Inevitably, when the weather turns colder and I can finally pull out my stacks of wool sweaters, all I want to drink is Barolo. It’s complex, deeply fragrant, comforting. The only thing keeping me from drinking cases of it all winter is that the best ones can be very, very expensive—not to mention they often need decades in the bottle (they’ll age forever) for their dark, intense tannins to soften.
Earlier this year, I mentioned my dilemma to Dana Frank, wine director at Ava Gene’s in Portland, Oregon. She told me about her burgeoning love of the wines from the northern part of Piedmont; like Barolo, most of them are made with the Nebbiolo grape. In fact, she’s just given these wines an entire page on her list. The area—called Alto Piemonte and made up of teeny regions like Boca, Bramaterra and Gattinara—produces Nebbiolo that is “elegant, alive and finessed,” Frank told me. “And it’s much more affordable and approachable than Barolo when it’s younger.” I was all ears.
“The soils are different in Alto Piemonte because you’re getting closer to the Alps,” Frank said. “It’s at a higher altitude, and it’s a little bit cooler, so Nebbiolo there produces a totally different kind of wine.Whereas Barolo is kind of open rolling hills, Alto Piemonte feels hidden, with vineyards tucked into the forests.”