DiscoverPiedmont Grapes - 4 Underrated Varieties You Need to Try   

Piedmont Grapes – 4 Underrated Varieties You Need to Try   

I’m just gonna give you the skinny here if you will. The short and sweet. The nice and neat. Yes, I suppose one could go into detail about the Piedmont province in Northwest Italy. The fact that it is bordered by France to the west, that it’s home to the city of Torino where they held the 2006 Winter Olympics or that it’s the birthplace of Eataly. One could go on, and on…and on, about those delectable truffles from the town of Alba… Okay. Focus, Nick.

Anyway, we’re here to chat about Piedmont WINE. Specifically, the grape varieties that don’t get nearly enough attention. Don’t get me wrong. I do love a good Barbera d’Alba and adore Nebbiolo in varying degrees of varietal and terroir expression; after all, Piedmont is the birthplace of Barolo! Gavi is also good, and Arneis is one of my favorites. However, there are a handful of other grape varieties in Piedmont that deserve some more recognition.  

Below are 4 Piedmont grape Varieties you should be asking various wine bars, restaurants, shops, and fellow cork dorks about.

Erbaluce (Err-Bah-Loo-Chay)

Photo Courtesy of Slow Food

This white grape variety is thought to have originated in the Canavese region in the foothills of the Alps. Early mentions of this variety date back to the 17th century and perhaps derive its name from Alba & Luce (meaning ‘dawn’ and ‘light’) due to the berries’ natural gleam when they’re ripe on the vine. Today, this grape is primarily grown in the Canavese region, less than an hour north of Torino. The region of Caluso is one of the best places for Erbaluce to grow. 

This variety’s notable acidity has made it suitable for dessert wines or ‘passito’* style wines for centuries. However, in the past 100 years dry versions have come into play. In the last 20, complex and sturdy expressions are giving the more recognizable Piedmont white wines such as Arneis and Cortese (Gavi) a run for the money. In the past 50, sparkling Erbaluces started to be produced. The best is made in the Metodo Classico or ‘Champagne’ method, with the second fermentation in the bottle. 

Flavors & Profile: 

Typical aromatic characteristics of dry Erbaluce are honeydew, starfruit, gooseberry, and almond. Dry wines are light to medium-bodied, and acid is very high. This makes for a zingy and crisp, white wine that will make any Sancerre or Chablis fan happy. 

On the sweet end of things, Erbaluce can express honey, apricots, and a luscious and rich palate.   

Food Pairings: 

If it’s dry or sparkling:

steamed clams, raw oysters, linguini w/ white sauce, pasta carbonara, poultry.

If it’s sweet: 

lemon custard tarts, cheesecakes, or sneak into a movie to pair with caramel-covered popcorn. 

Erbaluces to Seek Out

Dry, Bubbles: 

Cieck ‘San Gregorio’ Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante DOCG (Vineyard Road, Solair, Free Run Merchants, Bourget)

Dry, Still: 

Francesco Brigatti ‘Monticello’ Colline Novaresi DOC (Oliver McCrum)

Sweet: 

Orsolani ‘Sule’ Erbaluce di Caluso Passito DOCG (Matchvino Imports)

Timorasso (Tee-Mo-Rah-So)

Photo Courtesy of Cellar Tours 

This white piedmont grape variety is native to the Colli Tortonesi DOC, a stretch of hills flanking the town of Tortona 60 miles to the east of Barolo. By the mid-1800s, Timorasso was one of the most widely planted grape varieties. However, by the late 1970s, it was on the brink of extinction. Like the Arneis grape that was almost single-handedly resurrected by Luca Currado of Vietti winery, the Timorasso was advocated for by Walter Massa. In the early 1980s, he started to craft some complex and age-worthy examples using old vines that time had forgotten.

Flavors & Profile:     

Timorasso, both young and old vines, can have extremely fresh acidity, akin to a Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. Plus, their texture and viscosity are like a Chenin Blanc from Saumur. Typical aromas are of exotic white and yellow fruits, wrapped around a core of minerality. The old-school producers that have the oldest vines, like Massa, make versions that can equate to a Grand Cru White Burgundy and can age like a Hunter Valley Semillon, developing honey and dried fruit characteristics. There are even some professional tasters who say Timorasso can develop a petrol-like characteristic that is similar to some of the greatest Grand Cru Rieslings on the planet.  

