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Dolcetto d’Alba

is one of seven Dolcetto-focused DOC wines produced in Italy’s north-western Piedmont region. The wine is named after the grape from which it is made and the area where it is produced. It is considered the most notable of the Dolcetto classified reds, thanks to the considerable number of quality producers in the vicinity.

Granted its DOC status in 1974, the production zone encompasses the Langhe hills east of Tarano around Alba, including 25 communes in the province of Cuneo, as well as the commune of Coazzolo in the province of Asti. Some of the vineyards also overlap those of Barolo and Barbaresco. The vines are planted on slopes with sandy, calcareous and tufa-rich soils where the Dolcetto grape thrives.

Dolcetto d’Alba is a dry red wine noted for its juicy fruit character, low levels of acidity and mild tannins. Its aromas are reminiscent of lavender and violets with a hint of almonds. Like its siblings it has a characteristically purplish ruby-red color, black cherry fruit flavors encased in sweet spices and a slightly bitter almond finish that is strongly associated with wines crafted from this variety. These characteristics make it an excellent match with antipasti and an equally fine partner with the local dish of tajarin (homemade pasta from the Langhe). Although high in alcohol (12.5%), it is an easy-drinking wine that has long been considered the everyday drop of the local Langhe community. Dolcetto d’Alba is a wine to be drunk young. For the added designation of superiore it must be aged for a minimum of 14 months

Barbera

is a dark-skinned wine grape variety found in several Italian wine regions, including its native Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna, Puglia, Campania and even the island regions, Sicily and Sardinia. At the turn of the 21st Century, it was Italy’s third most-commonly planted red wine grape, after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Barbera grapes are used both in blended wines and varietals – the latter are becoming increasingly common as Italy continues its move towards varietal labeling.

barberaBarbera Grapes

The variety has traveled widely in the past two centuries, landing in Australia, Argentina and California, most likely following Italian migration patterns. It has this in common with Nebbiolo, although Barbera has adapted much more readily to these new environments than its fussy Piedmontese cousin, and is now responsible for wines of high quality in each of these countries. As with Nebbiolo, there is considerable debate over how Barbera is best treated; traditionalists favor longer maceration and less oak, while modernists champion rounder, more approachable styles softened by barrel maturation.

Being naturally high in acidity, Barbera can be grown in warmer climates without producing overblown, flat wines. Even warmer sites in Sonoma Valley and the Sierra Foothills of California have produced balanced Barbera-based wines. This acidity complements the cherry flavors found in typical Barbera wines and has contributed to the (largely justified) stereotype of Italian red wines as being ripe, bright and tangy rather than voluptuous and earthy.

When young, most Barbera wines have a bright-red cherry character, distinguished from Nebbiolo (which often overshadows Barbera) by softer tannins and a certain roundness. When matured in barrel and allowed to age in bottle for a few years, this turns to a denser, sour-cherry note. A warm, Merlot-like plumminess is also commonly detectable, although the variety is more closely related to Mourvedre than Merlot. When overheated, a Barbera vine will produce comparatively flat, dull wines with notes of baked prunes and raisins, while its trademark cherry flavors turn towards kirsch.

Barbera reaches its zenith in Piedmont, where the vine performs best on well-drained, limestone-rich slopes with a warm southerly aspect.

Nebbiolo

is the grape variety behind the top-quality red wines of Piedmont, northwestern Italy, the most notable of which are Barolo and Barbaresco. Nebbiolo wines are distinguished by their strong tannins, high acidity and distinctive scent – often described as “tar and roses”. A less obvious characteristic, visible only over time, is their tendency to lose color. Within just a few years of vintage, most Nebbiolo wines begin fading from deep, violet-tinged ruby to a beautiful brick orange.

