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!


What to Look For In December

casa-silva-cuvee-colchagua-carmenere-2014Each month The International Wine of the Month Club strives to deliver the very finest quality and highest value wines from around the world to our members. This month of December, we are especially pleased with the rich and varied selection of wines The International Wine of the Month Club’s Premier Series has to offer. The first is the 2014 Casa Silva Cuvée Colchagua Carmenère, an outstanding blend of Carmenère from estate vineyards that earned 90 Points from Wine Spectator and other magazines and critics. The 2014 Casa Silva Cuvée Colchagua exhibits Carmenère’s deep purple color with ruby highlights and provides a feast for the nose as well as the palate. From the moment it splashes into the glass, it offers up a heady bouquet of rich red fruits, ripe blackberries, red bell peppers, woodland herbs, and subtle spices that prepare the palate for the rich cornucopia of flavors that will soon grace the mouth: forest berries mingle with subtle earth tones and delicate notes of coffee and dark chocolate, all wrapped in ripe tannins. From Casa Silva and their renowned oenologist Mario Geise, dubbed The King of Caremenère, it is hard to imagine a more exciting young Carmenère than the 2014 Casa Silva Cuvée Colchagua.

Our next Premier Series feature is either the 2014 or 2015 Mura Cheremi Vermentino di Gallura from the mystical island of Sardinia where the Vermentino varietal produces outstanding white wine. Both the 2014 and 2015 vintages of Mura Cheremi Vermentino di Gallura impress with their rich straw color, amplifying aromatics, and full-bodied structure. Floral notes with hints of summer flowers, lychee, and citrus blossoms dominate the nose, before they flow effortlessly into the wine’s flavor profile. On the palate, crisp acidity and pinpoint minerality meet Cheremi’s floral freshness, adding an entirely new dimension to this wine, which finishes dry and with real authority. The 2014 Mura Cheremi Vermentino di Gallura received 90 points from Vinous and Italian wine expert Antonio Galloni and the newly released 2015 Mura Cheremi Vermentino di Gallura is every bit as compelling as the 2014.

Next in this month’s quartet is the 2015 Domaine de Servans Côtes du Rhône, a classically wrought Côtes-du-Rhône that is pure pleasure to drink. All of the grapes for this wine were organically grown and harvested from two different parcels from around the domain and a nearby vineyard. With a high percentage of Syrah in the 2015 Domaine de Servans Côtes du Rhône, this wine displays depth and concentration. In the mouth, rich blackberry notes give way to deep red cherry flavors and touches of black pepper and spice. Even with the wine’s concentration and youthful power, its tannins remain very supple and round in the finish. In short, we would be hard-pressed to find a more delightful young Côtes-du- Rhône than the 2015 Domaine de Servans.

Rounding out this month’s offerings is the 2015 Dei Martiena, a highly allocated, tiny production white wine from one of Tuscany’s most renowned estates. The impressive 2015 Dei Martiena captures the glow and positive energy that radiates from Caterina Dei and her beloved estate. We first discovered Martiena at lunch with Caterina Dei at her winery and thought it one of Montepulciano’s best kept secrets. While there is no shortage of wonderful Tuscan reds, fine Tuscan white wines such as Martiena are harder to come by. The 2015 Martiena positively glows in the glass. Even more impressive is Martiena’s fresh, vitalizing aromatics: soft scents of apple, yellow plum and wild flowers. In the mouth the 2015 Martiena refreshes the palate and enlivens the senses with a beautiful combination of fruit, minerals, and bright acidity, all of which tantalize the tongue and exit with the sensual energy of a well-sung aria.

valenciso-reserva-nvThe International Wine of the Month Club’s Collectors Series is pleased to offer three exceptional and uniquely different selections in December. The 2009 Valenciso Rioja Reserva leads this month’s selection, a wine that embodies much of the confidence, personality, and charm of master winemaker Luis Valentin, one of the most engaging and meticulous winemakers we have ever encountered. The newly released 2009 Valenciso Rioja Reserva was awarded a Gold Medal at the Sommelier Wine Awards, the UK’s first point of reference for the trade. The warmer than average 2009 vintage yielded a very expansive 2009 Valenciso Reserva, a wine with a nose that works its magic from the moment it is poured and never stops expanding. The bouquet alone on this Valenciso Reserva is worth the price of admission. Produced from 100% Tempranillo, this Rioja delights the nose with savory scents of red and black fruits, woodland berries, sandalwood, violets, cinnamon and other exotic spices. In the mouth, the wine displays a beautiful, super smooth texture as it unfolds slowly and persistently in true Rioja Alta fashion to reveal a wellspring of fruit, spice, and warm wood flavors. Moreover, layers of complex flavors tantalize the palate and linger long after the wine slips down the throat. Once again, Valenciso’s Reserva strikes the ideal balance between fruit and structure, characteristics that have consistently earned Valenciso international acclaim and 90+ ratings year in and year out.

