When I began my journey through the world of wine, walking the aisles of a wine shop could be quite daunting. Sure, I was familiar with the basic “grocery store” wine varietals–pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, etc.–but expanding my horizons proved to be a challenge. I didn’t really learn to appreciate wine, and understand its true quality, until I started exploring Old World wines and their seemingly endless range of “unfamiliar” grapes.
I was inspired to branch out from the basic varieties while I was reading The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. The book is aptly named and highly recommended, as it provides a useful introduction to this sprawling subject. The chapter that first persuaded me to search for a “new” wine was about the French region of Beaujolais. I was intrigued primarily because I thought the name sounded funny, but I was also lured by MacNeil’s description of the gamay-based wines and the people of Beaujolais. Thus, my journey began…
Another step in my journey occurred when I transitioned from California cabernet sauvignon to Bordeaux. The well-known, internationally grown cabernet sauvignon is a powerful and full-bodied wine with rich, complex characteristics, but it offers a rather different expression when used in the wines from Bordeaux.
If you’re looking to break out of your own comfort zone, the following list of stepping stones might help you figure out your next move.
If You Like Pinot Noir, Try:
Gamay Grown predominantly in the aforementioned Beaujolais region, just south of Burgundy, gamay is a light-bodied red with floral aromatics and a palate of bright cherries and raspberries. Depending on its age, the wine can also show more woodsy tones such as forest floor, mushrooms, and dried fruits. While certain crus (such as Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent) can often display more serious power and noticeable earthy notes, my favorite style of Beaujolais tends to hail from regions (such as Fleurie) noted for their lighter, fresher style.
Schiava Typically grown in the northeastern part of Italy known as the Alto Adige, schiava is another fantastic variety that pinot noir fans should try. Light ruby in color, schiava offers a bouquet of candied cherries and strawberries along with distinct smoky and savory notes. The wine is great served with a slight chill on a hot day.
Cabernet Franc Cabernet franc is for those who want a little more “oomph” in their wine without getting into a fuller-bodied style. Initially, I was confused by cabernet franc and tended to avoid it; to me, it seemed like a lighter wine that longed to be big and bold, like a child in a Superman costume. It can have earthy, spicy tones that are typical in full-bodied wines, yet also contains the red-fruited flavors and bright aromatics common in lighter wines. Cabernet franc can be found all over the world; however, it truly shines in the Loire Valley, particularly in the sub regions of Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur-Champigny. Cabernet franc is distinguished by the presence of a chemical compound called pyrazine, which gives the grape a vegetal, green-bell-pepper-like quality. (Fun fact: Cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc are the parent grapes of cabernet sauvignon.)
If You Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Try This:
Nebbiolo It was a bottle from the legendary Cannubi vineyard in Barolo that taught me what the term “ethereal” means. I had heard the descriptor thrown around before, but had never experienced a wine that fit the profile–until I had my first great bottle of nebbiolo. The grape thrives in Piemonte’s Langhe region (home to Barolo and Barbaresco) and produces a structured wine with red-fruit characteristics and prominent tannins. When young, they are plush with fruit and stronger tannins, but when aged, they often have pronounced notes of leather and coffee, with earthy aromatics, soft, enveloping tannins, and a long finish. At its best, nebbiolo offers a balance of power, elegance, and “heavenly grace” that few grapes can match.
Tempranillo Rioja and ribeye–what else needs to be said? Tempranillo provides the foundation for Rioja wines, a region in the northern part of Spain. With the influence of American oak barrels during the aging process, Rioja wines tend to have smooth tannins and expressive notes of coffee, leather, cocoa, plum, vanilla, and tobacco. When young, Rioja can be sturdy with tannins; as they age, they become more refined, with supple tannins and an increasing amount of spice and herbaceousness.
Aglianico If cabernet sauvignon is Superman, aglianico is the Hulk–massive, brawny wines with robust tannins and a smoky, meaty profile. Aglianico can be unforgiving and aggressive when in its youth, but with time, it evolves into a complex, dynamic wine loaded with dark fruit. It has an earthy, rustic, almost dusty feel to it with notes of pepper, smoked meat, coffee, and dried fruits.
Taurasi is a great region for aglianico, and where I discovered the grape’s enormous potential. Generally speaking, I would look for bottles with more than eight years of age on them, although some winemakers do produce lighter, more approachable styles of aglianico slated for near-term enjoyment.
At Paul Marcus Wines, we always have a selection of each of these varieties, so feel free to check out our online shop or give us a call to learn more. We’re always happy to help you find that right bottle–and to assist you in your own journey through the world of wine.
https://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpg00Hayden Dawkinshttps://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpgHayden Dawkins2021-06-01 12:09:352021-06-01 16:17:22The Answer: If You Like This, Try...