Nebbiolo is the quintessential Piedmontese wine grape – the dominant variety in five of the region’s DOCGs and numerous DOCs (see Italian Wine Labels). Even its name evokes the region’s foothills on cool autumn mornings, when the valleys and vineyards lie hidden under a ghostly blanket of nebbia (fog). The name is very apt for this late-ripening variety, which is harvested later in the year than Piedmont’s other key varieties (Barbera and particularly Dolcetto), in foggy, wintry weather conditions.

nebbiolo_grapes Nebbiolo Grapes

Powerful, intense Barolo is the most famous and prestigious Nebbiolo-based wine, but it is increasingly rivaled by the slightly more elegant and perfumed Barbaresco, which rose to prominence in the late 20th Century. Although nowhere near as famous, the high-quality red wines of Roero, just across the Tanaro river from Barolo, are affordable alternatives to Barolo and Barbaresco. Here, Nebbiolo’s austerity and tannins are sometimes softened with a splash of Barolo Bianco (a local nickname for white Arneis).

Sensitivity to terroir is one of Nebbiolo’s trump cards, but also its downfall. As demonstrated by Pinot Noir and Riesling, wine enthusiasts find themselves immediately attracted to a variety that communicates its provenance. But while Riesling and Pinot Noir are grown in respectable volumes in many wine regions around the world, Nebbiolo is not. It is famously picky about where it grows, requiring good drainage and a long, bright growing season. In Piedmont, it is one of the first varieties to flower and the last to ripen, making it very susceptible to poor weather conditions in spring and autumn.

Despite its fussiness in the vineyard, Nebbiolo’s irresistible allure has led it to become a niche variety in pretty much every one of the “New World” wine nations. It is now grown in small quantities by just a few wineries in the United States, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Barolo

is a traditional hillside village in the rolling hills of Piedmont, north-western Italy. The vineyards and cantine (wineries) there have long been famous for producing some of Italy’s very finest red wines – predominantly from the region’s signature grape variety, Nebbiolo.

Fragrant, tannic Barolo wine is so revered that it was one of just three wines awarded DOCG status on the day that the classification was introduced in July 1980 (the other two were Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano).

The Barolo vineyard zone covers the parishes of Castiglione Falletto, Serralunga d’Alba and Barolo itself, and also spreads over into parts of Monforte d’Alba, Novello, La Morra, Verduno, Grinzane Cavour, Diano d’Alba, Cherasco and Roddi. The soils and mesoclimates vary slightly between these communes, creating subtle differences between the wines produced from their vineyards (although it must be remembered that the skills and preferences of the individual winemakers also has significant influence over these differences).

Barolo wineyards Barolo vineyards, late September

Despite the differences between the wines from these various terroirs, they all retain the key qualities which define the classic Barolo style; the famous ‘tar and roses’ aroma, a bright ruby color (which fades to garnet over time), firm tannins, elevated acidity, and relatively high alcohol.

To earn the name Barolo, the wines must undergo at least 38 months’ aging prior to commercial release, of which 18 must be spent in barrel (the remainder in bottle). For the added designation of riserva, the total aging time increases to 62 months. As the tannins soften over time, the complexity shows through with hints of earth, truffles and dark chocolate.

Classic Barolos have traditionally required at least ten years cellaring to tame their tannins. Today, however, some producers are moving towards more ‘international’ styles, with reduced fermentation times (meaning less extraction of color or tannin from the must), and the use of new French barriques in place of the traditional large wooden casks. This has resulted in a fruitier and more accessible style which is approachable at a much earlier stage in its life.

There are various Barolo vineyards which have achieved a sort of informal ‘cru’ status, based on the official, structured model used in Burgundy.

To the north-east of Barolo, just the other side of Alba, are the vineyards which produce another stellar Nebbiolo wine, Barbaresco.

Brachetto d’Aqui

also known as Acqui, is a DOCG found in Italy’s north-western

Brachetto-d'Acqui

Piedmont region. It was awarded its classification in 1996, and its vineyard area is strictly limited to 18 communes in the province of Asti and eight in the province of Alessandria, near the town of Acqui Terme, south-east of Asti. According to regulations, topography plays a major part in the quality of production and only those vines grown on soils primarily comprising calcareous-clay and marl-rich components are considered suitable.

