Friday, October 14, 2005

Course on Italian wines at Incanto: Piedmont

The third session of the Italian wines course, organized by Incanto, was about Piedmont. This westernmost region of Italy borders France and Switzerland on the other side of the Alps. In fact, Piemonte means foot of the mountain because the region is almost encircled by the Alps. Winters are cold and snowy, summers are warm and dry, and during the harvest season, the weather is often cool and foggy. However, the region produces a high percentage of very distinctive wines, mostly red.

Piedmont is often called the Burgundy of Italy. It is famous for its family-owned, artisanal winemaking, as well as its great cuisine, featuring game, porcini and white truffles. The Piedmontese are people who strongly respect tradition, good craftsmanship, and are completely devoted to native varietals.

The morning of the class, I unfortunately woke up with a cold. My nose was congested during the class and I sadly sensed that I was missing a lot of the flavors of the wines we tasted.

Our first wine was a white wine from the Roero appellation, which is located in southeastern Piedmont, between the town of Alba and Asti. Roero makes a certain amount of aromatic white wines from the native Arneis grape. Aged in stainless steel, the 2003 Roero Arneis Recit Monchiero Carbone showed a golden color and a lively citrus nose. On the palate, it was medium-bodied, dry and nutty. A very pleasant wine.

Our second wine was a red wine from the native Barbera grape. Barbera is vigorous and productive, and thus, Piedmont's most widely planted grape. Barbera d'Alba, around the town of Alba, and Barbera d'Asti, around Asti, are the two major appellations making 100% Barbera wines. Barbera is sometimes compared to Sangiovese. It is a high-acidity, low-tannin grape that is very food-friendly. The 2002 Barbera d'Asti Camp du Rouss Luigi Coppo was deep garnet red in color. I found it medium-bodied, peppery and spicy with some vanilla notes, but not very fruity, and with a lively acidity on the finish.

The following wine showcased Dolcetto, another popular Piedmontese grape. Dolcetto produces fruity wines, low in tannin, high in acidity, which should be drank young. It means little sweet one because of the sweetness of the grape juice. The 2003 Dolcetto d'Alba Rousori Icardi had a dark-pink/purple color with a mild nose. On the palate, it was round and milky, with a rather short finish. But I found the wine very enjoyable and I liked the soft texture it left in the mouth.

The two remaining red wines were from the Nebbiolo grape. Nebbiolo is one of the world's noblest red varietal, and it can produce rich and long-lived wines, with substantial tannins. The origin of the name is uncertain but some suggests that it comes from nebbia which means fog in Italian, while others think that it comes from nobile, meaning noble. Nebbiolo accounts for only 3% of Piedmont's wine production: the late-ripening grape is difficult to grow, some say harder than Pinot Noir, and it requires the best soils and best exposures, which means hilltops and south-facing slopes.

The most prestigious areas producing Nebbiolo wines are Barolo, southwest of Alba, and Barbaresco, east of Alba. Barbaresco wines are usually regarded as more elegant and refined while Barolos are thought to be more robust and longer-lived.

We first tasted the 2000 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco. The wine had a brick red color and an attractive forward nose. The palate was concentrated with some earthy and sweet fruit flavors. The finish was well balanced with some lively acidity. A very fine wine.

In comparison, the 2001 Barolo Mauro Molino had a powerful nose and a lot of concentration and richness on the palate. The wine was still tannic with some vanilla notes and a long lingering aftertaste. This was, without any doubt, the best wine of the tasting.

We ended the class on a light sparkling note. The 2004 Birbèt Cascina Ca'Rossa is an amazing low-alcohol (5%), sweet red sparkling wine made from Brachetto, another Piedmontese grape. The wine had a bright ruby-pink color and was full of berry aromas. On the palate, the bubbles were light and fresh. It reminded me of a Kir royal, a cocktail made with sparkling wine and crème de cassis. Everybody loved the wine... and the class!

More on Italian wines:
• Sparkling Wines
• The North
• Tuscany

Coming next week: The south and islands

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1 comment:

Tom said...


Nice run down of your Italian class. In my mind though it's those low alcohol sparklers that always do me in. I'm known to drink the entire bottle and look for more.