Posts tagged ‘dolcetto’
Lucrezia Carrega, Malabaila di Canale (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
I’ve just returned from eleven busy days in Piemonte and as usual, enjoyed a great time. The food was especially awesome this time, being able to dine at so many special places (Felicin in Monforte, Tota Virginia in Serralunga and Trattoria La Libera in Alba – this last one twice). Of course, there were a good number of excellent wines as well – is there a better red wine region in Italy than Piemonte?
Barolo and Barbaresco were the primary reasons I was there and I’ll report on the new vintages – 2009 for the former and 2010 for the latter – soon. But for this post, I’d like to note some other Piemontese wines I enjoyed this visit that were excellent.
I’ll bet you don’t think about sparkling wines when you consider Piemonte, but there are some excellent examples and I’m not referring to Asti Spumante. No, I’m talking about a category of sparkling wines known as Alta Langa. As the name suggests, the vineyard used for these wines are located at a higher elevation than most in the region, making them ideal for sparking wines, which require higher acidity for proper structure and balance.
What’s nice about Alta Langa is the purity of flavors in these wines. I’m not about to write that these are better sparkling wines than those coming from Franciacorta – both are metodo classico, by the way – as the Franciacorta wines tend to offer greater complexity as well as richness in the mouth. But what the Alta Langa wines lack in power, they more than make up for in finesse and varietal character. The best examples – I’ve tasted some lovely bottles from both Fontanafredda and Ettore Germano – are clean, ideally balanced and charming. Not a bad combination!
But now on this trip, I enjoyed the crowning achievement in Alta Langa to date – not only for my tastes, but also for many other Italian wine authorities. That wine is the Enrico Serafino Alta Langa “Zero” – in this case, the 2005 vintage. This is a wine that spent six years on the yeasts before disgorgement and that extra aging time has given this wine some added dimensions you don’t find in most examples of Alta Langa. There is a light touch of yeastiness in the aromas, although this is not a toasty, biscuity style in the mode of many similarly aged Champagnes. Rather, there are lovely pear and fig flavors, a rich mid-palate and an ultra-long, round, clean finish with excellent acidity. This wine really cleans your mouth and is especially marvelous paired with seafood.
By the way, I mentioned that other Italian wine authorities have also raved about this wine. Primary evidence of that is Gambero Rosso, the Italian wine bible, having awarded this 2005 its highest rating of tre bicchieri; they did the same for the 2006 bottling, which I have yet to try, but certainly will. Here’s hoping that Palm Bay, the US importer for Serafino, will start to bring in at least a small amount of this wine soon so that American consumers won’t have to travel to Piemonte to taste this enchanting sparkler.
As for white wines, there are a surprising number of excellent types made in Piemonte, such as Gavi, Timorasso and Favorita and of course, Arneis. This last wine, the most famous of which are from the Roero district, situated across from the Langhe on the opposite side of the Tanaro River, has become a great success not only in Italy and throughout much of Europe, but also in the United States, both by the bottle and the glass. Most examples are tank fermented and aged to highlight the lovely fruit aromas and flavors, but there are few examples that are aged for a short time in wood.
I enjoyed two excellent Arneis from the beautiful, but underrated Roero estate, Malabaila di Canale. situated in that charming town. Both were from the 2012 vintage, a warm year that yielded forward, but more complex wines than in 2011. The entry level bottling has those beautiful pear and melon flavors so typical of the variety and is very refreshing, with impressive richness. The “Pradvaj” offering, from a lovely sloping hillside planting at the winery, is an outstanding Arneis, with a touch of honey in the aromas to accompany the classic varietal flavors; the mid-palate is quite generous and the finish is very long. This is a first-rate white wine that I’d prefer to pair with white meats (even veal) as well as most seafood. These wines are imported in the US, as they are Marc de Grazia selections and there are various distributors, such as Skurnik in the New York/New Jersey area as well as Robert Houde in Chicago. (The retail price on the Pradvaj is betwen $20 and $22 in the US; to me, the wine is worth every penny.)