Brachetto is the red grape from which this wine is made, to the exclusion of any other. It is thought to have originated in and around the hills near Asti, most likely the Monferrato hills, although in their 1875 publication Ampelografia della Provincia di Alessandria, ampelographers Demaria and Leardi proposed that it came from Nice in eastern Provence.

Brachetto d’Acqui’s unique aroma and flavor stems from its natural sweetness, intense aromatics and low alcohol (around 5.5% alcohol by volume). It is produced by macerating the must with the grape skins for approximately two days, during which time the characteristic ruby pigment leaches out, along with a certain amount of tannin. After fermentation the wine is aged in bottle for three months or more. This usually semi-sparkling frizzante red is characterized by its perfumed bouquet reminiscent of rose petals, strawberries and raspberries, and has a soft mousse (delicate foam) and mouthfeel. It is an excellent aperitif and provides an ideal match for fruit tarts, chocolate or Amaretti di Mombaruzzo, a traditional amaretto biscuit from the Acqui Terme area.

Barbaresco

is one of the great wines of the Piedmont region in north-western Italy. Historically it was called Nebbiolo di Barbaresco (Nebbiolo being the grape it’s made from) and was used by the Austrian General Melas to celebrate his victory over the French in 1799. Only in the middle of the 19th century was the wine we know today vinified into a dry style.

Barbaresco aereal area Aerial view of Barbaresco

This aristocratic red was awarded its DOCG classification in 1980. Its vineyards are situated in the Langhe, on the right-hand side of the Tanaro river and extending from the area north-east of Alba to the communes of Barbaresco, Nieve and Treiso, as well as San Rocco Senodelvio (once part of the Barbaresco municipality but now part of Alba). The dominant variety grown is Nebbiolo, but Dolcetto and Barbera also play a part. The vines are generally grown on limestone-rich marl soils. similar to the Tortonium soils of the Barolo and La Morra areas in Barolo, at 200–400m above sea level on very steep, ‘pre-alpine’ hills. They are situated on south-facing slopes for best exposure.

Similar to its more famous sibling Barolo, Barbaresco is made from 100% Nebbiolo and shares its cult status as one of the finest wines in the world. However, there are several differences between the two. Barbaresco has a slightly maritime climate: warmer, drier and milder than its neighbor. This means its grapes tend to ripen earlier than those in Barolo. As a result, the wines are less tannic and more approachable at an earlier age. However there is still plenty of acidity and tannins to make this an age-worthy red.

Barbaresco is characterized by its rich, spicy flavors and perfumed sweetness and is considered more elegant and refined than its counterpart, which is a more robust and longer-lived red.

Regulations stipulate that Barbaresco must have a minimum alcohol content of 12.5% and undergo two years of ageing, one of which must be spent in wooden barrels. For the added designation of riserva, the ageing increases to four years, with one of those years in wood.

 

Bianchi

Gavi

(a distinguished white wine produced in the Piedmont section of northern Italy. The wine is named for the town at the heart of the region, and is made primarily with the Cortese grape. The two wines coming out of this region are Gavi and Cortese di Gavi.
Tends to have a straw color and a neutral, mild aroma. It is very acidic. Its unassuming flavor is usually fruity, persistent, dry and balanced. Gavi goes very well with fish.
Best drunk young – it peaks after a year, and it is only drinkable for another 2-3 years after that).

Moscato d’Asti

is a semi-sweet, lightly sparkling, low-alcohol wine from Piedmont, northwestern Italy. It could hardly be more different from Piedmont’s other iconic wine style – robust, red, Barolo. As implied by its name, the wine is made from Moscato grapes grown in vineyards near the town of Asti. The classic Moscato d’Asti wine is characterized by elegant floral aromas and notes of peach, apricot and fresh grape juice. It is one of Italy’s most famous and most popular wines. The wine’s best-known producers include Castello del Poggio, Michele Chiarlo, Villa Rinaldi and Paolo Saracco.

