Wines of the Piedmont

Piedmont, the mega-producing wine region of Italy, literally means foothills and many vines planted in this ancient, pre-Roman, growing terrain are found on hills or mountainsides to best capture the sun. As the region’s northern vineyards are at the base of the Alps, sunlight is treasured by the “sori” or sunny vineyards such that the term sori is featured on their labels. The need for heat is sometimes a limiting factor in the great vintages of Piedmont because the region is either too cool or the rains begin before the grapes ripen, as was the case in 1991-93. The excellent ’94 vintage is essentially gone, ’95 was nothing special, but from 1999-01 there have been six great vintages for the Piedmont wines. They are still on a holding pattern that year, awaiting another great vintage. However, I tasted some from ’04 and ’05 that were delightful.

Some of the less familiar varietals include Arneis, known as Barolo Bianco, known for its light almond scent and subdued citrus fruit flavors, or Bonarda, a nearly extinct, aromatic, pre-phylloxera varietal that was once the most planted in Piedmont and is now used mainly for blending in Nebbiolos. On the up-and-coming end are the Ruche varietal wines that Master Sommelier Peter Neptune says could rival Nebbiolo for complexity and age worthiness.

The Southeastern Piedmont wines tend to be higher in acid and therefore so compatible with the often hard to match Italian ingredients with high acidity such as garlic, tomatoes, capers, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. The higher the acidity in the food the more the acid tones of the wine are masked so look for whites such as Gavi made from 100% Cortese grapes in the village of Gavi. The Luigi Coppo La Rocca Gavi 2003 ($24), which is grown in pebbly soil, as the name translates, is perfect for oysters and mussels.

Moscato Bianco grapes are planted along the entire Italian peninsula and in Piedmont this varietal is widely planted around Asti and Canelli. These wines were enhanced with a revolutionary winemaking trend for the varietal that incorporated new oak barrel aging. You may recall low-end sparkling wines called Asti Spumante. With the increased quality of these wines the Italian DOCG legislation removed the word “spumante” from the name as Asti is now made from grapes picked early to retain acidity and processed quickly to avoid oxidation. The process of making this sparkling wine differs from that of Champagne because a secondary fermentation is not induced after initial alcoholic fermentation. It is instead fermented with selected yeasts in sealed tanks where natural carbon dioxide released in fermentation is retained before the wine is bottled. The Bera Moscato D’Asti, 2005 ($15) is a wonderful brunch wine, complete with its own hints of strawberries.

Another Piedmont varietal beyond the Nebbiolo is Doletto, also from Southeast Piedmont, grown in areas that are too high or cold to ripen Nebbiolo. These wines are dry, grapey, with a hint of black licorice and plum. Because they are lower in tannin, they are early drinking wines that don’t need the longer aging typical of top Nebbiolos. The Enzo Boglietti Dolcetto D’Alba Tiglineri, 2005, ($24) although less than a year in bottle had deep color and upfront red and black fruit.

While the aforementioned wines were strictly non-Nebbiolo varietals from Piedmont, herewith are some Nebbiolos to consider. The Moccagatta Barbaresco Basarin 2000 ($72) had all the acid for long ageability and now is pungent with a floral aroma and earthy with black truffle tastes. The Prunotto Barolo Classico, 2001 ($60) is a blend of Nebbiolo grapes from several communes resulting in a darker wine with aroma of roses and warm spice on the palate.

Make way for the pasta and osso bucco.

Sip Tip

Raise a glass of Jaffurs Wine while enjoying light appetizers, music from the Torchlighters and holiday cheer at the Jaffurs Winery Open House. There will be 10 current and new release wines to sample.

The event will be held Saturday, December 16, from 2 pm to 6 pm, at 819 East Montecito Street. Tickets are $10.

For more info call 962-7003 or visit www.jaffurswine.com.