On a recent Friday evening I had the opportunity to taste twelve wines from the Piedmont region of Italy.  I was fortunate enough to be with several local winemakers, a few wily veterans of the wine industry, and a few of us still getting our feet wet in the wonderful world of wine.  Our focus was on the Nebbiolo grape – the “King” of wines, Barolo, and the “Queen” of wines, Barbaresco.  It was amazing to be able to taste the different wines and vintages side by side and to really to notice the differences in them.  It was also very educational as I was able to listen to all the comments shooting back and forth across the room.

We started with Barbaresco, produced in an area in the rolling hills just North of Alba.  Barbarescos tend to be less austere and more approachable than Barolo in their youth.  Typically Barbarescos have flowery aromas (roses and violets) with flavor notes of bright cherry and strawberry jam.  Barbaresco is said to be more feminine than its Barolo counterpart which is a reflection of its status as the “Queen” of wines.  The wines we tasted were in the $40 to $60 range from the 2008, 2009, and 2010 vintage, and all were rated 90 points or higher by the usual suspects of wine ratings.  The wines were very approachable with the 2008 Marchesi di Gresy coming out on top as the overall favorite.

Now to the “King”…

Next we tasted eight different Barolos ranging in price from $40 to $140, vintages 2006-2009, and quite surprisingly, some of the less expensive Barolos came out as favorites.  The thing I noticed the most was how pleasing these wines were to me, given their reputation as being austere in their youth.  Large, but not ponderous aromas and flavors of tar, licorice, spice…and then some floral notes…came at me, glass after glass, some with a tannic finish that was long and soft, some with a touch of minerality.  There is no doubt this is the “King” of wines; they seem to be a perfect blend of force and refinement.  As with most Italian wines, pairing these with food will be very satisfying; think anything with truffles, grilled or roasted game, mushroom risotto, duck, quail, and earthy vegetables.  Time will only make these wines better; depending on the vintage, one can age them 10 to 20 years.

Barolo is just a few miles SW of Alba, with steeper slopes than Barbaresco.  The wines are required to age an extra year and are noticeably more “masculine.”  They are noticeably firmer, yet many seemed quite approachable to this taster.  We tried wines from both Valleys – Barolo and Serralunga – with the wines from Barolo showing a bit more velvety, and those from Serralunga a bit more muscular.  These were all so good; there were no hands-down favorites, with one taster noting, “There’s not a bad wine in the bunch!”

This amazing blind flight was a great opportunity to be exposed to some of the best wines in the world and to learn from some of the area’s experienced wine professionals.  I look forward to the next adventure that takes us to another region in the world.

We have an excellent selection of Italian wines in the shop.  I, and our new wine manager/buyer Cheryl, would love to show you some of the stunning wines from Piedmont that are available in our shop.

The Ashland Wine Cellar