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Seven great wines of Italy’s Piedmont region

Salut! James Suckling, a columnist with Wine Spectator magazine, shares some of his favorite wines from northern Italy.
/ Source: Weekend Today

Piedmont simply means "foot of the mountain,” but there’s nothing simple about its wines. A western region bordering Switzerland and France, Piedmont ranks only seventh among the Italian regions in total production, but it’s considered a giant in the world of wines. Some of the country’s best known wines — Gavi, Barolo, Barbaresco, Moscato — come from this mountainous region. James Suckling, a columnist with Wine Spectator magazine, visited “Weekend Today” to share a selection of his top choices.

Before the drinking begins, here are some wine-tasting basics:

  • Pick up your glass of wine. Look at the color. Make sure there aren’t bits of cork floating around.
  • Don't hold your glass up in the sky. All you will see is the sky.
  • Swirl the wine around in your glass, smell it, and think of what it reminds you of. Is it fruity, flowery, woody, or have a coffee fragrance? What do you get out of it?
  • Take a sip. Leave the wine in your mouth for a few seconds to get the full flavor. What do you taste? Is it fruity? Does it smell of raspberries, cherries, or vanilla? Is it acidic? Or is it tannic, like strong tea?
  • Gather up all this information together in your mind.
  • Remember the experience; take a sensual “photograph” of the wine.
  • Decide if you like the wine or not.

White Wines
Villa Sparina Gavi Piedmont 2004 ($20)The first wine is a Gavi, a white wine made from the cortese grape. It comes from a hilly region about sixty miles south east of Torino. This wine has a fresh, lemony, mineral character. A wine like this is perfect as an aperitif or paeritivo and it's a good beach wine too!

Red Wines
Domenico Clerico Dolcetto d'Alba 2004 ($18)
This is a grape grown all over Piedmont. I like to describe it as a white wine masquerading as a red one. It's light and fruity with lots of cherry, berry character and it's made to be drunk very young. It's wonderful with dried meats or BBQ. You can even serve it slightly chilled.

Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne 2003 ($19)
This is a wine that comes primarily from vineyards near the towns of Alba and Asti, which are south of Torino. It’s juicy and fruity. Piedmonteses like to drink it with pasta, risotto, and raw meat. I think it works with fish too. In fact, fish on the BBQ and a yummy Barbera is one of my favorites for the summer.

Pio Cesare Barbaresco 2001 ($70)
Now we are getting in to the serious stuff. We are moving to wines made from nebbiolo grape. This is the best grape of Piedmont and makes the king and queen of wines — the Barolo and the Barbaresco. They come from grapes grown on steep hillsides near the towns of Barolo and Barbaresco, hence their names. Pio Cesare Barbaresco usually needs about seven to 10 years of bottle age, but recent vintages have been so good that they are also nice to drink young. Swirl it around and taste it. I like to think of the nebbiolo as a super-charged pinot noir. You should get a smell of roses or berries. Again, the older, the better — this one can go another five or six years of bottle age. 

Bruno Giacosa Barolo le Rocche del Falletto Riserva 2000 ($169)The Barolo from Bruno Giacosa is a legendary wine producer in the region. This is one of the greatest young wines I have ever tasted, and I have probably tasted about 60,000 bottles of wine in my career so far. I taste about 4,000 wines every year for the Wine Spectator. This Barolo from Bruno Giacosa is a wine that I gave 100 points too. This is the bomb! Do you get the gorgeous berries, flowers and cherries in this, wine and notice the texture of it. It's pure silk. It's hard not to drink it now, but it will improve with age for decades ahead.

Angelo Gaja Barbaresco Sori Tildin 1990 ($500)Now you are in for a real treat — an aged Barbaresco from Angelo Gaja from the great 1990 vintage. Gaja is a legend around the world and he is considered one of great producers who put Italy on the fine wine map. This 1990 comes from his fabulous hillside vineyard Sor Tildin. The color is fresh, dark and the nose is complex with dried roses, berries and earth.