Osteria Langhe and Animale owner Aldo Zaninotto shares a summer-worthy case from a region known for richer reds.

By Carson Demmond
Updated June 13, 2017
Aldo Zaninotto
Credit: © Stephen Green

Think about the wines produced in Italy’s Piedmont and the first that come to mind are the deep, complex, and ageworthy reds of Barolo and Barbaresco. Delicious though these wines are, they’re not exactly pool-side material. Their earth- and spice inflected flavors are built for another season altogether—one that requires game meats and rich ragús, not summer greens.

But if anyone knows the breadth of Piedmont’s vinous offerings, it’s Aldo Zaninotto of Chicago’s Osteria Langhe and newly opened Animale. A staunch believer in the diversity of the region, he devoted his entire wine program to it. “Piedmont has such an extraordinary culture,” he says. “And by really focusing on the region, the goal is that people will come out having learned something about it.” Wines for warmer times? He has those too.

“The assumption is that these are brawny wines,” says Zaninotto, “but cooking in Italy is such a seasonal thing, and of course there are wines in every region to go with summer foods.” Here, he shares 12 of his favorite Piedmont whites and lighter reds to pour now and through the end of the season.

1. 2015 Angelo Negro ‘Onorata’ Langhe Favorita
“Favorita is a grape that not many people know, and I like to describe it as having a bit of an element of Vermentino in it. It’s really suited to the area of Roero, which is all sand and limestone. There used to be an old coral reef there, and from that soil you get two things: floral character and bright acidity. I like the Oronata because it’s really the essential from Roero. The wine is so explosive. When it hits your palate, it just bursts with flavor and minerality, its fruit tinged with white floral character.”

2. 2015 Paolo Scavino ‘Sorriso’ Langhe Bianco
“This wine is all about freshness. It’s made from grapes that are not indigenous grapes in Piedmont. But if you look at the culture there, it was very influenced by the French, and a lot of times they brought vine cuttings over for experimental reasons. The Sauvignon Blanc in the blend brings brightness, Viognier brings roundness and aroma, and then you get the structure from Chardonnay. It’s great with any tomato dish, but what I love it with is the crispy octopus on our menu. It comes with a creamy dressing, and because of that creaminess, you need a wine that has acidity. The name Sorriso means ‘smile,’ so it’s not about being serious. It’s just easy and enjoyable.”

3. 2014 Elvio Cogno “Anas-Cëtta” Nascetta di Novello
“Cogno was one of the first producers to be able to work with the grape variety, because it was disappearing. He really focused on it, and because of his work it has its own DOC, actually. There are a few other examples of Nascetta being made now, but this is the one to know. At its core, it’s like white Burgundy—like an elegant Puligny-Montrachet. It has the character of being structured like Chardonnay: rounder, with a bit more weight on the palate, not exotic or floral but very expressive.”

4. 2014 Luigi Baudana ‘Dragon’ Langhe Bianco
“This is a very different, even surprising wine coming from a classic estate—Baudana. I’m not typically into wine with residual sugar, but there’s just a hint of it in there, which makes it great for people who like a bit more fruit. It’s a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Nascetta, and the surprising element: Riesling. It’s a great wine to play with in the summer if you have dishes that introduce a little bit of spice. The fruity character is great for spice.”

5. 2015 Tenuta Olim Bauda Gavi di Gavi
“People are going back to Gavi now; they’re loving it. It’s made from the Cortese grape, and the one thing that is essential about Gavi, is whatever style the wine is made in, it speaks to the soil. It’s a very chalky soil, and what does chalk do? Minerality. It’s a no-brainer. It’s a fantastic wine, super complex, and lean, with that salty mineral character really brightens everything on the palate and wakes up your mouth.”

6. 2015 Vietti Roero Arneis
“I could go on forever about Vietti’s Arneis, because it’s the one that made me understand the beauty of the story behind the grape. If you look back a couple centuries, Arneis was added to Barolo wines to help temper the intensity of Nebbiolo and make it easier to drink. After that, it was neglected for a long time, and one of the winemakers who rediscovered it was Luca Currado’s [from Vietti] father. Now, if you associate any one white with Piedmont, it’s Arneis. It’s fun; it’s affordable and approachable. You get floral character and orchard fruits… It’s easy to pair with appetizers or to drink on it’s own. And it’s perfect for the patio.”

7. NV Cantine del Castello di Santa Vittoria ‘Rosa Vittoria’
“It’s the season for rosé right now, but many rosés from Piedmont are too aggressive. The Nebbiolo ones are tannic, and there’s no fruit. But this one is a blend of Barbera and Nebbiolo, so it’s more balanced and expresses that fun side of the wine style—much like the ones from Provence in France. It has the structure of Nebbiolo and the fun, fresh, strawberry-laced fruit of Barbera to soften that intensity. And it speaks to Piedmontese terroir because it does have underlying power to it. It’s my favorite pairing for our halibut in a saffron broth.”

8. 2013 Brezza ‘Santa Rosalia’ Langhe Freisa
“Freisa is an interesting grape. It makes a red that’s very light in color and speaks of freshness and fruit before structure. It’s common in Piedmont to chill it as an aperitif, because it’s not about complexity. It used to be overlooked, overcropped, and even made into frizzante. But this one is round and full of character, while still being lighter and easier to drink than Nebbiolo, and just perfect for summer.”

9. NV Malabaila di Canale ‘Cardunaj Vino Rosso
“This is fun because it’s made from Brachetto, but it’s a still wine. People usually think about Brachetto the way they think about Moscato: sweet, 4 percent alcohol, simple, and fresh. But then there are a few producers—like Malabaila—that have really established themselves for high quality Brachetto. This one is fermented dry and yet perfectly captures the character of the grape, which is very floral and spicy at the same time. So what you get is a great, fresh wine that’s a little reminiscent of Zinfandel and is so drinkable.”

10. 2013 Tenuta Olim Bauda ‘Isolavilla’ Grignolino d’Asti
“Grignolino is very classic in the Asti area. The grape name translates to ‘little grey one’ because its skin is very thin, so the wine is never very aggressively structured or colored. It’s basically one step up from rosé, with great acidity, and never aged in barrique or anything like that. It’s a fun wine for the summer when you have bright components in a dish, like vegetables.”

11. 2014 Bruna Grimaldi ‘San Martino’ Dolcetto d’Alba
“I think there’s a Dolcetto for every season. In the fall, you can drink Dolcetto that has a bit of structure or age. In the winter, you want something with even more depth, and there are Dolcettos like that as well. In the summer, the fresher styles of Dolcetto, like this one from Bruna Grimaldi, is exactly what you want. It’s soft, easy, and bright… a little like a cru Beaujolais like Morgon or Julienas.”

12. 2014 Marchesi di Grésy ‘Martinenga’ Langhe Nebbiolo
“I’d be crazy if I said, ‘Don’t drink Barolo in the summer,” because you should always drink Barolo. But it can be tough to sell in the summer since when the food is lighter, you go for lighter wines. So what’s great is that there are so many other expressions of the Nebbiolo grape, and the young fresh ones from Langhe are great values. This one is so enjoyable to drink. It’s mellow, with some floral components and just classic. It’s terrific for when it’s 90 degrees and you’re outside grilling, but you still want red to go with your steak.”