Hello and welcome to my weekly dig through the pile of wine samples that show up asking to be tasted. I’m pleased to bring you the latest installment of Vinography Unboxed, where I highlight some of the better bottles that have crossed my doorstep recently.
This is another heavily Piedmont-driven week, as I share notes on a boatload of Piedmont wines that showed up recently thanks to a consortium of wineries interested in showing off some of the lesser-known wines of the region. I spent some time last week talking a bit about the white wines from Piedmont and telling the stories of some of the more obscure varieties that are making a comeback thanks to the concerted efforts of dedicated winegrowers. Interestingly, some of these winemakers believe that these rarified native varieties may be less susceptible to the stresses and volatility of climate change.
I’ve got a few more examples of these wines to share this week, including an Arneis from Agricola Morrone, a lovely example of the rare Nascetta grape from Daniele Conterno, and two very interesting and very different renditions of Cortese from producer La Mesma. Their “Indi” bottling is a single-vineyard parcel that is literally right outside the window of Paola Rosina’s window. Its nutrient-poor, limestone-rich soils give a different character to the wine (what I might characterize as a tension). It is made using the pied-de-cuve method of fermentation, in which a bucket of grapes is crushed in the vineyard and allowed to start fermenting spontaneously with ambient yeasts, and then this bucket of frothing ferment is added to a larger vat in the winery.
Light-bodied red wines are having something of a “moment” in the wine world today. Easily mistaken for darker-than-usual rosés, these wines tend to feature high acidity and can sometimes benefit from a slight chilling before drinking.
Words like crunchy, smashable, and glou-glou all get applied to such wines these days, and all three would describe a well-made Grignolino, such as the one I’ve got notes on below from Gaudio Bricco Mondalino. The Gaudio family has been farming in the Monferrato region for many generations, with 45 prime, hilltop acres that give the winery its name (bricco meaning hilltop in the local Piemontese dialect). Dedicated to native grape varieties as well as working almost exclusively by hand, the family eschews the use of mechanized farm equipment, an environmentally-focused philosophy that has developed since the winery formally incorporated in 1973. Their top-tier Grignolino from the crest of their hill is among the very best interpretations of the variety I’ve had.
A couple of months ago, I got my first taste of the grape Ruché, an extremely aromatic red variety from the Monferrato region of Piedmont thanks to some rather random samples. I received a couple more bottles as part of this big tranche of Piedmont wines, including this week’s bottle from Scarpa winery. In order to label a wine as Ruché di Monferrato the wine must be grown within the specific appellation boundaries surrounding the town of Castagnole Monferrato. If the grapes are grown outside those boundaries, the wine cannot carry the Ruché name (even though that is the name of the grape) and must instead be labeled Monferrato Rosso, as is the case with this wine. But rest assured, this wine still has the soaring floral aromatics that the grape delivers while also having admirably restrained alcohol levels (Ruché can easily get into the high 15% range when it gets fully ripe).
A bunch of samples from Piedmont wouldn’t be complete, of course, without a few Barolos* thrown into the mix, and I’ve got two to offer you this week, one from Marrone, with somewhat typical tarry notes, and the other from Daniele Conterno, which needs a couple more years of bottle age before it will truly show its stuff. (*As an aside, I think the Piedmontese would say the plural of Barolo is “Barolo,” not unlike Bordeaux).
Lastly, I’ve got three more wines from field-blend specialist Acorn Winery to recommend. Their Zinfandel is a wonderfully honest and jubilant interpretation of the form, and their Cab Franc and Syrah both satisfy as well.
Notes on all these below.
2019 Agricola Gianpiero Marrone “Tre Fie” Arneis, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of wet pavement, white flowers, and star fruit. In the mouth, flavors of star fruit, green apple, and white flowers have a silky texture and decent, but not particularly brisk acidity. Pleasurable, but missing some zing. 13.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $34. click to buy.
2020 Daniele Conterno Nascetta, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of white flowers, cut green grass, and a touch of green melon. In the mouth, finger lime and star fruit flavors mix with white flowers and a faint saline quality that helps with the mouthwatering quality to the wine. Very distinctive and quite interesting. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $29. click to buy.
