The Mountain Times

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Wine Experiments

Up in the hills of Castagnole Monferrato in the province of Asti in Piedmont, one of my favorite wines is made from 100% Grignolino grapes. Grignolino for some reason got a bad reputation for some inferior wines made with the grape in California back in the days.

Today it is still grown by Heitz Cellars who started an 8-acre vineyard of the grape in 1961, christened 'the one & only' as a homage to previous generations of this zesty grape often referred to as 'the little strawberry' in its native Italy, or to be precise Piedmont, where it actually has a reputation of the 'Beaujolais of Italy'; fresh and lively in its youth, made to be consumed young while waiting for the 'brawnier' Nebbiolo and Barbera based wine of the region to age.

One of my favorite wines in all is the La Mondianese Grignolino. 'Delicate in style, round and full with dark cherry overtones' is what describes it best. Wines made from Grignolino can have noticeably strong acidity and fruity aroma with alpine notes. Grignolino is a late-season ripener with natural tendencies toward high acidity. La Mondianese is grown in sandy soil with lots of sunny exposure and the vines produce very few bunches of grapes. The focus is on quality, not quantity.

The resulting delicate wine gently seduces you, instead of hitting you in the face with big aromas and flavors. It has a beautiful light ruby color in the glass and the aromas of red cherry are soft and gentle. It's fresh and lively, with bright acidity and enough tannin to give it substance (the name is derived from a dialect word for pips-seeds-which deliver the tannins), but it has a light body despite its many seeds.

Grignolino was identified and cultivated in Piedmont since before 1800. Few vines survived the late-nineteenth-century phylloxera epidemic, and today just 1 percent of Piedmont vineyards are planted with them. Luckily, the handful of producers who do make Grignolino take special care with it, and one of the most highly regarded is La Mondianese located in Montemagno in the heart of the Monferrato province of Piedmont. Montemagno means 'big hill', and the medieval castle on top of the hill seems to come straight out of a fairy tale with a church that exemplifies the beauty of Baroque architecture.

Grignolino is produced as rosé as often as red wine, both of which are usually best enjoyed in their youth. The bright acidity makes them a good complement to foods with high fat content. The grape is highly reflective of its terroir and the different types of soils in the vineyards that it is planted in. The resulting wines can impart different aromas and flavor characteristics ranging from green herbal, leafy notes and vegetable stock to raspberry and cherry fruit.

If you look for excuses to order a light-bodied red wine other than Pinot Noir, give this one a try. It can span a far wider variety of dishes than a big red (from veal shoulder to tuna tartare); it's ideal with chicken and other birds. But lighter reds can be tricky, they sometimes seem too thin, or astringent, or plain wimpy with red meats, yet they can reward you alongside grilled fish dishes. If you've never tried Grignolino, I think you should, even if you have to ask for it at your favorite wine shop.

Tagged: Wine, Wine Experiments