Finally, a few lovely reds. First there was the Cappellano Barbera d’Alba “Gabutti” 2008. My companion and I had been through the ringer tasting so many examples of Barolo and Barbaresco, so for dinner we wanted a red with very modest tannins. Barbera was the perfect choice and with this offering from Cappellano, we found the ideal Barbera. Teobaldo Cappellano, who passed away a few years ago, was a strict traditionalist with all his wines and made some celebrated examples of Barolo over the past few decades. What you had to admire about him – and this is stated in Italian on the back label – is that he did not want his wines to be rated with numerical scores, preferring that any particular journalist or critic merely write about the wine itself, its special flavors and its pleasure. What a great man and what a wonderful philosophy. Wouldn’t it be nice if this attitude were more in the norm of what wine would be about today?
Anyway, this Barbera, proved that Cappellano cared a lot about all his wines, not just the famous ones (Note: Teobaldo’s son Augusto now makes the wines and has continued his father’s memorable work). This wine, from the Gabutti cru in Serralunga, was steel aged with fresh blackberry and myrtle flavors, backed by good richness on the palate and a juicy, flavorful, very elegant finish with a clean, round note. What an ideal wine for just about any food, from simple pasta to sautéed duck breast or lumache (snails). This is imported in the US by Rosenthal Wine Merchants.
Finally, a few words about a marvelous Dolcetto, the Chionetti Dogliani “San Luigi” 2011. I love Dolcetto and as I hadn’t tasted a single example during my trip as of the final evening in Alba, I was eager to taste one. This one was everything I expected. Chionetti, established in 1912, has been one of the standard bearers for Dolcetto in the lovely town of Dogliani, a little bit south of the town of Barolo. The producers here pride themselves on the power and complexity of their offerings of Dolcetto, believing that other versions, such as those labeled as Dolcetto d’Alba or Diano d’Alba, are relatively minor league by comparison (this is their opinion, not necessarily mine).
Given that, some offerings of Dolcetto from Dogliani (the DOCG versions are now identified simply as Dogliani – the grape name is omitted from the label), can be a bit overdone, sometimes in ripeness, other times in terms of cellar work to attempt to produce a more powerful wine. Thankfully, that was not a problem with this single vineyard offering from Chionetti (San Luigi is one of the producer’s best and most consistent offerings). This newly released 2011 – appropriate as this wine has only modest tannins – is a sheer delight with black plum and raspberry flavors, very good acidity and an elegant, supple finish. This is a textbook example of Dogliani and if more examples were made in this fashion, perhaps Dolcetto from Dogliani – as well as other examples of the variety – would enjoy greater sales success.
It was a perfect accompaniment to the dish of seppie nere (“black” octopus, if you will) I enjoyed at Trattoria La Libera. I’d also love to pair it with rabbit, lighter game birds and delicate pastas. The wine in imported in the US by Vinifera Imports.
So there you have it, a selection of wonderful Piemontese wines, all meant for the dinner table and not a single one named Barolo or Barbaresco. Sometimes, the greatest pleasures are indeed the simplest!
Numerous people have asked me how I selected the specific wines for my book Beyond Barolo and Brunello: Italy’s Most Distinctive Wines. I think some of them want to know if these wines received a particular high rating or award in a certain wine publication; the easy answer is that the book is my guide to the amazing variety of Italian wines. Some of these bottles may have found favor with other reviewers, but this is my selection and mine alone, as I write in the introduction.
The bottom line as to why I included a wine can be found in the title of the book – this is a look at Italy’s most distinctive wines. That means wines that have something to say, wines that reveal lovely varietal character, charm and harmony, ones that ultimately display a sense of place. That’s what I’m looking for with Italian wines, be it an expensive Amarone, Barolo or Brunello or a lesser-known, more humble (but no less excellent) wine such as Soave, Dolcetto, Verdicchio, Fiano di Avellino or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, just to name a few.