Nestled in the Alps along the Swiss border, Lombardia’s Valtellina valley has a winemaking history that dates back more than 2,000 years. Chiavennasca (the local term for nebbiolo) is the star of Valtellina’s show, where steep, terraced vineyards and a distinct subalpine climate (loads of sunshine tempered by cool currents) produce some of Italy’s most unforgettable wines.
The terraced vineyards of ArPePe
The Pelizzatti family has been making chiavennasca in this locale for more than 150 years. However, that legacy was in serious jeopardy when, in 1973, Guido Pelizzatti fell ill with cancer. As a result, his four children decided (some reluctantly, some not) to sell the family brand, with disheartening results.
“The brand was destroyed by overproduction,” Guido’s granddaughter Isabella told Wine Spectator a few years ago. “It became a crap wine.”
It was Guido’s son Arturo Pelizzatti Perego who decided to take action and restore the family name. In 1984, he founded a new winery that he named for himself–ArPePe–and eventually bought back the old family cellars. (A sort of “revenge” against his siblings, Isabella called it.) Not only did he help revive the family legacy, he also was instrumental in Valtellina’s renaissance that continues to this day.
When Arturo himself succumbed to cancer in 2004, his daughter, Isabella, and her two brothers took the reins, and today, ArPePe remains the benchmark producer for these singular Alpine nebbiolos. Traditionalists to the end, ArPePe makes wines that prize grace, elegance, finesse, and complexity over oak-driven power. Their wines, crafted with meticulous restraint, bob and weave and dance and jab–no need for a knockout punch when you have that kind of style and sophistication.
The bulk of ArPePe’s grapes come from family-owned vineyards in Valtellina’s prestigious Grumello and Sassella zones. Grumello, where the winery is built directly into the slopes, features a bit more clay in the soil, accentuating the richer, fruitier notes of nebbiolo; south-facing Sassella has shallower and more craggy terrain, highlighting the grape’s minerality.
We are quite fortunate to be carrying five different ArPePe bottlings at Paul Marcus Wines, all boasting 100 percent chiavennasca (nebbiolo) grapes. The 2016 Rosso di Valtellina utilizes grapes from both Grumello and Sassella, and it packs a lot of depth and character into its light and lively frame. It’s rather impressive for an “entry-level” wine.
Moving up the ladder we have two Valtellina Superiore offerings: the 2015 Grumello Rocca de Piro and the 2015 Sassella Stella Retica. These cuvees get their grapes from 50-100-year-old vines and undergo long maceration periods before spending 18 months in large barrels and at least two years in bottle prior to release.
Finally, we have two Valtellina Superiore Riservas: the 2009 Grumello Buon Consiglio and the 2009 Sassella Rocce Rosse. These Riservas spend close to five years in large casks before mellowing in bottle for another three years. Herbaceous, earthy, flinty, and floral, these vibrant, red-fruited gems deliver the entire package and show beyond a doubt how dynamic and multilayered Alpine nebbiolo can be.
Nearly two decades after Arturo’s passing, his motto still lives on: “il giusto tempo del nebbiolo,” which means “the right time for nebbiolo” and is indicative of his family’s passion for (and patience with) their beloved chiavennasca. For more information about the extraordinary, hard-to-find wines of ArPePe, please visit us at the shop.
On a clear afternoon in southern Piemonte, the narrow walkway around the tower of Barbaresco gives a breathtaking view of Italy’s greatest winegrowing territory. Directly around and below you are the Barbaresco zone vineyards. You look southwest out over the towers of Alba to the Barolo zone – the village of La Morra perched high, and the castle of Barolo a little beyond. You’re standing in and looking at the Langhe, a region that includes the hilly zones of Barbaresco, Barolo, and the Alta Langa farther south.
Train your gaze northwest, across the Tanaro River, and you’ll see a set of hills with a different name – the Roero. (Head there at dusk and you can look back at the Barbaresco tower in a majestic, brooding vista that Fred Seidman captured in one of the photographs hanging in our wine shop.)
The Roero hills, like those in the Langhe, are blanketed with vineyards – as well as orchards, fields, and truffle-yielding woods. While less well known than the Langhe, despite its proximity and equally long winegrowing tradition. Geography and reputation conspire to draw most visitors south and leave the Roero hills looming behind. “Geography” is the Tanaro River valley and the Asti-Alba road that runs through it. Together, the valley and road make a beeline for Alba. “Reputation” is the pull of the storied vineyards and cantinas of Barolo – pilgrimage destination for wine-lovers and beneficiary of the majority of the area’s tourism.
