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The other reds of Piemonte

So as the Summer has reached its middle point and we have spent last month exploring more wineries in the southern part of Italy, lets close the long introduction to the Piemonte Reds. I will leave the last blog to the whites and finally to its Asti Spumante, one of the iconic sparkling wines of Italy.

Ruche' - Ruche' di Castagnole di Monferrato DOCG

If there is one Italian grape that wine lovers really ought to know, it is Ruché. A rare example of an aromatic red variety, Ruché makes wines that are impossible to confuse with any other variety, despite superficial resemblance with wines made with Lacrima or Brachetto (when the latter has been fermented dry). Ruché is probably native to Piedmont, though many hypothesize that it arrived in Piedmont from Burgundy in the eighteenth century. There is no proof of this, and those who point to the French spelling of the name (Rouchet), which is still in use in Piedmont but rarely, forget that Piedmont itself has French roots. The name Ruché is believed to derive from the word roncet, a viral degeneration that the grape is far more resistant to than are other local varieties, such as Barbera. Today Ruché is believed to have developed in the hills northwest of Asti.

For the longest time, people made only sweet wine with the variety; it was the town priest, Don Giacomo Cauda, who first understood the potential of making a dry wine. His wine, the Vigna del Parroco (vineyard of the priest) was the best ruché made for a very long time. That wine is now being made by Francesco Borgognone.

The wines are made with a minimum of 90% Ruche' and 10% of Barbera or Brachetto. It is a dry, distinctive red, with intense rose perfume, red berry fruit, spices, noticeable tannins and a bitter finish.

The singular wines of La Miraja have until now been impossible to find in the United States. The estate is nestled within the original castle of Castagnole Monferrato, constructed in the 11th century and retrofitted to serve as a cellar in the 1400s.

In this armory-turned-cellar, Eugenio Gatti turns out Barbera d’Asti, Grignolino, and his fabled Ruché. A seventh-generation viticulturist, Eugenio personally tends to the oldest vineyard of Ruché in Castagnole Monferrato, the original birthplace of Ruché. It is here that Eugenio Gatti devotes his life’s work to producing 840 transcendent cases of wine each year.

WINES TO TRY: Dacapo*** (Majoli; in good years, so pure and fragrant it can be one of Italy’s thirty or so greatest wines), Crivelli***, Cantina Sant’Agata*** (Na’vota), Montalbera*** (La Tradizione), Cascina Tavjin**,

Brachetto d'Acqui ( Acqui) DOCG

Brachetto is an aromatic red grape and yet another Italian native variety that belongs to a group of similarly named grapes whose closely related members are nonetheless distinct from each other. Since none of the other members of the group are known outside their immediate production area and have never been commercially important, I have chosen not to speak of a Brachetto group, for there are only two Brachetto varieties of any consequence. True Brachettos are aromatic, and include Brachetto (its correct name, not Brachetto del Piemonte), Brachetto a Grappolo Grande (also known as Brachettone or Birbet or Brachetto Lungo del Roero, typical of the Roero area in Piedmont), Brachetto Migliardi (or Brachetto di Montabone, grown mainly between Acqui and Nizza Monferrato).

Brachetto’s popularity was boosted immensely by Arturo Bersano’s late nineteenth-century decision to make a sparkling version of brachetto using the Charmat method, a wine that met with resounding success-the house of Bersano is still a very important producer of sparkling brachetto today. Brachetto then fell on hard times due to phylloxera and essentially disappeared from production, only to reappear in full force in the 1980s. Brachetto has a very large bunch, conical (occasionally cylindrical), very long, and loosely packed toward the tip, which is often forked; Brachetto is easy to recognize in Piedmontese vineyards because of its very round leaf.

Brachetto’s home in Italy is the vineyards around Asti and Alessandria, but the recognized grand cru for it is Acqui Terme, a delightful spa town that is well worth a visit. There are actually rows grown in Emilia-Romagna too. Elsewhere, Brachetto has been planted in California, Argentina, and Australia.

Brachetto d'Acqui must be made from at the least 97% Brachetto. It is produced in tree styles , frizz ante, spumante and passito. Brachetto can be made also as a still wine. The sparkling version is delicately sweet and not unlike a red version of Prosecco, though many sparkling brachettos are nothing to write home about. I prefer the still version of brachetto, but if the sparkling success of some brachettos has helped the variety survive and gain a stronger foothold, then I’m all for it. If you get a good sparkling version, chances are you’ll like it just as much as everyone else, but the problem is just that: you have to find a good one.

