Summer is over and fall has begun to settle quietly in. As with all of you, I’m gearing up to hunker down and get back to business (too many prepositions?).
Fall is wonderful; the way the light shifts from the harsh bright sunshine of summer to the soft golden hue of autumn, the chill that creeps in slowly and settles with a pleasant crispness and the scent of dried leaves that whisks away the sour odor of New York’s summer streets.
In the beginning, it may get just as warm as a summer afternoon, but suddenly, a glass of Rosé, though rosy as it always was, isn’t quite as charming. The bright, crisp, and refreshing quaffs of summer, no less delicious, just don’t seem to pair as well with the slight coolness lingering on the edge of the breeze.
It’s a confusing time…you’re not quite ready for the big hearty reds of winter but you’re through flirting with summer’s tipples. For me, fall belongs to the red wines of Piemonte in Northern Italy.
If you’ve ever heard of Barolo or Barbaresco, you’ve heard about the most famous wines of Piemonte, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t know that that’s where they came from.
Barolo and Barbaresco (made from the Nebbiolo grape) are the only two well known wines out of Italy that are identified by neither their place of origin (like Chianti, for example) nor their grape name (Montepulciano etc.).
Out of this same famed corner of Northern Italy come two less renowned grapes called Dolcetto and Barbera that produce wines by the same name (phew!).
Dolcetto is a grape that literally translates to “little sweet one.” Before you assume that I’m about to sell you on a sweet red wine (and you, like any self-respecting wine drinker, are thinking “Ew! Disgusting! Sweet wine?! Blagh!”) let me assure you that the grape’s name is entirely misleading.
Quite contrary to its name, this grape turns into an absolutely charming wine – dry, juicy, with good fruit and a fair amount of spice.
Dolcetto is the first vine to ripen in Piemonte and is often planted only on the least favorable sites in a vineyard. Many of the region’s most famed winemakers end up planting and producing Dolcetto out of sheer economy – they may have a site that’s unsuitable for Nebbiolo but instead of letting it go to waste, they’ll plant Dolcetto to sell as a simple table wine and offset profits. In the hands of the region’s star producers, this humble little grape often ends up getting VIP treatment by default. The results have started to gain attention from wine drinkers here in the U.S – popping up in wine shops and on wine lists more and more as people realize the simple pleasures and particular food-friendliness of this little grape.
Barbera is Nebbiolo’s other ugly cousin – regarded with more esteem than poor little Dolcetto but still not as highly as Barbaresco or Barolo. Where Dolcetto is vigorous, Barbera is prodigious – capable of extremely high yields. Barbera also ripens after Dolcetto but still two weeks before Nebbiolo grapes and can thrive on sites still not ideal for Nebbiolo (a very picky grape).
Barbera, however, isn’t as charming straight off the vine as Dolcetto – with high levels of tannin and acidity that must be somehow softened. Until the 1970s this was done through blending with other varietals. Then, French winemakers suggested experimenting with aging the wine in small oak barrels. The oak barrels helped to oxygenate the wine, thus softening it, and also added richness and spice. These Barberas were suddenly structured, soft, and fruity wines that didn’t have to be blended at all! All of a sudden this grape, once only used for blending, became a good wine in its own right and quickly gained appreciation as such.
For fall, there’s nothing better than a glass of Dolcetto or Barbera – so how about a glass of both? Just the other day I was sent a sample of Cascina Degli Ulivi Bellotti Rosso 2010 – a blend of equal parts Dolcetto and Barbera – from my favorite online wine store, Plonk Wine Merchants.
Etty Lewensztain is the
girl-crush lady-genius behind Plonk dedicated to bringing delicious, interesting, and affordable wine to anyone with an internet connection. She was just named one of Wine & Spirit Magazine’s 30-under-30 and she is the reason I have tried such weird wines as Plavac (Croatian) and Montsant (Spanish).
Cascina Degli Ulivi Bellotti Rosso 2010 ($18) is from a biodynamic and crazy natural winery in the heart of Piemonte. I swear, I usually don’t pay very much attention to a wine’s color but as I poured this one into my glass the color struck me – it was a gorgeous clear rose-tinted purple.
The nose was all wet leaves and hay and the first sip literally danced on my tongue. Maybe it was bottle shock – and I should have let the wine sit for a day or two longer, but the wine was lightly effervescent! Dark cherries and juicy tannins that sucked more at the tip of my tongue than the back of my mouth rounded out the first taste.
On her website, Etty suggests pairing this particular wine with a Soppressata and Wild Arugula Pizza; Rigatoni with roasted eggplant, cherry tomatoes, and ricotta salata; or Roasted veal chops with gremolata.
I suggest pairing it with these first few days of fall.