And yet, the Roero yields what is arguably Piemonte’s greatest white wine (Roero Arneis), Barbera of quality equal to the Langhe’s, and excellent Nebbiolo – often at prices that are a notch below Langhe wines of comparable quality. It’s also a great place to stay, eat, taste wines, walk, and bicycle. (More on those activities later in this newsletter!)
An indigenous white grape variety called Arneis is the Roero’s wine calling card. A little of it grows elsewhere, but it’s ubiquitous in the Roero, and even people in the Langhe agree that the sandy soils there make the best terroir for Arneis. Until the end of the 1970s, Roero winemakers used Arneis primarily for blending with Nebbiolo – a pinch of Arneis softens Nebbiolo’s notoriously hard tannins and thus yields a slightly softer, younger-drinking wine. Then a few dedicated producers such as Bruno Giacosa and Cerretto showed what Arneis vinified by itself as a white wine could do, and the Arneis craze was on.
DOC / DOCG
Roero Arneis became a DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata – a wine of controlled origin and grape variety) in 1989. Just this year, it was elevated to DOCG status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – a designation usually reserved for the best regional wine types).
Roero Arneis is one of those remarkable Italian white wines that combine ample body with a crisp, refreshing quality. It smells of fruits and flowers, but then don’t most white wines? There’s a deeper core in there, like the richness of honey but without its sweetness. And then there’s a smoky note (from the grape and the terroir, not from oak), plus a minerally vein that runs through all the best white wines. Like so many excellent but less common wine types, Roero Arneis is hard to describe but easy to like.
Roero Arneis We Carry
To find out for yourself, take home a bottle of Marco Porello Roero Arneis ‘Camestrì’ 2003 ($11.99) or Matteo Correggia Roero Arneis 2003 ($16.50), or try a glass of Cascina Ca’ Rossa Roero Arneis ‘Merica’ 2003 at the Eccolo dinner on Monday night. All of these wines – and especially Corrregia’s – show the richness and weight of the 2003 vintage, with plenty of aromatic appeal. The 2004 bottlings of these and other Roero Arneis will be arriving soon, and they promise amazing aromatic freshness and lighter palate profiles.
Roero Arneis is a satisfying aperitivo and goes great with most antipasti, including the fishier, anchovy-laden dishes that are so favored by the Piemontese. Really, it’s hard to imagine any lighter fare, including summer pastas and salads, that Roero Arneis wouldn’t go well with.
Regular readers of this newsletter may remember my encomium to Barbera in the March 2003 newsletter – it remains a favorite everyday red wine for most of the PMW staff and quite a few of our customers. What I’ve noticed since then, however, is how many of our best-selling Barberas come from the Roero. That’s partly because they tend to have high quality-to-price ratios, and partly because they just taste so damned good!
Much of the Roero is steep hills composed of sandy soils. Steep hills are good for ripening, and sandy soils often give wines an extra dimension of aromatic beauty. The Langhe may make heftier Barbera, but here they excel at producing lovely Barberas. Or, you can ignore these subtle distinctions and just enjoy drinking them.
Barbera grown in the Roero falls in the Barbera d’Alba DOC (“Barbera from around the town of Alba”), as does most of the Barbera from Barolo and Barbaresco. So you often can’t tell from the label whether a particular Barbera d’Alba is from the Roero or the Langhe, unless you happen to know where the producer or his village is located.
Roero Barbera We Carry
Our best-selling Barbera without a doubt is Filippo Gallino’s Barbera d’Alba 2003 ($11.99). If there is a better pizza-pasta-lasagna wine in the world, I’ve yet to find it. It has that dark-cherry-and-berry Barbera sappiness, with a hint of pepper and menthol to keep things interesting and snappy acidity in the finish to keep the wine refreshing. As our sign in the store says, this is bodacious Barbera.
We’ve got two other Roero Barberas in the store at the moment: Cascina Ca’ Rossa Barbera d’Alba 2003 ($15) and Cascina Val del Prete Barbera d’Alba ‘Serra de’ Gatti’ 2003 ($16). These are slightly more concentrated, complex, and longer on the palate than the Gallino. Both are irresistible.
It’s also worth noting that 2003 has turned out to be the Barbera Vintage. All of Europe sweltered during the summer of ’03, and many wines from the vintage don’t quite have the snappy freshness that we love. But Barbera’s naturally high acidity kept the wines fresh and vivid, and the extra heat only deepened their irresistible fruit.
Although the Roero is a great source of fresh, everyday, under-$20 Barbera, some producers are showing that they can make serious, barrique-aged Barbera to rival those from the Langhe. (See the March 2003 newsletter article referenced above for more information about this style of Barbera.) On Monday night at Eccolo, we’ll be drinking the Cascina Ca’ Rossa Barbera d’Alba ‘Mulassa’ 2001, a single-vineyard Barbera that Angelo Ferrio aged for 18 months in barrique. One of the benchmark “serious” Roero Barberas is Cascina Val del Prete’s Barbera d’Alba ‘Carolina’. (At a certain tony restaurant in Los Angeles, the staff know Mario Roagna, the proprietor of Cascina Val del Prete, as “Mr. Carolina”.) The 2001 is long gone, and Mario didn’t make any in 2002, but keep an eye out for the 2003 vintage – it will be wickedly good.