Here then are a few words on some of the more unique and distinctive wines I selected for my book:
DACAPO Ruchè di Castagnole di Monferrato “Majoli” - Piemonte is known for its full-bodied red wines with the Nebbiolo-based Barolo and Barbaresco being the most renowned. Yet there are many other lighter reds that deliver a great deal of character; this Ruchè from DaCapo, named for the hill where the vineyards are planted, is a great example. Aged only in stainless steel tanks, this has intriguing aromas of rhubarb, strawberry and nutmeg; medium-bodied, this is quite elegant, although the tannins sneak up on you in the finish. This is meant for consumption within two to five years of the vintage and would be lovely with a local pasta such as agnolotti al plin. (Imported in the US by A.I. Selections)
FONTANAFREDDA Dolcetto Diano d’Alba “La Lepre” – I love Dolcetto, one of the big three red varieties of the Langhe (Nebbiolo and Barbera being the other two), so I’ve included several examples in the book. But while Dolcetto di Dogliani (referred to simply as Dogliani for the DOCG versions) is more highly praised and Dolcetto d’Alba is more widely available, Dolcetto from the small village of Diano d’Alba, not far from Serralunga d’Alba, is not well known. This version from Fontanafredda, named for the wild hare that runs through the vineyards, is a real delight. Made from old vines that give this wine a bit more body and character, this has an appealing dark purple color and intense aromas of black raspberry and black cherry preserves along with notes of licorice. Medium-full, it’s approachable at an early age (one to two years), but there are some medium weight tannins that give this wine some ageability. But for me, the best thing about this wine is that you don’t have to think about it too much – just pour yourself a glass and enjoy as it’s absolutely delicious! (Imported in the US by Palm Bay)
LO TRIOLET Pinot Gris - There are hundreds of ordinary examples of Pinot Grigio (sometimes labeled as Pinot Gris) produced throughout Italy. Then there are a few dozen examples from cool climate regions in the north such as Alto Adige and Friuli that have vitality and complexity. Then there is this wine, from a small estate in Valle d’Aosta, in the far northwestern reaches of Italy, that may be the finest version of this variety in the entire country. As with any distinctive wine, the grape source is often the key; here proprietor Marco Martin is dealing with 15-25 year old vines situated some 2900 feet above sea level! (this may be the highest PInot Gris vineyard in the world). At this elevation, temperatures are quite cool, ensuring a long hang time for the grapes so they can accumulate proper ripeness as well as dazzling aromatics. This is a vibrant white of outstanding complexity, a Pinot Gris that is completely dry, one with excellent depth of fruit and a distinct minerality. While it’s not meant for long term cellaring, it is ideal at three to four years of age and it’s rich enough to accompany river fish or lighter poultry. (Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines)
ETTORE GERMANO Riesling “Hérzu”- Think Piemonte and you think red wine. So what a pleasant surprise to discover such a lovely dry Riesling from this region, as this Hérzu from Ettore Germano. Proprietor/winemaker Sergio Germano produces a very rich version from his vineyards not far from Dogliani; the oldest plantings date back to 1995. This has beautiful aromas of apricots and peaches as you would expect, so your world won’t be turned upside down by enjoying this sleek, beautifully balanced Riesling. I love this wine when it is between five and seven years of age, although the examples from the finest vintages drink for as long as a decade. (Various US importers including Oliver McCrum Wines and Beivuma Distributors).
Here is the link for ordering my book.
Everyone loves Italian food and naturally wants to pair Italian wines with this cuisine. What are the best pairings of Italian wine and food? I went to three authorities in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago and asked them what Italian wine (or wines) they would pair with some classic Italian dishes. The three wine and food authorities are:
Charles Scicolone – New York City
If you want to know anything about Italian wines – especially those made during the 1950s and 1960s- ask Charles. He is a wine consultant, writer and educator and has been specializing in Italian wines for more than 40 years. He was the wine director for I Trulli Restaurant in New York City for 10 years and today consults for various Italian restaurants in the city. He authors the blog Charles Scicolone on Wine and is also the wine editor for www.i-italy.org. He has lectured about Italian wines for the Italian Trade Commission and is often hired by regional Italian wine departments to make presentations about their wines. He also is one of this country’s leading authorities on pizza, especially the classic pizza margherita from Napoli.
Piero Selvaggio – Los Angeles
Long before today’s fascination with Italian wine and food in America, Piero Selvaggio was educating Americans on the glories of these products. Born in Sicily, he arrived in Brooklyn in 1964 and soon learned how different Italian-American food was from that of his native Italy. He attended college in California and worked at several restaurant jobs – everything from busboy to waiter to assistant manager.
He opened the restaurant Valentino in Santa Monica in 1972 with a friend. Praise for this restaurant was extraordinary right from the start; it is no exaggeration to write that this was the first great Italian restaurant of the modern era in the United States. Along with using the finest ingredients, Selvaggio emphasized the best wines from all over Italy.