Food Pairings: 

Fish-based appetizers, seafood risotto, poultry, Pad Thai, and Charcuterie Boards

Timorassos to Seek Out: 

Original Old School: 

Walter Massa Derthona Colli Tortonesi DOC (Portovino Selections)

More Old School: 

Vigneti Repetto ‘Quadrio’ Derthona Colli Tortonesi DOC (Panebianco LLC)

New School: 

Fontanafredda ‘Derthona’ Colli Tortonesi Timorasso DOC (Taub Family Selections)

Grignolino (Green-Yo-Lee-No) 

Photo Courtesy of Wine Enthusiast 

This fun variety is rumored to have originated in the Monferrato hills between the towns of Asti & Casale. The grape is as old as the more famous grape of Piedmont, Nebbiolo, with mentions of it in texts as far back as the 13th century.   

Flavors & Profile:   

Like Nebbiolo, this piedmont grape thrives on south/southeast/southwest exposures, with the best being planted at the hilltops. Although they generally produce wines that are light in color, this can be deceptive because they can pack a punch of tannin due to the extra number of seeds they carry. In fact, Grignolino means ‘many pips’ in the local Asti dialect.   

Aromatic characteristics are often floral tones (lots of people get dried roses), strawberry, sometimes a touch of grapefruit, and some white pepper on the palate. Most wines produced are light to medium-bodied in color, light to medium in body, and despite their tannic extract are perfect with a chill. The acid level is always perceptive here with a playful ‘zing’ that hits you in the cheeks…in a good way!

Food Pairings: 

White meats, duck, fatty fish, and pasta with pesto or very light red sauces

Grignolinos to Seek Out: 

Pio Cesare Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese DOC (Maison Marques and Domaines)

Olim Bauda Grignolino d’Asti DOC (Weygandt/Metzler Selections)

Giacomo Bologna Braida ‘Limonte’ Grignolino d’Asti DOC (Various regional importers: Lyra LLC, Solair Selection, Boston Wine Co., Bommarito Wines & Spirits, Rootstock LLC, Bacco Selections LLC)

Ruché (Roo-kay)

Photo Courtesy of Wine Enthusiast 

This red grape variety has a few tales about its origin. Some say the grape has a possible link with a Benedictine monastery that was dedicated to Saint Rochus.  Another tale story says that the name of the grape refers to the name of the steep hills on which the vines were planted, called “Rocche.” Others say it was brought here by the French via Burgundy. Today, the grape currently grows in seven communes in the province of Italy, but only the Castagnole Monferrato commune has DOCG status which was awarded in 2010.  

 Flavors & Profile: 

The grape is prone to produce juice with high alcohol, so for centuries the wines were produced in sweet versions. It wasn’t until the 20th century that winemakers started to make dry versions, which boosted the alcohol levels to around between 14 and 15 percent abv. Like Nebbiolo and Grignolino, the light color can deceive you of how hearty or rich the wine can be. More than these two grapes, Ruché can be quite the full-bodied wine.   

It is a hearty wine like Nebbiolo, sometimes almost as full-bodied as a Barolo, and it can be spicy like Grignolino. Ruché distinguishes itself from these two varieties by its intense, floral nose of roses, violets, and sometimes geranium.   

Food Pairings: 

Spicy and aromatic dishes that showcase ginger, Moussaka, truffle risotto, and chicken cacciatore.

Ruchés to Seek Out:

Fabrizia Caldera ‘Prevost’ Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG (Vos Vinum Importing LTD)

Zoppi Cristina Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG (Portovino Imports)

Montalbera ‘L’Accento’ Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG (Solair Selections, Beivuma Imports, Lyra Imports)

*Passito is one of the first wine production methods to produce sweet wines. Grapes harvested at optimal acidity are placed onto drying mats in a ‘passito barn’ or separate room within the wine cellar.  After several months, the grapes ‘raisin’ a bit.  Sugars have increased and the grapes are then pressed to make wine, which ends up being sweet due to leftover sugar after a natural fermentation.

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