2017 La Mesma “Riserva” Cortese, Gavi, Piedmont, Italy
Pale greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lime zest, chopped herbs, and a hint of pine resin. In the mouth, brisk lime and herb flavors mix with a lightly bitter lime pith and dusty earth quality. With two more years in the bottle, this wine is much more savory than the standard bottling, with more of a mineral undertone. 13% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $19.
2019 La Mesma “Indi” Cortese, Gavi del Comune di Gavi, Piedmont, Italy
Palest gold in the glass, nearly colorless, this wine smells of green apples and dried herbs. In the mouth, electrically bright green apple and dried sage flavors have a wonderful salinity to them that makes the mouth positively water. Quite juicy and fresh. 12.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2018 Gaudio Bricco Mondalino Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese, Monferrato, Piedmont, Italy
Pale ruby in color with orange highlights, this wine smells of strawberry jam and fresh flowers. In the mouth, gorgeously bright strawberry and herbal notes are boisterous and zippy thanks to excellent acidity. Wonderful chopped herbs and berry notes linger for a long time in the finish with the barest wisp of tannins. Fantastically refreshing. 13% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $30. click to buy.
2017 Scarpa “Rouchet” Monferrato Rosso, Piedmont, Italy
A brilliant light garnet in color, this wine smells of grape soda, roses, and other flowers. In the mouth, the wine is bright and juicy with a sour cherry and grape SweetTart brightness, all suffused with floral notes. Excellent, even a little sharp, acidity. Faintest of tannins. Made from the Ruché grape, but since this vineyard lies outside the Ruche di Monferrato region, it must simply be labeled as a Monferrato Rosso. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $44.
2015 Agricola Gianpiero Marrone Barolo, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of road tar and salted licorice. In the mouth, dried cherry and dried strawberry fruit is wrapped in a thick fleecy blanket of tannins. Good acidity with notes of herbs and dusty earth lingering in the finish as the tannins gain heft and strength. 14.5% alcohol. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $59. click to buy.
2016 Daniele Conterno “Panerole” Barolo, Langhe, Piedmont, Italy
Light to medium ruby in color, this wine smells of strawberries and potting soil and a touch of smoke. In the mouth, muscular tannins grasp a core of strawberry and smoke, earth and dried herbs quite tightly, gripping the palate for a long while as notes of dried flowers linger in the finish. Needs 5 years easily. 14.5% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $48. click to buy.
2017 Acorn Winery “Heritage Vines” Zinfandel, Russian River Valley Sonoma, California
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of blackberry pie and freshly ground black pepper. In the mouth, juicy blackberry and licorice flavors have excellent bounce thanks to great acidity. Licorice and berry pie linger in the finish along with barely perceptible tannins. 14.4% alcohol. 224 cases made Score: around 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.
2017 Acorn Winery “Alegria Vineyards” Cabernet Franc, Russian River Valley Sonoma, California
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, plum, and a hint of green herbs. In the mouth, wonderfully savory flavors of black plum and sour cherry have a hint of leather, black olive, and licorice to them. Faint dusty tannins wrap around the core of the wine which has a mouthwatering tang, thanks to excellent acidity. A deep wet-earth quality lingers in the finish. Despite being labeled Cabernet Franc, this is actually a field blend of 92% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat. Ages for 18 months in old oak barrels. The Cabernet Franc was planted in 1991, back when few were producing the grape in California. 13.3% alcohol. 219 cases made Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $45. click to buy.
2017 Acorn Winery “Axiom – Alegria Vineyards” Syrah, Russian River Valley Sonoma, California
Dark garnet with bright purple highlights, this wine smells of black cherry and cassis. In the mouth, black cherry and blackberry flavors are smooth and stony, with a gauzy tannic texture to them. Excellent acidity keeps the wine quite fresh, while dark, earthy savory notes blend perfectly with the blackberry fruit and a hint of wet chalkboard. Contains 2% co-fermented Viognier. Ages for 15 months in a combination of French and Hungarian oak. 14.2% alcohol. 229 cases made. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $50. click to buy.