Seven excellent alternative bottles from Barololand
Until recently, if anyone thought of wine from Piedmont—the hilly region in the northwestern corner of Italy—the only bottles to come to mind were the tannic, structured reds of Barolo and Barbaresco. Classic, noble, nuanced and ageworthy, those wines will continue to be revered by oenophiles and collectors with enough disposable income to afford them and enough time to cellar them to perfection. But sommeliers and other drinkers in the know now look to the region's alternative pours.
These wines are grown and vinified by dynamic (and frequently young) winemakers who draw inspiration from the avant-garde and natural-leaning techniques responsible for the wines they love from elsewhere around the world. In other cases, they adhere to a minimal intervention approach because that's simply the way it's always been done in their remote, sleepy village or town. Some put a new spin on the Nebbiolo variety, highlighting its capacity for vibrant, forward fruit over brooding earthiness (think cru Beaujolais but with a flavor vocabulary that's unmistakably Piemontese). Others rally around forgotten ancient local grapes or terroirs off the beaten path—places where vineyard land is more wild and rugged than manicured. One unifying quality of these wines is their extraordinary value. Another is the immediate pleasure they provide, landing them spots at the table beside juicy Loire whites and Pét-Nats.
Here, seven great bottles to seek out at a wine bar or wine shop near you:
2015 Matteo Correggia Roero Arneis ($17)
The Correggia property was a polycultural farm with wine made only for family consumption until the early '90s. All 49 acres now planted to vines are certified organic on the sandy soil typical of vineyards in Roero. This bottling is a bright, green apple-inflected expression of the Arneis grape produced by a unique method: 30 percent of the fruit is picked early to retain acidity, 40 percent is picked at full maturity, and the other 30 percent sees 10 days of maceration on the skins to extract more texture and aroma than a direct-pressed wine.
2012 Cascina degli Ulivi Gavi ($22)
If upon hearing the name 'Gavi' you experience a flashback to the 1980s complete with big hair and insipid, commercial white wine, this is a bottle that will set the record straight. Stefano Bellotti is a farmer's farmer. He manages his estate biodynamically, and in addition to vines, he also keeps cows and grows fruit trees, vegetables and grains. In keeping with that sustainable spirit, the wine is hand-harvested, fermented with indigenous yeasts and loaded with luscious fresh fruit flavor reminiscent of peach and orange zest.
2014 Valfaccenda Roero ($31)
A newcomer on the Piedmont winemaking scene, Luca Faccenda has been turning out pure, silky expressions of Arneis and Nebbiolo since 2010. His winery, which can best be described as a shed behind his home, functions as a lab for numerous experiments in production, but this Roero (100% Nebbiolo) is as unencumbered by technique as they come. Wild fermented in old barrels, it's brimming with bright, strawberry-like fruit and floral aromas.
2015 Alberto Oggero 'Sandro d'Pindeta' Vino Rosso ($30)
A close friend of Luca Faccenda, Alberto Oggero also set out on his own in 2010, focusing on the local Arneis and Nebbiolo varieties. Although the grapes for this wine come from the Roero DOCG zone, Oggero declassifies to Vino Rosso since it is aged entirely in stainless steel rather than wood. The result is a crunchy, mineral profile that tastes at once savory and cherry-inflected.
2015 Chiesa Carlo Langhe Nebbiolo ($20)
Bearded brothers Davide and Daniele Chiesa represent the fourth generation of winemakers for their family's small (22-acre) farm tucked into the steep Santo Stefano hills. They've been practicing organic "since forever", and every step in their process is manual. This young style of Nebbiolo is rosy in both color and perfume and is densely packed with red fruit and perky tannins.
2014 Colombera & Garella Coste della Sesia ($22)
Coste della Sesia, a DOC located within the Alto Piemonte zone, has sparked a new love affair for those looking for Piedmont reds that are approachable in their youth. Here, Nebbiolo grapes get blended with Croatina and Vespolina, adding spice and aromatic components. The wine is indigenous yeast-fermented and aged in used barriques with no fining, filtration or additives of any kind. In a word: pizza-ready.
2013 Cascina 'Tavijn Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato ($23)
Nadia Verrua of Cascina 'Tavijn in the Asti province works solely with underappreciated (though gaining in cult cred) grapes like Barbera, Grignolino and Ruchè. She's also particularly active in the natural wine fair scene since her wines adhere to a stringent 'nothing added, nothing taken away' philosophy. This bottling is effusively aromatic and laced with plum-like fruit, making it a great match for salumi and hard cheeses.