By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 29 September 2018
Piedmont is home to some of Italy’s finest wines often with outrageously high price tags – yet there is a lot more to offer here than just its hauntingly beautiful Barolo and elegant Barbaresco.
In this northwest corner of Italy, it might seem surprising that Muscat is the most planted white, making copious quantities of sweeter frizzante and spumante. But Piedmont also makes some superbly elegant dry whites – from the bracingly fresh Cortese, floral blossomy Arneis, herby Favorita and honeyed fleshy Timorasso grapes.
Amongst the red grapes, the fickle late ripening Nebbiolo has historically hugged the best sites to make Barolo and Barbaresco. In the past Langhe Nebbiolo, the ‘second’ wine from this grape was often disappointingly rustic and tannic, but quality has improved enormously making much more approachable fruit driven styles.
The most planted red grape is not Nebbiolo, but the cherry-fruited Barbera covering 33% of Piedmont’s vineyards. Known for its high acid and mild tannins produced in differing styles from around the towns of Asti and Alba. The earlier ripening licorice-flavoured Dolcetto tends to suit the chalky tufa soils east of Alba, producing hefty dry reds low in acid but high in tannins.
Cortese: TRULY IRRESISTIBLE GAVI 2017 Broglia (12.5%)
Cortese has been grown in Piedmont since C17 usually found amongst the Monferrato hills in southeast of the region. Best known as the grape of Gavi. This is a vibrant crisp and dry with a piercing lemony freshness, which beat off stiff competition from Lidl and Aldi’s Gavi in our tasting.
Cortese: GAVI DI GAVI 2017 Broglia (13%)
This is made by the same producer as Co-op’s Gavi, the esteemed Broglia family who made their money in textiles and bought the winery in the 1970s just as Gavi was starting to become popular. A distinct step in quality compared to other supermarket examples – hence the price. Herby limey citric aromas with a vivid minerally palate and creamy almondy finish.
Arneis: ARNEIS LANGHE 2017 Ascheri (13.5%) ***STAR VALUE***
(£13.50 Marks & Spencer)
Very popular with tasters for its combination of blossom and pearskin aromas, herby aniseed undertones, full body and fresh vibrant length. The native Arneis was once planted in Barolo’s vineyards as its floral aromas attracted birds, which protected the precious Nebbiolo grapes. Today the best Arneis hails from sandy Tanaro valley in Roero hills.
Timorasso: TIMORASSO DERTHONA 2015 La Colombera (13.5%)
(£22.50 Raeburn Wines)
The Semino family who own La Colombera are one of Piedmont’s wineries to watch. They plant the ancient local Timorasso grape on clay soils in the hills of Tortona, east of Alba. After long skin contact and lees ageing, but no oak, the wine develops a rich creamy texture and with time in bottle this wine develops wonderful honey and acacia aromas. Our tasters compared it to a rich minerally Loire Chenin Blanc.
Chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc: DRAGON LANGHE BIANCO 2017 Luigi Baudana (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£13.95-£15.99 Drinkmonger, Gloagburn Farm Shop, Valhalla’s Goat, Valvona & Crolla
An unexpected find amongst so many Italian varietal wines. This unoaked four grape blend of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% local Nascetta with a touch of Riesling scored very highly in our tasting for its enchanting citric, almond and floral aromas and its rich creamy savoury palate – it would make an unusual alternative to white Burgundy.
Barbera: BARBERA D’ALBA SORI’ DEL DRAGO 2014 Fratelli Brovia (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
(£20.99 Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh )
From a tiny south facing 0.8 hectare vineyard in Castiglione Falletto, within the Barolo region made by long established Brovia family. Delicious ripe plum, strawberry and classic black cherry fruits with a lovely subtlety and underlying spiciness.
Barbera: BARBERA D’ASTI SUPERIORE 2015 Oddero (14%)
(£20 Woodwinters, Edinburgh, Bridge of Allan & Inverness www.woodwinters.com)
It is worth paying more for the Superiore version of Barbera d’Asti, made from selected grapes and aged longer in wood: Oddero aged this 18 months in French and Austrian oak. Shows Barbera’s depth and complexity with rich blackcherry fruits, spicy undertones and cocoa flavours.
Nebbiolo: LANGHE NEBBIOLO 2016 G D Vajra (14%) ***STAR BUY***
(£17.50 -£24.99 Aitken Wines, Cornelius Wines, Drinkmonger, Eusebi, Exel Wines, Lockett Bros, Beerhive, Fine Wine Co, Valhalla’s Goat, Valvona & Crolla, The Wine Society)
Often described as a baby Barolo, this comes from youthful Nebbiolo vines from the warm summer of 2016. Our most popular red in the tasting for its super charged ripe fruits, herbaceous flavours and soft silky tannins made by guru Aldo Vajra who consistently makes approachable styles from this tannic grape.
Nebbiolo: LANGHE NEBBIOLO 2015 Sottimano (14%)
Made from younger vines in Neive, home of Barbaresco, Andrea Sottimano’s cuvee is hauntingly elegant with pretty violet scented aromas, rich red berry fruits, fine tannins and long finish. A winery to watch: Sottimano also make excellent Barbera d’Alba too.
Dolcetto: DOLCETTO D’ALBA Cascina Adelaide 2015 (14.5%)
(£17.99 Virgin Wines)
If you like Beaujolais, you might well enjoy this Dolcetto – at its best served very slightly chilled. I have often found Dolcetto to be a touch too bitter, but this example from Sergio Molino is wonderfully smooth with cherry and strawberry fruits.
Join Rose’s Piedmont v Veneto wine & Italian charcuterie tasting at The Royal Scots Club in Edinburgh 25 October £50 www.rosemurraybrown.com