He has since opened a Valentino restaurant in Las Vegas and Houston and continues to explore the ever-changing relationship between Italian wine and food.
Jason Carlen, Chicago
Early this year, Jason Carlen took over the wine program at one of America’s temples to Italian food, Spiaggia Restaurant in Chicago. Carlen is the newest wine director here, following the magnificent work of Henry Bishop and then Steven Alexander. While the Italian wine program here does not have the most selections in the country, it is as thorough and eclectic as any in America. Before coming to Spiaggia, Carlen spent four years as sommelier at The Inn at Palmetto Bluff, an Auberge resort in Bluffton, South Carolina.
I will also be adding my thoughts on the pairings. I have made 49 trips to Italy over the past ten years and have enjoyed wonderful meals throughout the country, from humble trattorie and osterie to two-star Michelin ristoranti.
Here are the foods and the recommended pairings from these gentlemen:
Risotto with Vegetables (pictured above)
Charles Scicolone: “Classic vegetable risotto with peas and carrots calls for a Soave. This white wine with good acidity from the Veneto will work very well with the richness of the risotto and the mild flavors of the vegetables.”
Piero Selavaggio: “Part of the fun of pairing wine with certain food is always the originality, the nuances, the way salt of food and acidity of wine dance well together. Here is a new partner in the contest. For the risotto, I picked a wine of exemplary elegance: Grifola. It is from the small Marche region in central Italy by Poderi San Lazzaro.” (note- this is a Marche Rosso IGT produced exclusively from the Montepulciano grape – TH.)
“It is a wine of dark black fruit, yet fresh and elegant in the finish able to enrich and complement the richness of the cheese and the butter that ties the risotto and sustains the simplicity of the veggies.”
Jason Carlen: “As for the risotto, I would love a Trebbiano by Valentini. I think the purity of those wines and slight oxidative quality are reminiscent of Puligny-Montrachet. I love pairing the richness of a risotto with an equally rich wine that is perfectly balanced with acid.”
Tom Hyland: I am in agreement with Charles on this one. A Soave Classico from a top producer such as Pieropan, Ca’ Rugate or Coffele has the ideal flavors that pick up on the risotto, while the aromatics of the Garganega grape blend ideally with the vegetables.
CS: “Pizza Margherita is not only the perfect pizza, but also the perfect food. The wine I like to drink with pizza is Barolo, one from a traditional producer. Barolo of this type has subtle fruit, hints of tar, tobacco, etc. with good acidity. This is a perfect combination for the tomato sauce, the mozzarella and the basil of the margherita.
PS: “For pizza, I always think Sangiovese. From Umbria, I like the Falesco; it is bold and supple, jammy and easy, just like the pie. An alternative is always a good Chianti, like Felsina, Ricasoli or Fattoria La Massa in Panzano. These are the type of new Italian wines that made people fall in love with Italian gastronomy.”
JC: “I think there are so many directions you can go with a margherita pizza.Personally I prefer a red with enough acid to cut through the fat of the cheese and to hold up to the tomato. Perhaps the COS, Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2008. I love the sweet herbaceous cherry fruit in this wine, the chalky tannins and the bright acidity.”
TH: I agree with Charles about Barolo with the margherita pizza, especially when it comes to a traditional style of Barolo. I also think a traditional Barbera d’Alba with plenty of spice can work well, while an Aglianico-based wine from Campania or Basilicata can also pair well with the pizza.
CS: “With this dish I would drink an Amarone. I would prefer one with good acidity and the characteristics of a table wine, as opposed to some Amarones with intense flavors and aromas that can make it more like a dessert wine. The gaminess of the duck will not be overwhelmed by the Amarone and the raisins and onions will enhance the flavors of the Amarone.”
PS: “For the sauteed duck breast I like a Veronese Ripasso: Palazzo della Torre by Allegrini. A young wine that has been blended with Amarone-style raisiny juice. It is robust and concentrated, yet showing the elegance of the Corvina grape, that should wrap well with the sweetness of the sauce.”