What should you drink Roero Barbera with? What shouldn’t you drink Roero Barbera with? All things tomato-y. Antipasti. Anchovies and especially bagna caoda (the anchovy-based dipping sauce that serves as the ketchup of Piemonte). Chicken. Sausages. It even works with moderately spicy food and some Asian dishes.
Nebbiolo is the great wine grape variety of Piemonte, as our September 2004 newsletter describes. Although Barolo and Barbaresco are the most famous incarnations of Nebbiolo, Roero Nebbiolo has been held in high esteem since at least the 17th century. More importantly, there’s some genuinely excellent Nebbiolo being made in the Roero right now!
DOC / DOCG
As in the Langhe, the Roero bottles two kinds of Nebbiolo. The first is a fresh, younger-drinking wine usually called simply Nebbiolo d’Alba or Langhe Nebbiolo. (As with Barbera d’Alba, the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC doesn’t tell you where in the region around Alba the Nebbiolo grapes come from – it could be either or). The more serious, structured wine is called simply Roero. Like Roero Arneis, the Roero DOC is being elevated to a DOCG this year. So “Roero Arneis” DOCG is white wine made from Arneis, and “Roero” DOCG is red wine made from Nebbiolo. Got it?
The region has already made a reputation for itself with Arneis. Whether it will take its place alongside Barolo and Barbaresco as the third great Piemontese appellation depends entirely on what the producers do with Nebbiolo – and on whether the elevation to DOCG status causes critics to pay more attention to what producers are doing.
For now, we can ignore all of that and simply thank Bacchus (and Angelo Ferrio) for the Cascina Ca’ Rossa Langhe Nebbiolo 2003 ($16). This is what young Nebbiolo should taste like – fresh but sophisticated, supple but with enough tannin to do meat justice. As is true with Barbera, the sandy soils of the Roero lend a particularly pretty aromatic profile to Roero Nebbiolos like this one.
Marco Porello’s Roero ‘Torretta’ 2001 was one of our favorite Nebbiolos in the store about a year ago. The 2003 vintage of this wine should arrive before too long, and judging from how it tasted in Piemonte in March, it will be another winner.
Roero Nebbiolo We Carry
Angelo’s Cascina Ca’ Rossa Roero ‘Audinaggio’ 2001 ($38) is excellent Nebbiolo from an excellent producer in an excellent vintage. This wine impressed me mightily at a lunch in March, and you’ll have the opportunity to drink it, as well as the 1999 vintage, at Eccolo on Monday 20 June.
Three other “serious” Roero Nebbiolos are worthy of mention, even though we don’t have all of them in the store at the moment. Filippo Gallino’s Roero Superiore 2001 was still in tank when I tasted it in March, but it had all the makings of a superb wine. Mario Roagna makes two impressive single-vineyard Nebbiolo wines: Cascina Val del Prete Nebbiolo d’Alba ‘Vigna di Lino’ ($38 for the 2001 vintage) and Cascina Val del Prete Roero. Both are widely acknowledged as being among the top Roero wines – we’ll be getting these in as new vintages when it becomes available.
Meat and game are the classic matches with Nebbiolo. Lamb and Nebbiolo play well together, and I particularly like gamy birds such as pigeon with Roero. See our September 2004 newsletter for more suggestions.
After all this talk of “serious” wines, it seems suitable to end with a purely fun wine. Birbét is the Roero’s version of Brachetto d’Acqui – a light, low-alcohol, slightly sweet, frizzante red wine for after dinner. (It’s a red analogue of Moscato d’Asti, made from the Brachetto grape rather than from Moscato.) “Birbét” is a Piemontese word meaning lively, fun, and a little bit mischievous – you’ve been warned! It smells of strawberries, rose petals, and cinnamon. Midwestern grandmas and sommeliers love it. It goes down easy and doesn’t intoxicate (much), but still makes everything and everyone look prettier.
The one that we have in the store and that Eccolo pours is Cascina Ca’ Rossa Birbét 2003 ($19). Drink some and watch your life improve.
https://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/roero-map-langhe.jpg320268Paul Marcus Wineshttps://www.paulmarcuswines.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Logo_Paul_Marcus_Wines2018.jpgPaul Marcus Wines2013-08-25 02:48:302019-02-21 03:24:27Discovering the Roero: Arneis, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Birbét