Italy’s Piedmont: A Tapestry of the World’s Greatest and Most Affordable Wines

In the north of Italy, nestled just beneath the great Alpine wall as it tumbles out of Switzerland and the gleaming Mediterranean Sea, lies Italy’s Piedmont.  This is a region of myriad beauty.  It is also the region of Italy closest to France in proximity as well as in the sheer quality and variety of exceptional wines it produces.

For centuries, Italy’s Piedmont remained a prize to be won among European powers, no doubt in part on account of the province’s exceptional wines and world famous cuisine that still draws happily on the abundance and quality of local truffles.  Yet today, it is the superbly made wines of Italy’s Piedmont that garner the most international recognition: complex, hedonistic red wines, still delicate whites, and sweet haunting Muscats.  Although not inexpensive, the great enological treasures of the Piedmont constitute the most affordable of Italy’s great wines and form a tapestry of the planet’s most affordable and exciting wines.  With such exquisite fare, should anyone question why the hearty robust delights of the Piedmontese table remain the region’s most famous ambassadors to a hungry and thirsty world?

linzs-italy-vineyard-2016Barolo, the region’s quintessential red wine from the prized Nebbiolo varietal, is Piedmont’s most renowned wine. It has earned the moniker “The King of Wines and the Wine of Kings,” and for good reason.  It offers complexity, flavor, nuance, and power, and it comes in a variety of styles, both modern and traditional.  Luigi Pira, Querciola, Revello, Seghesio, Renato Corino, Silvio Grasso, and Vietti are prime producers of Barolo who consistently offer high quality and value.  And not surprisingly, they also fashion some of Italy’s finest Barbera and Dolcetto, the Piedmont’s other exceptional red varietals.  La Morandina from nearby Asti and Stefano Farina also turn out first rate Piedmontese Barbera and red blends.

Although red wines dominate the wine scene in Piedmont and garner the most international attention, the white wines of Piedmont reign as some of Italy’s finest. Arneis and Gavi are the region’s most elegant and traditional dry white wines.  Neither receives much, if any, oak barrel ageing, and they are the better for it.  Elegance, subtlety, pinpoint minerality and laser like precision are hallmarks of these varietals.  La Scolca, Massone Stefano, and Ottosoldi are trusted producers of Gavi, while Ceretto Giacosa, Malabaila, and Vietti consistently fashion exceptional Arneis.  And if sweet ethereal Moscato slakes your thirst, La Morandina and a host of Piedmontese producers make fine, easy to drink Moscato – a Moscato as succulent as any on earth – slightly effervescent and sweet but not cloying.  Enjoy!

Salud!
Don

Great Holiday Wine Gifts for Under $25.00

fire-wineWorld-class wines abound, but seemingly only at prices that billionaires and multi-millionaires can afford. This is especially truly for classified Bordeaux, Burgundy, California Cabernet Sauvignon, and the top 100 wines from any given wine region. However, there is no cause for despair because a treasure trove of world-class wines exists for under $25.00 a bottle. Whether it is a superb red or white wine for personal consumption or a special gift for someone who appreciates fine wine, more world-class wines abound at prices that most consumers can imagine, and at prices most of us can afford.

The key to finding the finest wines and greatest wine values is to be open to wines whose names are not on the tip of everyone’s tongue. For example, consumers seem to be fixated on finding the single best Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir for under $25.00 a bottle. Certainly, some very good examples of these varietals exist at reasonable prices, but more often than not the search for world-class examples of these varietals becomes tantamount to a quest for the Holy Grail. Instead, why not consider varietals and wines with unfamiliar names that deliver more for less?

Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon’s Bordeaux kinsman, offers rich mouth-filling flavors, smoother tannins, and a whole lot more bang for the buck than most Cabernets. As for any type of wine, varying levels of quality exist among Carmenère producers, but names such as Casa Silva, Casas del Bosque, Carmen, and Casa Lapostolle consistently turn out exceptional Carmenères. The Carmenères from these producers routinely grace my table and provide exceptional, well-appreciated Holiday gifts for friends and family. Why not tune into something a bit unfamiliar and turn friends and family on to something new and exciting at a cost you can afford and any red wine lover would be thrilled to receive?

