barbaresco), GD Vajra (Barolo), Cantina Gigi Rosso (Barolo), Punset (Barbaresco), Cascina delle Rose (Barbaresco), Cantina del Pino (Barbaresco), Gaja, (Barolo and Barbaresco), Marchesi di Barolo (Barolo and Barbaresco), and Sottimano (Barbaresco). This is NOT an exhaustive list and there are many more that I enjoy, but these are readily available in Colorado, except for Cascina delle Rose…sadly so…but their USA presence is growing.

As an aside, each one of these wineries produces fabulous Barbera as well.

The Nebbiolo of Langhe is the best known, but the grape also flourishes in Roero and in Alto Piemonte. Each of the Arneis producers listed above makes excellent Roero Nebbiolo, including Matteo Correggia, the winery bearing the name of the late Roero visionary who believed in the grape’s potential in the terroir of Roero. His belief in Roero Nebbiolo was well-founded. Gattinerra in Alto Piemonte is home to Lorella Antoniollo and her family’s winery. If you haven’t tried the Alto Piemonte Nebbioli, treat yourself to some from this excellent winery.

Not in the market for the higher prices of Barolo and Barbaresco, but love Nebbiolo? Look for declassified versions of the grape, such as Langhe Nebbiolo or Nebbiolo d’Alba from any the producers I’m mentioned and in my table of contents. You will not be disappointed with the gems coming out of Piemonte’s Nebbiolo vineyards whether they sport the DOCG label or not. If a producer is known for her or his Barolo or Barbaresco, their other Nebbiolo wines deserve a place on your table. Currently, our house red is Albino Rocca “Rosso di Rocca” Langhe Nebbiolo 2017.  Excellent wine and a particularly good value for money.

Hint, can’t find these wines at your favorite bottle shop? See below at the end of the post two names of great wine sleuths who can source just about anything.

Chiara Boschis
Barolo vintner Chiara Boschis holding Nebbiolo must after another successful harvest in 2015.
Photo credit: Elisabetta Vacchetto
Sweet Endings

Now for dessert. Amongst the “sweet” choices there are the sweeter versions such Passito made from grapes dried before vinification and there are the light (5.5% alcohol), bubbly ones such as Moscato d’Asti. There was a time when Moscato d’Asti was the wine the Savoy royals sought and Monferrato eclipsed Barolo as the epicenter of Piemonte wine. Before there was the King of Wines (Barolo, according to many), there was the Queen of Wines. Those from the Monferrato region are very special. My two favorites are Cà d’Gal (not available in Colorado – yet), particularly Alessandro Boido’s old vine Moscato, and Marenco Scrapona (available in Colorado from Vias). Passito Bric du Liun from Deltetto is 100% Arneis and is equally comfortable as a pairing for foie gras at the beginning of a festive meal as it is at the end with dolce. I’m a fan of Brachetto d’Acqui from Marenco and their two passiti – Moscato and Brachetto. Save a bottle of Moscato for your “day after” breakfast. Marenco’s Scrapona is often on our table for summer Sunday brunch.

Marenco Scrapona
My Sunday brunch favorite!
And for the Tummy

We can’t forget my favorite digestivo, Barolo Chinato. The much-loved end to a great meal is gaining popularity in the States…finally…but still hard to find. My May 2018 Labor of Love tour guests of wine educators from Sheral Schowe’s Wasatch Academy of Wine finished most every meal with Chinato. The experts know about the delights of this prized digestivo.

Wine Searcher says it best in their concise description of this complex digestive with pharmacological roots:

“[An] aromatic beverage differs to the ‘classic’ Barolo through its production method, which involves the infusion of Barolo wine with China Calissaya bark (quinine bark, translated in Italian as china, hence the wine’s name chinato). Up to 21 other herbs and spices, including rhubarb roots, gentian, orange peels, cloves and cardamom seeds, are also added to the mix. This process is a slow maceration at room temperature for around eight weeks. The aromatized wine is then fortified to 16% alcohol and matured in small barrels for up to one year.

This Barolo wine is generally characterized by its bittersweet aromas and lingering, smooth aftertaste. It is usually consumed as an after-dinner drink, either as a dessert wine or a digestif. It is also considered an excellent accompaniment to dark chocolate, or it can be served as an aperitif with soda and ice (similar to sweet vermouth).”

So if that tickles your fancy — and it should — go forth and seek out brands such as CocchiG.D. Vajra, and, of course, Cappellano, the family of the 19th century creator of this unusually delicious drink, pharmacist Giuseppe Cappellano.

But That’s Not All

I’ve only touched on most commonly known varietals of the Piemonte vinous landscape, and one up-and-coming superstar, Timorasso. There is a long list on other varietals you should try this holiday season, such as Pelaverga, Ruché, Freisa, and  Erbaluce, to name but a few. Exploration is fun, especially when it comes to a region like Piemonte with such an expansive choice of varietals.

Remember, it’s all about the experience. Discovery is a wonderful experience!

Shopping Tips

Colorado: Here are a few of the importers working in Colorado that I can highly recommend: Giuliana Imports, Old World Wines, Dalla Terra, Indigenous, and Vias. All have some great choices. Don’t just read the front label on the wine bottle. The back label tells you a great deal about the wine and who’s behind, including the importer. Importers like these take great care in choosing the producers they represent. You can’t go wrong with any of their names on the bottle.

Beyond (and in) Colorado: One of the best sources I’ve found for wine from Piemonte (and most anywhere else) is John Rittmaster at Prima Vini Wine Merchants in Walnut Creek, CA. Not only does John do dynamite wine events in his shop and next door restaurant Prima, he can find just about anything at competitive prices.  Do yourself a favor and get on his mailing list so you don’t miss any great deals and events.

Straight from the Source: This tip is for oenophiles across the globe. If you want a gastronome’s dream bike tour, join Davide Pasquero of Terroir Selection in wine countries across Europe, particularly in his home region of Piemonte. If you want Piemonte wines straight from the source — particularly up-and-coming producers — Davide is the expert for you. His personal relationships with producers, passion, and great depth of wine knowledge makes him a perfect source for discerning oenophiles looking for just the right wines. Piemonte is not his only region of expertise. Checkout his website for more regions he covers. Pretty much everywhere. Like John Rittmaster, Davide is a wine sleuth. If he can’t find it, it’s probably not available anywhere.

Davide Pasquero
Davide Pasquero, Wine Sleuth, of Terroir Selection in Treiso, Piemonte.
Finalmente!

What started out as a quick Facebook post morphed into something bigger. It always does when I start talking about my beloved second home, Piemonte. I hope I’ve given you some helpful, not too technical, tips for wine choices this holiday season…and beyond.

Whatever you choose, you really can’t go wrong if you invite the wine producers into your home vis-à-vis their wines and the stories behind their labels. Vinous companions for your holiday celebrations should not be limited to those you know. It’s a great time to meet new vintners through their labor of love.

Now, onward to the Christmas Holidays. Buon Natale!

Cheers
Salute tutti!

 

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