Red Wines of Piemonte: More Than Nebbiolo
Italy is not just an unforgettable holiday destination but also a stunning wine country, with plenty of treasures waiting to be discovered in each of its 20 wine regions. One of its top performers is definitely Piemonte, with resounding denomination names like Barolo and Barbaresco, and Nebbiolo as its most renowned grape variety. But this is not all Piedmont has to offer: it is home to many less-known and very affordable gems with great gastronomic potential, which deserve a place on wine lists and in your cellar.
Almost a third of the vineyards in the region are planted with Barbera, my favourite meal partner among the local grapes. It delivers deeply coloured wines with rather mild tannins, a high amount of lively, juicy acidity and a good balance of fruity and earthy/herbaceous flavours, from cherries, raspberries and blackberries to Provencal herbs, underbrush, coffee and gingerbread spices. All this makes Barbera, in all its diversity, an ideal partner for grilled vegetables, cured meats and patés, risotto with mushrooms and Parmesan cheese, pastas with meat and herb-rich tomato sauces, barbeques, chili con carne, duck dishes or wild game.
If you’re not too keen on vivid acidity, you might prefer wines from the Dolcetto grape. These are often undervalued as everyday, fruity, quaffable wines, but with intense flavours of forest fruits, liquorice, tar and sometimes almonds, they are well suited as meal companions. Try them with hearty, savoury and spicy Mediterranean dishes such as grilled vegetables, salamis, spicy barbequed meats and pasta with a rich ragù.
Much rarer but no less interesting is Ruché (pronounced: roo-‘keh), once almost extinct but now its vineyard acreage is steadily on the rise, especially around the commune of Castagnole Monferrato. Ruché wines are spicy, herbaceous and powerful, with aromas of summer flowers, rosehips, ripe red fruit, cinnamon, smoke, a characteristic touch of pepper and quite a lot of tannins and alcohol. I prefer these in the autumn and winter, with heart- and belly-warming stews, stronger game or Asian-inspired, well-peppered, soy-glazed meat dishes.
Then there’s the lightly-coloured but not-to-be-underestimated Grignolino, a grape variety that’s challenging to grow and which produces wines with feisty acidity and grippy tannins. Generally between 11 and 13% alcohol, they tend to be a bit more lighthearted than many other Piemontese reds, and the wines have a floral, herbal character, supported by sufficient red fruit. They pair well with vegetables, seafood and white meats, providing the dish has a higher fat content to balance out the acidity. I’d suggest mixed herb salads with olive or nut oils, salmon or tuna (in the form of tartar, carpaccio, sashimi, baked or grilled), pork or poultry. As is the case with many of these wines, grilled duck breast (with ultra-crispy skin, of course) makes a delicious match.
For hardcore Nebbiolo lovers, I recommend Freisa, a more rustic grape variety, related to Nebbiolo and with a comparable aroma profile. Freisa is still often produced as a sweet and lightly sparkling wine, paired with fruit desserts.
But it’s the dry, non-sparkling versions I find particularly interesting. With their remarkable tannins, high acidity and aromas of sour cherries, strawberries, flowers, juniper, game, tar, pepper and nutmeg, they are well suited as meat partners. Think well-seasoned savoury stews, ossobucco, steak with pepper sauce or more strongly-flavoured types of game, such as venison, hare or boar.
I want to end with a surprising dessert wine: the fresh and fruity Brachetto, of which especially the DOCG Brachetto d’Acqui is best known. These are joyful and lightly sweet wines with a delicious strawberry, raspberry and floral aroma, and usually only 5 to 7% alcohol. If you prefer to end a meal with a lighter touch, Brachetto is the way to go. Have a glass on its own or serve it with sunny red fruit desserts. It even works well with chocolate, especially in sweet courses that have a refreshing red fruit component like raspberry coulis or sorbet.
Some of My Favourite Off-The-Beaten-Track Producers in Piemonte
Braida, Cantina Rovellotti, Vinchio – Vaglio Serra, Cascina Castlet, Cascina Gilli, Cascina La Barbatella, Fasoglio Carlo, Garrone, Giacosa Fratelli, La Montagnetta, Luca Ferraris, Merenda Con Corvi, Michele Chiarlo, Poggio Ridente.
Travel Tip for Wine Lovers
Definitely worth a visit: the town of Pinerolo near Turin, with its genuine, non-conformist wine bar Into The Wine by Davide Toreno and Luca Coucourde. On a hilltop nearby, looking out over the city, you’ll find the beautiful and hospitable winery Merenda Con Corvi / Azienda Agricola BEA. Definitely worth a visit! You can spend the night in their lovely B&B, and their Barberas are delicious.
This is just a snippet of the many lesser-known but fascinating food-friendly wines that can be found in Piedmont. Do you have any discoveries of your own, or interesting food and wine experiments you’ve conducted? Let us know in the comments! 🙂