Although Carmenère may most resemble Cabernet Sauvignon in flavor and style, other red varietals shine in their own right. Sangiovese and Tempranillo in particular offer much to appreciate in red wine and deserve better representation among red wine lovers. Sangiovese, Tuscany’s premier grape, is rapidly gaining favor in California and in some cooler locales, giving Cabernet a run for its money. Pietra Santa, Seghesio, and Trinchero Family Vineyards’ Terra d’Oro fashion exceptional California Sangiovese, wines which routinely garner 90 point ratings. Meanwhile, Tempranillo, Spain’s premier varietal, continues to be the source of Spain’s finest wines and greatest values. This versatile varietal is gaining accolades in California and Washington state, too, where plantings of Tempranillo are expanding rapidly. For the finest Tempranillo values, look to Spain’s Ribera del Duero, Zamora, Rioja, and Castilla Y Leon regions. Tridente Old Vines Tempranillo from the legendary Juan Gil in Castilla Y Leon, Rioja producers Martinez Corta and Montana, and Dominio Basconcillos from Ribera del Duero all offer excellent quality and outstanding value.

For exciting, affordable alternatives to Chardonnay, consider the many delightful, little known white wine gems that flow out of Italy. Gavi, Lugana, and the many proprietary white wines from outstanding producers are well worth seeking out. If you or the person receiving these wines are not addicted to the “butter and oak” of California Chardonnay, the thrill will be all the greater. Ottosoldi Gavi, Tenuta di Calcinaie Vernaccia di Gimignano and Dei’s Martiena, the latter a racy proprietary Tuscan white wine, are all splendid, well-crafted white wines that are worth seeking out. For a slightly more exotic treat, Mura’s Cheremi Vermentino di Gallura from the island of Sardinia will convert many a Chardonnay aficionado. Enjoy!

Salud!
Don

Bold Red Wines: What America Craves

bold-red-wineEveryday wine drinkers, collectors and self-styled connoisseurs alike all seem to crave bold red wines and gobble them up with glee. And why not? Flavor drives our palate preferences and the wines we buy. This is not to take anything away from a lighter, more delicate red wine such as a juicy Morgon Cru Beaujolais or a complex, racy California Pinot Noir. Every wine has a place and its own appeal. Yet, for many of us, there is something compelling about bold-flavored wines that fill the mouth and, on occasion at least, completely satiate the senses.

Bold red wines, like anything else, exist on a continuum. Consequently, what constitutes a bold red to one person may not please the palate of another. Certainly, the level of alcohol and the tannic structure of a wine contribute to the boldness of wines, but bold does not have to mean brawny or brazen. Bold flavors are born of esters, the combination of acids and alcohols, which impart aroma and flavor to wine. Enjoyable bold red wines provide much more than alcohol and tannins; they display rich, complex flavors, pronounced varietal character, and a sense of place, along with authority and structure. Although some bold red wines may register 14.5%-15% alcohol or more, many others will not; they will rely upon rich fruit flavors, pronounced ripe tannins, well-integrated oak tones from expert barrel ageing, physiological ripeness, and the deft hand of a skilled winemaker to engender their bold delicious flavors.

Full-bodied California Cabernets and Syrahs that brim with varietal character, single vineyard red Zinfandels, sublime Priorats, splendid Tempranillos from Spain’s Ribera del Duero, Châteauneuf-du-Papes and flavor-packed Grenache offerings from Languedoc and the Rhône Valley of France, and highly acclaimed Carmenères, Cabernets and Malbec blends from South America are just some red wines that may qualify as bold reds.

For bold, beautiful, long-lived California Cabernets of exceptional quality look to Caymus, Harlan, Lewis, Krug and Obsidian Ridge, with Obsidian Ridge a contender for the title of the greatest of all values in premium California Cabernet Sauvignon. Beckmen and Stoplman Vineyards fashion bold, hedonistic Syrahs from California’s Ballard Canyon, wines that easily match the quality of California’s top Cabernet Sauvignons. Tempranillo-based Bosconcillos, Condado de Haza, Emilio Moro and Pesquera from Ribera del Duero, and the deep, robust blends from Galena and Pasanau in Priorat also demonstrate Spain’s acumen in fashioning bold red wines. Château Beaucastel and Domaine Grand Tinel fashion equally impressive wines across the border in France from old vine Grenache, as do a host of Châteauneuf-du-Pape producers. And then there is Zinfandel from Cambridge Cellars, Martinelli and Tierra Y Mar, Carmenère from Casa Silva, Casas del Bosque and other Chilean producers, and many more bold reds from expert producers around the globe. Bold is indeed beautiful!