JC: ” I normally like to pair duck with a pinot noir but in this case I am thinking a Gattinara would do the trick nicely. With the fat of the duck I think a more polished Gattinara would work well. The little bit of tannins would made docile by fat of the meat and the sweetness of the raisins would help to bring out the fruit in the wine. A favorite right now is the Anoniolo “San Francesco” Gattinara 2006.”
TH: I also like a Ripasso or Amarone with this dish. I would also love to pair this with a Dolcetto from Diano d’Alba – the Fontanafredda “La Lepre” is a tantalizing example of this wine. The black cherry and cranberry fruit flavors are spot on here, while the tannins are not very strong and do not overpower the duck.
Do you have any thoughts on what Italian wines you would pair with these dishes? Do you have other Italian wine and food pairings you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!
Text and photos ©Tom Hyland
A red variety grown in Piemonte that literally means, “little sweet one.” Light tannins, balanced acidity and juicy fruit flavors of raspberry, mulberry and cranberry. Dolcetto produces a wine that is very charming and easy to drink in its youth.
White variety grown in north central Piemonte; the most famous example is Erbaluce di Caluso. High acidity and lemon fruit; versions range from a light dry white to a refreshing sparkling style.
Beautiful white variety of Campania, grown in various areas of that region. Very high acidity and fruit flavors ranging from apple and pear in the most simple bottlings to quince and kiwi in the best offerings. Generally not oak-aged, though a few producers do barrel age the wine.
White variety grown along the coast of Campania; very high acidity and flavors of citrus and pear. Usually part of a blend, along with varieties such as Biancolella and Ginestra.
Another beautiful white variety, most famously grown in Campania, though a few producers in Sicily work with it as well. Medium-full to full-bodied, this has fruit flavors of pear and citrus along with distinct notes of honey. Some versions are meant for consumption within 2-3 years, while the most concentrated offerings from the best producers can drink well for 5-7 years, thanks in part to the grape’s excellent natural acidity.
A red variety used in the production of Cerasuolo di Vittoria in Sicily. Cherry, berry fruit and very soft tannins. There are a few producers that bottle Frappato on its own.
Formerly known as Tocai Friulano, the name was changed to avoid confusion with the Hungarian wine Tokay (this was also done in accordance with European Community regulations concerning protected names of wines). One of Friuli’s great white varieties, with complex aromas of pear, apricot and dried flowers. Lively acidity and a light minerality.
Red variety of Calabria that is the principal grape of Ciro rosso. Raspberry and strawberry fruit with light tannins.
The primary grape of Soave. An underrated white variety with aromas of yellow flowers and melon with very good acidity. This grape is as misprounced as any – the correct pronunciation is gar-gan-ah-guh.
One of Italy’s great white varieties, grown primarily in Alto Adige. Gewurz means “spicy” in German – this then is the spicy Traminer. Gorgeous aromatics of grapefruit, lychee and rose petals with lively acidity and distinct notes of white spice. The best versions are quite rich, with some having an oiliness on the palate.
White variety grown along the coasts of Campania- especially in the Costa d’Amalfi DOC. High acidity and fruit flavors of pear and lemon. Usually part of a blended white of the area.
One of the major white varieties of Campania; flavors of lemon, pear and dried flowers with very good natural acidity and often a note of almond. Medium-full, this generally is not as full as Fiano, but is quite complex. Most famous example is Greco di Tufo, from the province of Avellino.
Beautiful red variety from Piemonte; almost no tannins, with refreshing cherry and strawberry fruit and very good natural acidity. Meant for consumption within 2-3 years of the vintage date.
White variety from Sicily; most versions are simple with pleasant acidity and flavors of pear and citrus. Grillo is produced both as a stand-alone variety and also as part of a blended white.
Red variety of Marche; most famously as Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. Medium-bodied with cherry, berry fruit, moderate tannins and good acidity. Produced both as a refreshing style for early consumption and a fuller style with more tannins and longevity.
One of Alto Adige’s most wonderful red varieties with intense color (often deep purple), youthful, but not overly aggressive tannins and very good acidity. Fruit flavors of black plum, black cherry and raspberry. Fruit forward and despite its richness, often quite approachable upon release.
Red variety most famously grown in Emilia-Romagna. Produces a lighter red wth cherry-berry fruit, zippy acidity and very light tannins. Best known in its slightly sparkling (frizzante) offerings.