If you’re a fan of Nebbiolo – the sole grape behind Barolo and Barbaresco – you’ll love the radiant, mineral-driven Nebbiolos and Nebbiolo-based offerings from Alto Piemonte.
Vibrant and loaded with finesse, the best are drop-dead gorgeous, possessing age-worthy structures and impeccable balance. And if warmer temperatures and drier summers are pushing alcohol levels to the extreme in other areas, vineyard altitudes, cooler temperatures and highly acidic soils in Alto Piemonte make it rare to find wines above 14% abv.
Located at the foothills of the northern Piedmont Alps, the most exciting wines come from five small growing areas: Lessona, Gattinara, Ghemme, Boca and Bramaterra that lend their names to the wines.
The wines are steeped in history: in the late 1800s, Alto Piemonte boasted almost 45,000 hectares (111,197 acres) of vineyards, most of them now long gone. Reds made with Nebbiolo (locally called Spanna) – often blended with other local grapes, like Vespolina and Uva Rara – were already imported to the US in the latter half of the 19th century, decades before anyone had heard of Barolo or Barbaresco.
Then, in the early 1900s, after outbreaks of devastating vine diseases and a catastrophic hailstorm in 1905 destroyed entire vineyards, growers abandoned agriculture en masse to work in the booming textile mills in the nearby city of Biella.
Thanks to a few brave producers, Alto Piemonte is now undergoing a full-blown Renaissance.
After years of challenges Vino Nobile is finally regaining its lofty reputation.
If you haven’t tried Vino Nobile di Montepulciano lately, you’re missing out on the return of an Italian classic. While it’s still a work in progress, the last few vintages have revealed a steady rise throughout the denomination of more polished, terroir-driven wines that boast aging potential and pedigree. And the best part? With few exceptions, Vino Nobile still costs way less than most other Tuscan wines at this quality level.
As the latest releases prove, Vino Nobile estates are finding their groove. Many producers have cut back on or abandoned Cabernet and Merlot and are returning to native grapes Canaiolo, Colorino and Mammolo to blend in with Sangiovese. Still others are using exclusively Sangiovese, known locally as Prugnolo Gentile. Better Sangiovese clones and more sustainable viticulture have had a big impact on quality while producers who have stepped back from less invasive cellar techniques are generating wines with more character and elegance.
If you love wines with elegance, fragrance and longevity, then you’ll love the just-released 2012 Brunellos. And even though I’m one of the biggest critics of the Consorzio’s Brunello vintage classifications (I find most vintages have been overrated), when it comes to 2012’s five-star rating, I completely I agree.
Defying the intense heat of the growing season, many 2012s have the vibrancy usually found in cooler vintages. They boast juicy red berry fruit, noble tannins and impeccable balance that will allow them to age well for years. Out of the 140 Brunello 2012s I tasted so far, I rated 88 wines 90 points or more, with 20 of these getting 94 points or higher. I was pleasantly surprised to see a return to finesse, enticing aromas and generally lower alcohol levels when compared to other recent releases.
The 2012s even have more consistent quality across the denomination than the highly acclaimed 2010s. The latter were a mixed bag divided between majestic wines boasting structure and finesse, and subpar wines marred by low acidity, cooked fruit and alcohol of 15% abv or more.
Quality is more uniform in 2012, but in terms of weather, 2012 was an undeniably difficult year. Unstable conditions included a cold, wet winter and an extremely hot, dry summer marked by late rains. But the extended heat wave was gentler on the grapes than the turbulent temperature changes of other past vintages.
Sunny Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, sits just off the tip of the boot-shaped peninsula of Italy. Dotted with ancient Greek temples and Norman cathedrals built by former invaders, the island has a rich history and multifaceted cultural legacy.
It also boasts miles of pristine beaches, breathtaking scenery and the highest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna.
On top of those wonders, Sicily makes fantastic wines from native and international grapes. It produces everything from full-bodied reds to vibrant, mineral-driven whites. Pair them with the fantastic local cuisine, and you understand why this is a wine-lover’s paradise.
Terroir isn’t just about wine. Chefs in Italy are looking local for their ingredients, from Caffè Cibrèo in Florence to Osteria Disguido in Piedmont.
“Terroir-driven wine” has become synonymous with a high-quality product loaded with the personality of the place (or soil) in which it’s made/grown. But in Italy, terroir is also a key concept behind much of the country’s best cuisine.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, winemakers focused efforts on new techniques and cellar technology to improve their wines. Since then, producers have turned their focus to the vineyards. How and where grapes are grown are now seen as the most important factors in quality winemaking.
The same emphasis on terroir can be said for today’s best Italian cuisine. It starts with select ingredients from distinct areas of the country.
One of Italy’s greatest wines is finally getting the attention it deserves. We take you through the vintages, the communes and the bottles you need to buy.
Made with 100% native grape Nebbiolo, you’ve probably heard that Barbaresco is one of Italy’s greatest wines. Yet for many years, it’s also been Italy’s most famous unknown red: even though fine wine lovers had heard of it, until recently, many passed it up for Barolo, its larger, more renowned neighbor (also made entirely with Nebbiolo). But thanks to a new generation of winemakers embracing more natural farming methods that have led to even higher quality, and the denomination’s unique micro-climate that encourages freshness and balance even in the hottest vintages, wine lovers are discovering that Barbaresco is a world-class wine in its own right. And the recent, widespread fascination with Nebbiolo and Piedmont has further helped shine a light on the denomination.
After a meeting between producers and their consortia of the Piedmont region that lasted for more than four hours yesterday (September 12), a vote came out against creating a new wine, Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC.
As previously reported in a column on August 5, the proposal—put forward by the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato—would have encouraged producers in growing zones throughout the region to invest heavily in Nebbiolo.
If there’s one wine I’d love to see on more wine lists in the U.S., it’s Pinot Bianco from Alto Adige and select parts of Friuli. There are some gorgeous Pinot Biancos from these areas. If you haven’t tried any, then you’re missing out on some fantastic wines.
Made with the Pinot Blanc grape (also known as Weissburgunder in German), Pinot Biancos from northeast Italy are extremely elegant and offer a tantalizing combination of creamy and crisp, dry and mineral-driven.
Nearly forgotten, a white grape of Sicily [re]captures the imagination.
Looking for a cool new white? Meet Grillo (pronounced GREE-lo). Hailing from Sicily, Grillo produces crisp and savory wines—some structured enough to offer moderate aging potential. Lighter styles have citrus blossom and peach nuances, while more aromatic versions deliver passion fruit, grapefruit and herbal sensations reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. Lees contact and barrel aging create more complex, mineral-driven wines loaded with apple and citrus flavors. Vineyards closest to the sea produce wines with pronounced saline notes.
If you love Barolo, Barbaresco and other wines made with Nebbiolo, brace yourself for the worst proposal I’ve heard in years, and one that could impact the reputation of some of the most esteemed wines in Italy.
When I was in Alba and Barbaresco a couple of weeks ago, producers told me that their consorzio had just alerted them to a newly proposed wine: Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC, Denominazione di Origine Controllata. The proposal, which insiders say originated with the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato, has producers in Barolo and Barbaresco on edge, and with good reason.
Piemonte Nebbiolo, which would be made with Nebbiolo grown throughout the region, would be a big step back for Italian wines. It would go against the push to create subzones in the most esteemed denominations by officially delimiting vineyard areas.