The wines show brilliant ruby color and intense aromas of red berry fruit ( strawberry and raspberry ) , it is low in body and alcohol ( 5-6% abv).

So if you are in the mood of a light wine , sparkling and aromatic ; brachetto could be a good choice.

WINES TO TRY: Forteto della Luja*** (Piemonte Brachetto Passito Pian dei Sogni, made from air-dried grapes), Braida** (Brachetto d’Acqui), Piero Gatti** (Piemonte Brachetto), Marenco** (Pineto Brachetto d’Acqui), Isolabella della Croce* (Brachetto d’Acqui Trentasei), and Fratelli Rovero* (Piemonte Brachetto).

Freisa d'Asti DOC

This variety’s name derives from the Latin fresia meaning strawberry.A whiff of Freisa wine will immediately explain why.However, by far the most important and interesting revelation has been that Freisa is a very close relative of Nebbiolo, universally considered one of the world’s greatest cultivars.

Either Nebbiolo derives from Freisa, or more likely, Freisa is the child of a naturally occurring cross between Nebbiolo and another as yet unknown parent. This explains the many ampelographic and viticultural similarities between the two cultivars, right down to their anthocyanin profiles. For instance, both varieties are characterized by a profile strong in cyanin and peonin, which explains the light or unstable color of their wines. It’s first quote was in 1517 Ad as Fresearum in the customs documents of Pancalieri (with a higher price than Nebbiolo) and documents from 1692 and 1760 prove cultivation of Freisa in various parts of Monferrato.

In A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway mentions being curious about Freisa di Chieri. Certainly, the queens of the royal house of Savoy enjoyed the vineyards of Chieri. Ludovica of Savoy, Elisabetta Teresa of Lorraine, Polissena d’Assia, and other queens all preferred to live at the Villa Reale, a magnificent country retreat on the outskirts of Turin near Chieri where a vineyard, called the vigna reale, was located. Though it is not clear from old documents what varieties were grown there, Freisa seems a logical choice, since it has always been associated with the wines of Turin.

There are four versions of Freisa: Still, Still Superiore, Frizzante and Spumante. All the versions can be dry or off dry to medium sweet. The Traditional and most common style is off-dry Frizzante. The wines show a pale ruby-red color and are high in acidity and tannin. They possess refreshing notes of strawberry, raspberry, rose and violets and have a certain bitterness on the palate. So why are there are so few dry Freisa wines? Answer: the phenolic content of the grape is high and creates problems for the producer. Some Freisa wines are not easy to drink because of dominating green tannins. These tannins are the real problem for each producer who wants to get it right: if they are too intense or too ´dry´ the wine will become undrinkable but when the wine lacks tannins it can become thin and uninteresting and such wines will not improve with aging. So producers have to search for the right balance and avoid those ´green´ tannins.

I believe Freisa can give magnificent wines, which shouldn’t be surprising, considering it is a very close relative of Nebbiolo. However, the wine is neither pitch black nor soft and fleshy; it’s often made in a fizzy style, and fizzy red wines are anathema to many modern wine drinkers. Its perfume, though, is haunting and complex, its crisp strawberry and sour red-cherry flavors memorable. In fact, Freisa wines have fragrances and freshness that other varieties can’t match, and locals appreciate its high acidity and tannic bite, both useful when matching wines to foods in need of robust palate-cleansing acidity. Thanks to its wealth in tannins, Freisa wines actually age well, though few wine lovers ever think of cellaring them.

There are some producers who strongly continue to believe in Freisa like Gianni Vergnano, Aldo Vajra and Domenico Capello. Here some recommended wines: Beccaria, Monferrato Freisa DOC 2013 Well made Freisa. Tannins are present but well integrated and the wine presents the typical blackberry and raspberry fruit, freshness and long finish. A fine example of a mature and enjoyable Freisa. Cascina Gilli, Freisa d´Asti DOC 2012 Beautiful wine, nice fruit, blackberries and freshness. Can age wonderful, good acidity, some vintages are worth keeping for at least ten years! A discovery. La Montagnetta, Freisa d´Asti DOC 2012 This version is produced with partly dried grapes, which gives the wine richness. Very acceptable and quite strong, even if the dried grapes dominate maybe a little over the freshness which makes Freisa actually so interesting. Vajra, Langhe Freisa DOC 2012 Star producer of Barolo, Aldo Vajra proves the potential of Freisa with his impressive wine. One of my favourite Freisa wines is Vajra´s Kyè, a great wine, beautiful intense fruit, length, freshness, blackberries. Needs some years of ageing but a wonderful wine.

