While he's been criticized for a few recent gaffes, Pope Francis continues to build cred as one of the most inclusive Popes in history. This time, it's among drinkers. Yesterday, Italian Sommelier Association president Franco Maria Ricci named the Holy Father an honorary sommelier based on his open appreciation for wine. “There is no party without wine,” he said last year to an audience of thousands. Seriously, best Pope ever? (Note: The Vatican makes it clear that he tastes in very limited quantities.)
That said, the Pope does have some history with wine expertise. His grandfather Giovanni was a winemaker in the Piedmont region of Italy and gave the Pope a particular taste for Grignolino. We like Grignolino a lot (it's a bright and light-bodied red), but it's not all that easy to find in the U.S. If you'd like to drink like him domestically, we're sure that the first sommelier Pope would enjoy any of these Piedmontese reds.
Barolo and Barbaresco
These prestigious reds wines are made from Nebbiolo, a fragrant, ageable grape that monocled wine collectors frequently proclaim to be Italy's greatest. Because of this--and the fact that grapes for Barolo and Barbaresco can be grown only in a small zone of hilly vineyards--prices are high. We'd be shocked if there weren't some secret cellar in the Vatican stocked with well-aged bottles from legendary producers like Angelo Gaja, Giuseppe Mascarello and Giacomo Conterno. You probably can't afford any of the really great stuff, but definitely try some Langhe Nebbiolo—it's the same grape grown in nearby, slightly-less-desirable locations.
If Nebbiolo is the Piedmontese grape for fusty billionaires, Barbera is the one for level-headed, medium-income Italian wine lovers who enjoy delicious, cherry-scented reds with their bologneses. Some of Piedmont's biggest names (including many who are famous for Barolo and Barbaresco) offer super-tasty Barberas at reasonable prices. Look for bottlings from Vietti, Borgogno and Poderi Aldo Conterno.
Let's get this out of the way, because it is a requirement in any description of this grape: Its name translates to "little sweet one." How charming! Though Dolcetto wines aren't actually sweet, when they're good they can be as endearing as that factoid suggests. Excellent makers: Clavesana, Poderi Luigi Einaudi, Pio Cesare.