Our next December Collectors Series offering is the bold, full-bodied 2014 Miner Napa Valley Chardonnay, a wine that earned Gold in the 2016 New York Wine Competition. Miner’s 2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay is sourced from select low-yielding vineyards in Napa Valley and offers everything one could ask for in Napa Valley Chardonnay. It provides an enticing set of aromatics followed by golden apple, ripe honeydew melon and zesty citrus flavors, all gently balanced by deft touches of sweet butter and toasty French oak. In addition, veteran winemakers Gary Brookman and Stacy Vogel use malolactic fermentation in moderation to retain the wine’s bright acidity, a practice that adds complexity and lift to the wine’s lush concentrated flavors. Since 2013, the Riedel Wine Glass Company exclusively uses Miner Family wines at its proprietary comparative glassware tasting events and at select events officially endorsed by the Riedel name in the United States.

Rounding out or should we say filling out this month’s Collectors Series is the 2014 Nugan Estate Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz, a deep purple potion made in the style of Italy’s legendary Amarone. The 2014 Nugan Estate Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz not only sports the deep nearly impenetrable robe and power of traditional Amarone, it trumps many of Italy’s more renowned Amarone in both aroma and depth of flavor. With thirty minutes of aeration, Nugan’s Dried Grape Shiraz offers up an electrifying perfume of blackcurrant, dried cherry, rose petal, and forest woodlands. Even more satisfying is how this wine fills the mouth with layer upon layer of deep juicy liqueur-like flavors that satiate the senses. Thick and rich, but not sweet, the 2014 Nugan Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz offers spectacular fruit, velvety tannins, and a long satisfying finish that just won’t quit. Not surprisingly, the highly allocated 2014 Nugan Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, all of which have garnered high praise from critics and 90+ ratings.


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!


Lamb Stew with Root Vegetables


  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 pounds boneless lamb shoulder or top round, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
  • 1 pound baby carrots, peeled
  • 1 pound baby parsnips, peeled
  • 1 pound small fingerling potatoes
  • 1/2 pound baby turnips, halved
  • 8 baby fennel bulbs, trimmed, fronds reserved and chopped
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley



  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Put the flour in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the lamb cubes in 4 batches, tossing to coat thoroughly.
  2. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add one-fourth of the lamb cubes and cook over moderately high heat until browned, about 6 minutes; transfer to a plate. Brown the remaining floured lamb in 3 batches, adding 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot per batch. Reduce the heat if the casserole bottom darkens too much.
  3. Return all of the lamb to the casserole. Add the wine and vinegar and bring to a boil. Add the stock and tarragon and return to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the casserole and braise the stew in the oven for about 1 hour, or until the meat is nearly tender.
  4. Add the carrots, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, fennel and shallot to the lamb stew. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil, stirring to distribute the vegetables. Cover the casserole, return it to the oven and cook until the meat and vegetables are tender, about 1 hour longer. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and fennel fronds and serve the stew in deep bowls.

Recipe by Jim Clendenen courtesy of

What to Look For In November

casas-del-bosque-reserva-pinot-noir-2015-editedIn November, The International Wine of the Month Club’s Premier Series offers four exciting wines from around the world. The first is the 2015 Casas del Bosque Reserva Pinot Noir. For centuries France dominated the production of world-class Pinot Noir. Burgundy and Champagne were the only games in town until California and Oregon got in the act, followed by Tasmania and others. Now, it is Chile’s turn. Casas del Bosque has fashioned a riveting Pinot in their 2015 Casas del Bosque Reserva Pinot Noir from Casablanca Valley. Medium to full-bodied, this 2015 Pinot offers a savory nose along with plenty of juicy cherry and raspberry flavors, beautiful spice tones, fine texture, and ripe tannins. Youthful, exuberant and full of varietal flavor, it is easy to see why the 2015 Casas del Bosque Reserva Pinot Noir has received numerous 90+ ratings, including 92 Points from James Suckling.