Vino: Freisa d’Asti Frizzante

Denominazione d’Origine Controllata

Vitigno: Freisa 100%.

Vigneti: Comune di Roatto, collina Montagnetta; Comune di S. Paolo Solbrito, collina Ronchi.

Vendemmia: manuale a settembre.

Vinificazione: diraspapigiatura, criomacerazione delle bucce. Fermentazione con macerazione per circa 5 giorni ad una temperatura di 24°C. Dopo alcuni travasi si attiva la fermentazione malolattica ed è in seguito stabilizzato a freddo. Successivamente viene avviata la rifermentazione in autoclave ed imbottigliato a marzo.

Caratteristiche organolettiche:

Colore: rosso rubino con riflessi granati.

Profumo: aroma evidente di lampone e viola e di confettura in genere.

Gusto: è leggermente vivace, di buon corpo, con una tannicità abbastanza marcata, che si ammorbidisce nell’estate successiva alla vendemmia.

Abbinamenti: E’ un vino tuttopasto, ma si sposa particolarmente bene con i primi a base di pasta, riso, carni bianche, bolliti, fritti e con la nostra bagna caoda.

Vino Frizzante.

Servire a temperatura di 16 – 18 °C

Grignolino d'Asti DOC

A native to the Monferrato Hills of Piedmont between the two towns of Asti and Casale, Grignolino was once also called Balestra, Verbesino, Arlandino, Rossetto, and especially Barbesino in Piedmont and Lombardy.

Grignolino was abundant and highly thought of as early as the thirteenth century: from legal documents dated between 1246 and 1287 (preserved in the capitulary archives of the cathedral at Casale Monferrato), we know that property rentals were regulated by contracts that also strictly forbade tampering with Barbesino vines. The wine was especially appreciated for its use in making chiaretti, light red wines that were widely diffused in Piedmont in the sixteenth century. Di Rovasenda (1877) thought the wine was “extremely fine” and was also aware that the variety needed specific soils to show its best.

How times change: in those days, Grignolino wines fetched the same prices as Barolos, and Grignolino sparkling wines (rare nowadays) were especially popular. Eventually, the name Barbesino gave way to Grignolino: not surprisingly, since the latter was commonly used in Asti (where rich bankers did much to promote the wine’s merits), and because the word grignolino is linked to Piedmontese dialect, in which the word grignolè refers to the grimaces (or grating of one’s teeth) made when biting into the high acid and tannic Grignolino berries. Another hypothesis is that the word means “pips,” a reference to the fact that Grignolino has, on average, more pips per berry than other cultivars (Grignolino has at least three while most others have two).

While still found sporadically in old vineyards of the Langhe, Grignolino is mainly grown in the provinces of Alessandria and Asti. Recent interest in the variety and its light wines has led to cultivation expanding westward toward Tortona, but the highest-quality areas for Grignolino are on the right bank of the Tanaro River and in the Monferrato area located between Asti and Casale Monferrato. Unfortunately, Grignolino covers only about 1 percent of the total vineyard surface in Piedmont, but my hope is that in these modern, fast paced times, the charms of Grignolino’s delicate wines will lead producers to replant the variety.

The wines must contain a minimum of 90% Grignolino. A maximum of 10% of Freisa can be added as blending partner.

The wines are very pale in color ( almost of a Rosato) with a pink-ruby hue. They boast delicate floral and crisp red fruit aromas ( strawberry and raspberry) with notes of undergrowth and spice. Grignolino are dry. light in body and refreshingly acidic with moderate alcohol, a tannic bite and a pleasantly bitter finish. They should be consumed young.

Area of production: Castagnole Monferrato, Montemagno (Piedmont).

Vine training system: Low trained Guyot system with 8-9 buds on the fruiting cane.

Grape variety: Grignolino.

Vini cation: Traditional red method.

Ageing: Maturation in steel tanks and subsequently in the bottle positioned horizontally with controlled temperature.

Colour: Faint ruby-red which tends to orange shades after the rst 12 months in the bottle.

Nose: Flowery and delicate with hints of marasca cherry and small berries and delicate exterior of oriental spices.

Palate: Dry and harmonious, warm and pleasant, with a re ned bitter aftertaste.

Bottle: Noble bordeaux 500 g - Uvag type glass.

Closure: Cork 26x45 single piece.

Sizes available: Bottle 0,75 L.

Abv: From 12,50 to 13,50 % depending on the vintage.


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