Sunday, March 17, 2019

Grignolino and its Indomitable Illuminance on Individuality

“Do you want to know how good a winemaker in the Langhe or Monferrato is? Try their Grignolino. If it’s a good one, chances are their other wines will be as well.” Thus spoke The Maestro, at a recent gathering of chefs and writers at the food and wine workshop, Gastronomix, where we gathered in the Monferrato and Canavese areas of Piedmont.

My first exposure to Grignolino was thousands of miles from northern Italy. In fact, it was in the Santa Clara valley of northern California where I went to college and tasted my first one, from a local winery there that had been established by Italian immigrants.

Years later, while working in the trade, I encounter upon and sold, Heitz wines. And their Grignolino (and Grignolino rosé), while different from their Italian counterparts, made me a fan. (There is some speculation concerning Heitz's Grignolino and if it is really Brachetto).

Gerald Asher wrote of Grignolino, that it can be “drunk young with pleasure and old with delight.”

Veronelli felt the Grignolino from Alessandria was not suitable for ageing, whereas the one from the Asti area was a “superior wine if properly aged.” He characterized Grignolino as “anarchistic and individualistic.”

Patricia Guy wrote “Grignolino is not an easy variety to work with, and the resulting wine usually has a tannin level that is at odds with its light color and body. The old-fashioned wine it yields was much appreciated back in the days when Piedmont was under the House of Savoy. Its acidity and structure were an ideal foil for the rich, buttery French-influenced foods of that period.”

In today’s climate, young palates are seeking out higher acidity and lighter color, having been weaned on the tannic monsters of Napa Valley. Grignolino is in a crossroads of time and mood, where a wine like it can be an attractive proposition. Like Aligoté is to the white grapes of Burgundy, Grignolino, for me, is a red wine that expresses a measure of Piemontese-ness that is different than Barolo or Barbaresco. And it can be drunk young and is within the reach of most people’s budgets. It is enormously flexible with regards to all the varied comestibles that grace our dining tables. It goes well with the classic Italian dishes from the era, as well as dovetailing easily into other food cultures: Mesoamerican, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, regional American. Grignolino with a hot steaming plate of Nashville hot chicken is alluring and practical. The cool, fruity light red with a backwash of acid and light tannins is more than enough to cleanse the palate for another wave of hot, greasy, delicious spicy chicken.

Grignolino definitely has a place on my table. It’s just a matter of finding the well-made ones and drinking them in the right time.

My go-to Grignolino, here in flyover country, is from Cantine dei Marchesi di Incisa della Rocchetta. It’s available, for one. And it’s usually under $20. And it’s fresh, not cooked in some large warehouse where it is lost between the massive stacks of Yellow Tail and Jack Daniels. The wine is correct, with healthy (but not overpowering) tannic structure, and great color and fruit to go with it.

Gaudio Bricco Mondalino Grignolino del Monferrato is another reliable one, provided you can find a current vintage, which right now would be the 2017, with the 2018 coming later this year. I go back many years with this wine and it is one of those wines that proves if you make Grignolino well, anything else you make will be well-made also. Lovely wines, classic style, in which I mean they are timeless.

At Gastromonix we also we tasted several notable examples:

2017 Grignolino D’Asti from Garrone Evasio & Figli – Nice bitterness, good fruit and was slightly tannic. It paired up fabulously with vitello tonnato and fried anchovies.

2017 Grignolino D’Asti “lanfora” from Montalbera – we enjoyed this wine over several nights during dinner, and I got to spend time with this wine with many kinds of foods. This wine gestates for 8-10 months in terracotta amphorae. An important producer (12% of all Grignolino D’Asti is produced from their vines) and this example tests the waters in the realm of natural wine. It’s a lovely and successful embark upon that restive sea. Using terracotta as an incubation vessel has been most serendipitous for this wine. It is a classic example, yet it proudly reflects, in the best way, Veronelli's portrayal of Grignolino as “anarchistic and individualistic.”

Other producers of Grignolino to look for:
Pio Cesare

These are wines of individuality with moments of brilliance and a fierce independent streak. In this age of disruption, it’s a good time for Grignolino. Give one a try, soon.

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