Mention Italian wine, and most will think of a fruity Tuscan Chianti in a straw-wrapped flask sitting on a red-checkered tablecloth with accordion music playing in the background. And that shouldn’t come as much of surprise since Tuscan wines – dare I say Tuscany – has stolen Italy’s spotlight when it comes to food, drink and Italian countryside culture.
However, wine connoisseurs today know that for Italy’s finest wines, one needs to trek further north to the foothills of the Italian Alps known as Piemonte, where the terroir is so unique that few elsewhere in the world would ever attempt to grow its unique and luxurious grapes.
Piemonte’s most revered Nebbiolo grape has been around for centuries, but its most significant road to fame and deliciousness has actually happened in the past 30 years. The Nebbiolo grape is as ubiquitous to Piemonte as Pinot Noir is to Burgundy, but it hasn’t been easy to tame this thick-skinned, high tannin, late-harvesting grape. Until the advent of temperature-controlled barrels, winemakers had trouble softening those thick skins and strong tannins, especially when the aging process was started at the coldest time of the year that would stall fermentation. Often they wound up with wine that even after decades of aging still wouldn’t mellow. Today, Piemonte’s Nebbiolo, Barolo and Barbaresco wines are highly cherished. Interestingly, they come from different villages, but all from that same high-maintenance grape known as Nebbiolo. These are not wines for the weak-hearted. They are robust and with distinctive qualities, invoking some odd descriptors such as tar, licorice, leather and dried stone fruit. Complexity is undoubtedly Nebbiolo’s calling card, and these wines are considered to be among the very best in the world.
And while Burgundy, to which Piemonte is often compared, may be satisfied with having just two famous grape varietals, this region has several well-known wines to its name. Asti Spumante, a light, semisweet sparkling wine gained popularity in the ‘70s because of its clear and easy quaffability.
Gavi is a dry white varietal that many a wine lover has discovered upon tiring of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Italian wine doesn’t necessarily connote white wine beyond that of Pinot Grigio, so it is often a pleasant surprise to taste the crisp, dry Gavi that thrives in the cooler temps of northern Italy.
Other reds of note from this region include Barbera, which is considered the area’s day-to-day, table wine. In fact, this rustic wine is the most widely planted grape in the region.
A lesser-known red but that provides an instantly quaffable wine option is the Dolcetto, which is sometimes compared to Beaujolais because of its highly drinkable fruitiness. It makes an interesting contrast to Nebbiolo because it has little tannin, is much lighter and with very little acid.
While just a highlight of some of Piemonte’s greatest wine assets, wine lovers can enjoy a tasting at Hinsdale Wine Cellars Friday, 6-8 p.m., for some excellent representatives of this region from Sottimano winery.
– Ivy F. Kupec
While it’s probably not Norman Rockwell’s idea of Christmas, Spain’s way of celebrating Feliz Navidad promises a month of excitement, flourish and color that even overflows into January. Whether it’s their spectacular month-long lottery, their day of pranks on el día de los Santos Inocentes, or their wait until Jan. 6 for three kings to bring their Christmas gifts rather than Santa Claus, each celebration is filled with special foods and hypnotic wine. No surprise then that this year, your friends at Hinsdale Cellars would bring a little of that Latino festivity home, providing Inspired Wine Club members with two very elegant Spanish wines – one red and one white, of course – that are perfect accompaniments to decking the halls and two more great reasons to say, “Joy to the World.”
Finca Os Cobatos 2010 Mencia
Say “ola” to Mencia, a new varietal to many American wine drinkers, but definitely one you are likely to want to taste again and again. Sourced from vines planted in the early 1980s, this wine comes from northwestern Spain in an area sometimes referred to as “Green Spain” because of its lush environment and cooler mountainside temps. Look forward to a lush, complex wine that will surprise and delight the most critical red wine oenophiles. Compared to Beaujolais or Cabernet Franc, this Mencia is ruby red in color with a nose of ripe red fruits and a certain earthy herbaceousness that is ever-so-slightly floral. It’s balanced with good texture that is enhanced by double-decanting or just letting the wine breath for about a half-hour. This 100% Mencia wine has bright acidity with a youthful light to medium body and tannins that actually can pair well with fish, not just your Christmas roast beast or roasted game hens.
Pazo do Mar 2010 Ribeiro (Albariño)
Nothing says special occasion like an elegant white wine from one of Spain’s award winning vintners, and this 100% Albariño is just the thing for your holiday table. Another lesser-known varietal is showcased in this refreshing, yet luxurious straw-colored wine. Often compared to Viognier, this wine has a nose of elegant minerality mixed with citrus and tart Granny Smith apple. Good, yet delicate acids make for a medium- to full-bodied white with grip and long finish. Great for drinking alone, this wine is also a wonderful match for your Oysters Rockefeller, salmon bisque or roasted whole snapper.
Merry Christmas to all our Hinsdale friends!
Autumn is filled with a cornucopia of aromas. The musty smell of golden and crimson leaves gathered into piles. A sweet waft of cinnamon and apples that can permeate an entire house when a pie filled with orchard-fresh fruit quietly bakes. And of course, that alluring aroma of turkey roasting in preparation of a Thanksgiving feast for family and friends. Yes, this is a time of year for wonderful aromas that evoke childhood memories and comforting times. As the writer Vladimir Nabokov said, “Nothing revives the past so completely as a smell that was once associated with it.” So in honor of the great smells of autumn, Hinsdale Inspired Wine Club offers two wines that promise a captivating olfactory experience. Whether you enjoy the earthiness of a perfected Pinot Noir or the exotic fruitiness of a lesser-known Italian white varietal, this month’s selections are sure to fit into this season of sensory delights.
2009 Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
For red wine lovers, Pinot Noir is often their wine of choice when it comes to turkey time. And, this particular Pinot is certainly one worthy of a special affair. “The 2009 [Fess Parker Santa Barbara] Pinot Noir is a gorgeous wine bursting with dark cherries, spices and sweet French oak,” says Robert Parker Jr. in an August edition of Wine Advocate. “It shows fabulous textural richness and depth, especially for an entry-level offering. This is a tasty, accessible Pinot to drink now and over the next few years.” Indeed, this ruby-colored elixir composed completely of Pinot Noir grapes from four vineyards with complementary terroir offers an exquisite nose of black cherry, autumnal spices of cinnamon and clove, vanilla and foresty earthiness. On the palate, the black cherry comes through with red currant, cranberry, vanilla and spice. Ten months of aging in new Burgundian French oak adds that impressive depth, and its texture is pure velvet. Enjoy at Thanksgiving or to enhance a meal of bourbon-glazed salmon or crispy roasted duck.
2009 Caleo Inzolia. Sicily
One sniff of this Sicilian white, and you will recall a vacation to the tropics with its captivating exotic fruitiness — most notably of kiwi and pineapple. Made from 100 percent Inzolia grapes, this Italian varietal has a spicy aromatic character that is refreshing and unique. Inzolia grapes, also known as Ansonica, have been traditionally used to make the lighter-colored Marsala wines that come from this region. More recently, as Sicilian wines have become popularized through export, those outside of Sicily are enjoying Inzolia as a well-structured, crisp, clean white wine with an intense bouquet. The cool, breezy Sicilian nights add to the wine’s brilliant straw color and distinctive nose. The Caleo Inzolia is a particularly well-balanced, harmonious wine with hints of citrus that pair perfectly with seafood dishes like a shrimp and fennel risotto, linguini con vongole or sole Meuniere.