Salud!
Don

The Best Spanish Wines: Rioja and More

Spain12x16_2In spite of the wealth and variety of Spanish wines that lap upon our shores, Rioja remains the name most familiar to Americans. Rioja is a traditional style of wine with longstanding brand recognition that consistently delivers affordable, quality wines in several styles, and its name is easy to pronounce. Names such as Montaña, Martinez Corta, and Valenciso, among others, not only flow easily across the tongue, they connote quality, style and value. Yet, Spain remains a treasure trove of exciting red and white wines from across the Iberian Peninsula that deserve the recognition that Rioja commands.

The refreshing, sprightly Verdejo from Rueda, a historic area south of Rioja, is only now catching on among wine drinkers. An indigenous Spanish white grape, Verdejo was resurrected from near extinction in the 1970s thanks to a couple of erudite wine growers, including Angel Rodriguez who created Martinsancho by grafting Verdejo cuttings from his 300 year old vineyard into a nearby vineyard, and sending those cuttings to nurseries throughout Europe. Pure, natural and unadulterated, Angel Rodriquez’s Martinsancho remains the quintessential Rueda Verdejo.

The full-bodied red wines of Ribera del Duero, Priorat, and Tarragona also deserve better recognition, especially among wine drinkers thirsting for bold red wines with robust frames. Condado de Haza and Pesquera from the flamboyant Alejandro Fernandez, as well as Dominio Basconcillos, Mauro, and the legendary but expensive Vega Sicilia offer unsurpassed quality from Ribera del Duero. Clos Galena and Pasanau from Priorat provide equally compelling bold reds at prices that won’t necessitate a second mortgage. The same can be said for Terrer d’Aubert, a boutique Tarragona winery that crafts exceptional full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha/Cabernet blends.

la-rioja-wine-region-by-alex-porta-i-tallant
La Rioja Wine Region

For elegant, somewhat lighter red wines we suggest looking to Spain’s Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra regions for Mencia – a grape that some have likened to Pinot Noir. Mencia from producers such as Altos de Losada and Peza do Rei fashion age worthy red wines that offer haunting aromatics and considerable complexity. Godello, another indigenous Spanish varietal, also hails from Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra where it yields very tasty white wines that are well worth seeking out.’

Salud!
Don

Photos Credit: WineFolly

Beaujolais Is So Much More Than Nouveau

Beaujolais-Wine-countryBeaujolais remains one of France’s classic, most celebrated wines, although its reputation has often been maligned by the ocean of Beaujolais Nouveau that inundates consumers each fall. Will the real Beaujolais please stand up?

Situated in the extreme south of Burgundy, Beaujolais is a vast region of nearly two hundred villages and communes, which are spread out on varying subsoils and are influenced by individual terroirs. Unofficially, Beaujolais forms the dividing line between northern and southern France. Straddling the un-specified equivalent of the American Mason-Dixon Line, authentic Beaujolais flows in copious quantities north to Paris and south to Lyon and beyond to the delight of many.

In spite of inherent variations in quality, which reflect the differences in soil composition, altitude, and level of production among the region’s thousands of growers, one common denominator comes to fore in Beaujolais – the Gamay grape. Gamay provides the defining character and flavor of Beaujolais, and nowhere is this more the case than in the 10 cru villages of Beaujolais – the source of the finest wines of the region. Although wines bearing a Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Villages AOC can provide very pleasant drinking, the ten cru villages comprise the heart of Beaujolais and offer the consumer the finest Gamay wines in the world. In addition, each of these ten townships possesses a special terroir and individual set of characteristics that make for memorable drinking.

These 10 cru villages of Beaujolais are Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chiroubles, St. Amour, Fleurie, Regnie, Chenas, Morgon, Julienas, and Moulin-à-Vent. Although each cru has its merits and particular attributes, Morgon, Julienas, and Moulin-à-Vent are widely acknowledged to be the finest, fullest and most Burgundy-like of the wines of Beaujolais, and they enjoy an enviable reputation for ageing up to five years or more in bottle with excellent results.

Some reliable producers of excellent cru Beaujolais include Château de Pizay, Château de Saint Lager, Daniel Bouland, Georges Descombes, and Mathieu Lapierre. Like all Beaujolais, cru Beaujolais is best consumed in the company of good home cooking and served cool or even just slightly chilled. Enjoy!

Salud!
Don