BY ANTONIO GALLONI | DECEMBER 06, 2022
Piedmont is full of excitement these days, more than I have
ever seen in 25 years of visiting the region. The rapid escalation of prices
and dwindling availability of the region’s top wines can be discouraging, but
it needn’t be, as Piedmont has so much to offer beyond the most highly coveted
Barolos and Barbarescos. This report covers a wide range of wines that deliver
plenty of Piedmont soul at prices that are accessible.
As the world grapples with an uncertain economic outlook for
the near and medium-term, a few trends are starting to emerge. In the United
States, retail is softening, while restaurants are booming. The very top end of
the market for fine wine shows no signs of slowing down, but below that there
are signs of weakness, albeit coming off very high highs. How this all plays
out is uncertain, but it does appear that some consumers are being increasingly
prudent with regard to spending. Piedmont has plenty to offer readers looking
for great values. No critic or publication can taste every Dolcetto, Barbera or
Langhe Nebbiolo, in fact, few of these wines are even widely reviewed at all.
This article covers the best of the best, wines that deliver superb quality for
This range of entry-level wines from G.B. Burlotto was
among the most impressive I tasted for this report.
Look to Vintage 2021
Many of the best wines in this report are from 2021, a
vintage that is shaping up to be exceptional in Piedmont. Harvest (for red grapes)
usually starts with Dolcetto in early September and wraps up around mid-October
for Nebbiolo. Because of that long time frame, which can be six weeks or more,
it is unusual for a vintage to be equally strong for all grape varieties. Two
thousand twenty-one appears to be that rare year in which conditions were close
to ideal for all the main red grapes. The 2021s have gorgeous aromatics,
beautiful, vibrant fruit and often exceptional balance. Consumers would do well
to stock up on the best bottles.
A selection of great values from Piedmont.
Where to Find Value
This article encompasses wines from essential four areas.
(Alto Piemonte will be covered in a separate article.)
This is Barolo and Barbaresco country. When I was first
starting out in wine, as a student with no money, I was taught to “buy the
least expensive wine from the best estates.” That is still good advice today.
The Dolcettos, Barberas and Langhe Nebbiolos of the top Barolo and Barbaresco
producers are often compelling. In fact, it is the quality of these wines by
which I assess which estates are truly elite. To be sure, prices for wines from
the best estates are on the higher side, but that is really no different from
the top Bourgognes or entry-level wines from top growers in Burgundy, for
Roero lies just across the Tanaro River from Barbaresco. It
is a small region that in a perfect world might have enough producers to merit
a separate report. Perhaps that day will come. Arneis, the local white, is
fruity and floral, ideal for short-term drinking. I don’t blame producers for
making more ‘important’ versions of Arneis, but my impression remains that
there is a certain ceiling of what is possible. Barbera can be very good here,
but the region really excels with Nebbiolo, the grape used for Roero, the
region’s top wine. In the past, Roero (the region) was penalized by a few
factors. The first was that many of the most important wines were made by
producers outside the region, such as Bruno Giacosa and Luciano Sandrone with
their Nebbiolos from Valmaggiore. A second issue was a desire to make rich,
potent wines that could compete with those of Barolo and Barbaresco, often also
with heavy extractions and strong French oak inflections. Thankfully, things
have started to change. This year, I tasted a number of Roeros that were truly
exceptional and also very promising for the future, wines with less oak, more
transparency and tons of character.
When I was in my mid-twenties, my parents took our family to
lunch at the Locanda del Sant’Uffizio, a gorgeous hotel in the heart of
Monferrato that had a very famous restaurant. It was definitely a splurge.
There I had my first Barbera with age. Sadly, I don’t remember the producer,
but that wine completely changed my appreciation of Barberas from Asti. The
combination of Barbera fruit with the complexity the wine had developed in
bottle was mesmerizing. Unlike other regions, where Barbera is planted in second
or third-tier sites, in Asti it is planted in the best vineyards. Sadly,
Barbera is under serious threat from mal dell'esca (grapevine trunk
disease), a fungal disease that kills vines, so its long-term viability is in
doubt. Even so, there is nothing like a fine, aged Barbera from Asti. Don’t get
me wrong, Barberas from Alba can be terrific too, but there is a range of
savory, spice and mineral notes that are uniquely found in Barberas from Asti.
Dolcetto is the main variety in Dogliani, where the wines
tend to naturally be quite dark, rich and potent. The best examples are gorgeous
and also less overdone than in the past.
Vietti’s entry-level offerings are especially fine this
In Appreciation of Freisa
Readers will find plenty of detail about Dolcetto, Barbera
and Nebbiolo in my previous articles. Lately, though, I am increasingly excited
about Freisa, which researchers believe to be one of the ancient parents of
Nebbiolo. There have long been gorgeous Freisas in Piedmont, but my impression
is that producers are paying more attention to the grape and that as a result
there are more compelling examples than in the past. In terms of the wines, Freisa
is usually richer in fruit and has rougher tannins than Nebbiolo. I find an
assertive character to Freisa that is quite appealing.
Readers who want to learn more about these wines and
appellations will find plenty to read in my previous articles. I tasted all the
wines in this report between September and November 2022.
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