Our next Premier Series feature is Krone’s 2015 Borealis Vintage Cuvée Brut. As a real star, this serious sparkling wine shines and sparkles with Champagne flavor and style. Not only is Krone’s Borealis Vintage Brut comprised of Champagne’s traditional cépage of Chardonnay (60%) and Pinot Noir (40%), whereby only free run juice makes it into the cuvée, the Borealis Vintage Cuvée is totally bottle-fermented Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) in the time-honored Champagne tradition of production. Elegant, flavorful, and delightful to the eye and palate, it is hard to imagine a finer, more affordable Champagne-style sparkling wine than the 2015 Borealis Vintage Cuvée Brut.

Next in this month’s quartet is the bold, beautiful 2013 Cambridge Cellars Elsbree Vineyard Russian River Zinfandel. Zinfandel is California’s own special variety and there is no better place to find exceptional Zinfandel than in California’s Russian River Valley. The 2013 Cambridge Cellars Elsbree Vineyard Russian River Valley Zinfandel provides ample testimony to support that claim, as it is deeply colored, beautifully balanced, vibrant and rich in flavor. One hardly notices the wine’s 14.9% alcohol as it delivers up an enticing bouquet of blueberry and black currant fruit, warm spices and hints of black pepper. On the palate, the youthful Elsbree Vineyard Zinfandel exhibits more of its structure, but never loses its composure; this Zin strikes a fine balance between red and black fruits, spice and tannin in the mouth. Best of all, it unfolds quickly in the glass, becoming deeper and more authoritative with each sip.

Rounding out this month’s offerings is the 2015 Cantarutti Collio Orientali Ribolla Gialla. This rare varietal from Italy’s Collio Orientali offers a rich, eye-catching color and a harmonious aroma redolent with the scents of stone fruits and minerals along with hints of exotic spices. On the palate, the 2015 Cantarutti Ribolla Gialla reveals fine, textured fruit flavors, which provide a more luxurious feel than the more familiar Pinot Grigio and other lighter white wines from northern Italy. Medium-bodied and pleasantly dry, this wine lingers a bit on the palate and ends on a savory note. In typical Collio fashion, a glass of Cantarutti’s Ribolla Gialla invokes the beauty and sunshine of summer in Collio.

les-combes-d-arnevel-chateauneuf-du-pape-2012The International Wine of the Month Club’s Collectors Series is pleased to offer three beautiful but uniquely different selections in November. The 2012 Combes d’Arnevel Châteauneuf-du-Pape begins this month’s odyssey, as it cuts a beautiful figure in the glass and captivates all of the senses. This is a smooth, savory Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Jerome Quiot who in the excellent 2012 vintage has taken full advantage of nature’s bounty. Savory scents of black cherry, spring flowers, and Provençal herbs dominate the wine’s enchanting bouquet, while hints of garrigue and wild herbs blend with the wine’s kirsch-like flavors in the mouth. Medium-bodied and impeccably balanced, the 2012 Les Combes D’Arnevel Châteauneuf-du-Pape happily harkens back to a more traditional style of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Our next November Collectors Series offering is the non-vintage Comte Audoin de Dampierre Grande Cuvée Brut, a serious, complex Champagne that offers a delicate and persistent mousse, exquisite texture, delicious fruit, and pinpoint minerality, all of which render Dampierre’s Grande Cuvée irresistibly delicious. Both zesty and compelling in aroma and flavor, the Dampierre Grande Cuvée is a wine that can be enjoyed at any time of day. Pour a glass of Dampierre’s Grande Cuvée, take a sip, and then allow this elixir to bloom in the glass like a flower unfolds on a warm spring day. No wonder this Champagne earns high marks everywhere it goes.

Rounding out or should we say filling out this month’s Collectors Series is the 2013 Shatter Côtes de Catalanes Grenache from the South of France. This bold red tops out at 15.6% alcohol, but one wouldn’t know it from tasting it… that is until one had consumed a good bit of it. Rich, robust, but smooth on the palate, the opaque, nearly black 2013 Shatter offers up an enticing aroma of dark cherries and ripe plums infused with a light, pleasant herbal quality. In the mouth, Shatter is unctuous, rich, and robust, as its opulent fruit appears front and center before being artfully framed by ripe tannins and just the right touch of oak. Layered, long and lingering on the palate, the 2013 Shatter Grenache is no wilting flower.