On these chilly gray days, my mind races back to a week of spectacular sunshine and even more spectacular wines in the northwestern Italian region of Piedmont.
My wife and I tasted so many excellent wines during our time in Piedmont that it’s hard to know where to start. But today I’d like to share two wine experiences that surprised and delighted us.
The first came in the wine producing region known as Dogliani. I’d had a smattering of Doglianis through the years, but I was never quite sure what I was drinking or how I felt about the wines.
Uncertainties were laid to rest during our visit to the newly opened Bottega Del Vino Dogliani-a cellar space dedicated solely to the 48 Dogliani producers and their wines.
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All Dogliani wines are produced with the Dolcetto grape, a variety I’d always believed should be consumed while young to capture its natural fruitiness. I’d never considered Dolcetto particularly complex, nor did I feel it had the potential to age in the cellar. Wrong and wrong.
At the Bottega Del Vino Dogliani, we tasted eight Doglianis from one of the appellation’s best producers — San Fereolo. A biodynamic producer, San Fereolo wines are produced only with Dolcetto grapes from vines that are between 40 and 70 years old. They are, in a word, stunning.
The vintages of San Fereolo presented to us ranged from a 2010 Dogliani Superiore to a 2001 Dogliani Superiore. The Superiore wines represent the best that the Dogliani region and its producers offer, and they are amazingly layered and structured wines with tons of personality and layers of flavors and aromas.
Honestly, there wasn’t a wine in the bunch that I didn’t enjoy. But the wine that stood out from the crowd was the 2001, which was very much fresh despite its age. Offering a beautiful nose of dried cherries and earth, the wine was soft, elegant, and just plain delicious. This tasting shaped my views of Dogliani as wines worth seeking out!
The next wine discovery for us was Ruche, another indigenous Piemontese variety I had only tasted once prior to our trip. After a tasting at Montalbera, a winery specializing in Ruche, I’m convinced we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these wines in the years ahead.
To my palate, Ruche is similar to Pinot Noir in weight, but perhaps closer to Dolcetto in flavors and aromas.
But first, a bit more on Montalbera, which owns well over 400 acres of vineyards in the Monferrato and Langhe appellations. Some 200 acres of the vineyards are planted with Ruche, which makes up 60 percent of Montalbera’s production. Montalbera’s first Ruche vintage was 2003, but they quickly became masters of the grape.
In fact, the winery’s 2016 Laccento Ruche bottling garnered Tres Biccheiri from Italy’s Gambero Rosso, the highest wine rating offered. The Laccento is the pinnacle of Montalbera’s Ruche production, featuring a later harvest for riper grapes, and even using a small percentage of dried grapes in the blend. It offers lovely balance between earth and fruit, a mouthful of fruit, and a long, delightful finish.
As of this writing there are just 24 wineries producing Ruche, but their numbers are growing. My suggestion is that if you see a Ruche on a wine store shelf either here or elsewhere in your travels, pick it up and give it a shot. You will not be disappointed.
And, if you have the chance to go to Piedmont at any point, don’t miss a visit to the Bottega Del Vino Dogliani or Montalbera!
Dave Eckert is a longtime Kansas City food and beverage journalist. He was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.