For my first post on the The Prodigal Guide I thought long and hard about what to cover or comment on but in the end, it was obvious: the one wine region that I simply couldn’t live without – and that’s Piedmont. Piermont which, with a few additions, means Barolo and Barbaresco.
Piedmont isn’t the region that got me into wine in the first place – that dubious honour goes to Port (easy names and not that many vintages you see.) My Piedmont obsession is a more recent thing. It started five or so years ago. I have long admired all things Italian but particularly their food and wine culture. I think this probably meant Italians wines would be a focus for me.
So why Piedmont specifically? There are a few reasons. The grape varieties, the personalities of the growers, the beauty of the place, the size of the subject, and the value. Let’s take those in turn.
The grape varieties
There are only two of real significance (apologies to Dolcetto lovers) and these are Nebbiolo and Barbera. They are both different in how they grow and the style of the wines they produce but variety is important and the weather required by each means that they work as a bit of a natural ‘hedge’ against each other: the Barbera is picked much earlier. Without doubt, Nebbiolo is the king but Barbera makes wines of full fleshy character that are often a great buy on a restaurant list and very food friendly. Nebbiolo to me only has one competitor amongst red grape varieties and that would be Pinot Noir in Burgundy. There are lots of similarities between the two: both grapes are thin skinned and therefore tend towards making wines of slightly lighter colours; both reflect where they are grown superbly (this is the key thing as it makes for interest); both have a natural habitat (Burgundy for Pinot Noir and Piedmont for Nebbiolo); and both also make wines that, whilst enjoyable young, can be aged for decades and show wonderful development when grown in the best locations.
The personalities of the growers
This is Italy after all and there are lots of growers doing lots of different things, some put there wines into new oak barrels for a more international style of rich succulent wine, not my bag but some are great, others look for elegance and grace and age their wines in very large old barrels, these give no oaky flavour but do allow the wine to live and breathe, these are the ones I adore. There is a good feeling about the producers in Piedmont they are not at war with each other, there is a ‘greater good’ to working together.
The beauty of the place
How could they be ‘at each other’ when they get to live and work in the most beautiful wine region in the world? Piedmont’s stunning rolling hills and woodlands add to the complexity of the wines and make for striking views. And don’t even get me started on the beautiful hill top villages. Oh the food isn’t bad either!
The size of the subject
Wine is a massive subject – as anyone can see from a supermarket shelf. Piedmont, for me, is just the right size to have as an obsession. I won’t be able to know it all but it is possible to keep track of the wines and who is doing what. To do so in Burgundy would be that much harder and, dare I say it, more expensive. This brings me onto my next and final point: value.
The top wines of Piedmont are not cheap – good ones start from £25 yet the best seldom exceed £150 – but they are attainable with clever buying and by working out which producers to follow. For me this list includes:
- Cantina Giacomo Conterno
- Bartolo Mascarello
- Guiseppe Rinaldi
- Franceso Rinaldi
- Produttori di Barbaresco
These vary in level, standard, repute and price but are all true to the idea of traditional Nebbiolo with structure, aroma, freshness and wines with a long life ahead of them. The first of these, Cantina Giacomo Conterno, is the top estate in the region to my, slightly biased, mind and is now run by Roberto Conterno the third generation of the family since his father Giovanni’s untimely death in 2003.
It cannot ever be easy to take over from an iconic figure and Roberto descends from a line of them. Giacomo Conterno, Roberto’s grandfather was a pioneer in the region from humble beginnings, selling from a small bar. By 1974, with the business already firmly established, Roberto’s father Giovanni undertook the fortuitous and massively courageous investment in the six-hectare monopole, meaning a specific vineyard with only one owner, of Cascina Francia.
From 1978 to 2008 all the estates wines were made from the Cascina Francia vineyard – a Barbera Cascina Francia from the bottom of the slope, Barolo Cascina Francia & Barolo Monfortino Riserva which is made only in the best years and from the best parts of the Cascina Francia vineyard. Then in 2008, a little like Giovanni in 1974, Roberto bought a part of a vineyard to add to the estates holdings this time it was Ceretta, so now there are two more wines Barbera Cerretta and Barolo Cerretta (although the first two vintages of the Barolo 2008 and 2009 are labelled as Langhe Nebbiolo). Roberto is a driven man making the regions very finest wines…if you can, try them!
So wherever your wine loyalties lie, I would urge you to explore the wines of Piedmont.
Until next time…
If I had to choose just one wine region, it would be Piedmont
For his first post on the The Prodigal Guide, Will Hargrove – wine merchant, cigar nut and budding watchgeek – writes about the one wine region that he simply couldn’t live without: Piedmont.
Will Hargrove, aka Duvault Blochet, is a wine man through and through to the degree that he has long lost track of where work ends and fun begins. Normally to be found drinking and eating (that way round) in London under the tenuous justification of “work” or “client entertainment” he looks to enjoy all thing wine rather than critique them. Other passions include cigars, horse racing, rugby, skiing and a growing interest in watches.
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