The Moscato Bianco grape variety has been at home in Piedmont for centuries. The variety was officially recorded as far back as the 13th Century, in the statues of the town of Canelli. The Moscato Bianco variety is even sometimes known by the synonym Moscato di Canelli.

moscato d'asti

Moscato (often known by its French title, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) is used all around the Mediterranean. It makes both dry and sweet wines, typically characterized by fresh, floral, grapey aromas. It rarely makes “serious” wines, but is very well suited to lighter-hearted, indulgent styles, of which Moscato d’Asti is a prime example. Moscato d’Asti wines can be consumed as a refreshing aperitif, but are well matched with desserts, particularly with the classic panettone, fruit tarts, or with dry pastries made with hazelnuts or almonds.

The Moscato d’Asti wine production zone is located in the hills just south of Asti town. It covers around 50 communes of the Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria provinces. Its western limit is the village of Serralunga d’Alba (where the vineyards are otherwise devoted to Nebbiolo-based, red Barolo), and its eastern edge is marked by the Bormida River as it flows past Acqui Terme (where Moscato vines grow alongside Dolcetto and Brachetto vines used to produce Dolcetto d’Acqui and Brachetto d’Acqui).

The area described above also produces the similar Asti Spumante style, also made from Moscato Bianco grapes and often confused with Moscato d’Asti. There are several subtle differences between Moscato d’Asti and Asti Spumante. Moscato d’Asti is semi-sweet, very gently sparkling and has an alcohol content by volume of around 5-6 percent. Asti Spumante is off-dry, fully sparkling and has an alcohol content closer to 9 percent by volume. Strength of sparkle is key here, and is perhaps the easiest way to distinguish between the two wines. In Italian sparkling wine parlance, Moscato d’Asti is frizzante (1 atmosphere of pressure), whereas Asti Spumante is spumante (4 atmospheres of pressure).

The production process for Moscato d’Asti is quite distinct from that of Champagne, or any of the world’s more serious sparkling wines. It is not made in the méthode traditionnelle and is not bottle-fermented at any point; its sparkle comes entirely from being fermented in pressurized tanks.

The technique used to make Moscato d’Asti has become known as the “Asti Method”. As soon as the Muscat grapes are harvested, they are de-stemmed and pressed – as quickly and gently as possible to retain the delicate floral aromas. The resulting must is filtered and kept chilled until required. The wine is created by fermenting a batch of this must in a pressurized tank. As yeasts convert the grape sugars to alcohol, carbon dioxide gas is released as a byproduct. A certain quantity of this gas is deliberately kept trapped in the wine, creating the all-important sparkle. When the alcohol level reaches around 5 percent, the wine is chilled, killing the yeasts and stopping the fermentation. The resulting product is sweet, sparkling, perfumed Moscato d’Asti.

 

Spumante (Asti Spumante)

Spumante is a sparkling white Italian wine that is produced throughout southeastern Piedmont but is particularly focused around the towns of Asti and Alba. Since 1993 the wine has been classified as a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) and as of 2004 was Italy’s largest producing appellation. In fact, on an average vintage more than ten times as much Asti is produced in Piedmont than the more well-known Piedmontese red wine Barolo.

Made from the Moscato Bianco grape, it is sweet and low in alcohol, and often served with dessert. Unlike Champagne, Asti is not made sparkling through the use of secondary fermentation in the bottle but rather through a single tank fermentation utilizing the Charmat method. It retains its sweetness through a complex filtration process.

Another wine called Moscato d’Asti is made in the same region from the same grape, but is only slightly sparkling (frizzante) and tends to have even lower alcohol.

The Moscato Bianco grape (also known as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) has long been found in the Piedmont and, along with Nebbiolo, may be one of the oldest grapes in the region. However, the production of sparkling Asti from Moscato Bianco is a relatively recent product.

Asti is often consumed very young and as close to the vintage as possible. After two years, the wine rapidly loses the fresh, floral notes and becomes heavier and richer in body. While still drinkable, older Asti tends not to exhibit the typical light, fruity flavors that are usually associated with the wine.

Despite its sweetness, Asti has enough acidity to be versatile in food and wine pairings. While it is often drunk as an aperitif, it can be paired with salads, spicy Asian cuisine and even, as wine expert Oz Clarke notes, with Christmas pudding