Fall is here, and that makes us crave rich, hearty comfort foods and the earthy, rustic wines that complement them so well. While we believe in drinking whatever you like all year round, there is something that just feels so right about the pairing of robust stews, risottos, and roasted meats with wines brimming with aromatics that could easily be described as 'autumnal'--from fallen leaves to fragrant herbs to holiday baking spice.
The regions of Burgundy, France and Piemonte, Italy are two producers of such wines--and they have more in common than meets the eye, as do their primary red wine grapes, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.
To start with, an overview of the grapes themselves:
On the vine, Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo almost look like they could be related, although there is no genetic connection between the two varieties. Both grow in tight bunches in a lovely shade of bluish-purple, are late to bud during harvest, very susceptible to disease, and extremely finicky about where they like to be grown. They even prefer the same type of soil--those that are calcareous, meaning that they are partly or mostly composed of calcium carbonate. These chalky soils, high in lime content, allow these difficult-to-grow grapes to reach their fullest potential. To grow Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo on the most suitable vineyard sites is like commissioning the work of a talented yet temperamental artist--at times it can be frustrating or infuriating, but the end result is a masterpiece well worth the hassle.
In ideal conditions, it is a widely held belief by wine lovers throughout the world that Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo produce the finest wines in their respective countries of France and Italy. Many would even say they are among the best in the world. In a good vintage, these grapes give highly expressive, hauntingly beautiful wines with excellent aging potential. In fact, while many of the best wines made from both Pinot Noir in Burgundy and Nebbiolo in Piemonte are ready to drink (and difficult to resist!) in their youth, given time to soften and mature they can often continue to improve up to a decade or even two. The patient oenophile will be rewarded handsomely with complex aromas and flavors: red cherry, raspberry, forest floor, truffle, game, and violets can be found in both, along with Nebbiolo's signature notes of tar and rose. Though the flavors can be quite similar, each wine provides a very different sensory experience. Pinot Noir tends to be soft and velvety, while Nebbiolo's surprising tannin and structure are masked by a light, pale appearance.
Thanks to these venerable regions, we are able to enjoy an enriched autumn sensory experience. Let a Premier Cru Burgundy delight you with a whiff of damp fall leaves, or get inspiration for a hearty meal from the intoxicating truffle aroma of a great Barbaresco. This month's six pack will allow you to do just that, and you can see for yourself just how similar yet unique these two spectacular wine regions really are. The wines include:
2011 Lucien Muzard & Fils Bourgogne
Medium-bodied and eminently drinkable, this is Bourgogne AOC doing what it does best. Tart, juicy, and mineral with aromas of red cherry, violet, , and fresh earth, this wine is velvety on the palate with bright flavors of cranberry and rhubarb.
2010 Domaine Camus-Bruchon & Fils Premier Cru Savigny-Narbantons
With a Premier Cru Burgundy, things get a little more complex. Baking spice dominates the nose, particularly cardamom and anise, with an element of wet stone and forest floor. While red fruits like rhubarb and currant make an appearance here as well, the fruit is darker and more brooding than the Bourgogne. The beautiful, complex finish is seemingly endless. 2010 was a classic vintage in Burgundy, showcasing both the Pinot Noir grape and the regional terroir at their best. Camus-Bruchon's Narbantons comes from the Beaune side of Savigny and has a little more weight than his other Savigny wines, which makes this bottling so appealing right now. Camus Bruchon is a long-time favorite at PMW--one of the producers whose wines we carry year after year.
2011 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo
It's hard to find a better deal on Piemontese Nebbiolo than this one. Classic tar aromas and flavors are balanced by high-toned, lively notes of bright red cherries and raspberries and pleasant acidity. The tannins are much softer and more approachable here than in many otherwise comparable wines. This wine could technically be classified as Barbaresco, but since the grapes come from the youngest vines, the winery chooses to label it as Langhe Nebbiolo in order to preserve the excellent reputation of their top-tier wines. 2011 is a year in which the Nebbiolo fruit really sings, and this example from one of the region's top producers truly exemplifies the finesse for which Barbaresco is known.
2007 Sottimano Barbaresco 'Pajoré'
Through consistent high quality, the Pajoré vineyard has rightfully earned its status as one of the most famous vineyards in the Langhe. This excellent example from Sottimano shows great complexity with elegant notes of violet, rose, tar, blueberry compote, clay, five-spice, anise, tobacco, and cedar. While it's drinking great now, this highly concentrated wine should continue to improve for years to come--if you can wait that long.
The whites of these regions are excellent as well:
2011 Domaine Romain Collet Chablis 'Les Pargues'
This is a great example of Chablis from a vintage that was more about elegance and purity than power and concentration. Light, refreshing, and mineral, this one is perfect for warm Bay Area autumn days with a hint of crispness in the air.
2012 Giovanni Almondo Roero Arneis 'Vigne Sparse'
Made from 100% Arneis, this medium-bodied, aromatic wine is brimming with white flowers, lemon, and fresh green pears, and a chalky minerality reminiscent of Chablis. The Arneis grape is often planted near Nebbiolo vines, in order to distract birds with its pleasing perfume so that they refrain from snacking on the higher-market-valued Nebbiolo grapes. With one whiff of this wine, it's easy to understand that logic.
and suggested pairing recipes.
Discounted six-pack price: $160
Actual retail value: $208