A Piedmont Wine Dinner with Michael Palij MW
Planet of the Grapes Bow Lane
Tuesday 28th January 2020
There is something that sets Piedmont apart from the rest of Italy; its geography, with mountains to the north, south and west; it’s historical ties to France and the royal house of Savoy, and the character of its people; reserved and industrious, rather than outgoing and relaxed. Nowadays, Piedmont is a prosperous place; Turin is the industrial capital of Italy and demand for the region’s hazelnuts; to make Nutella and Ferraro Rocche, means that orchards compete with vineyards on the steep hillsides around Alba.
Piedmont is a land apart in terms of wine too. Unlike other Italian regions, this is a region where native varieties take centre stage and international varieties struggle to get a foothold. There is some Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but much of it ends up in Champagne method sparklers. Merlot has made some inroads in Monferrato, but Barbera is still king. The reasons why international grape varieties haven’t taken hold are complicated; one major factor being that Piedmont is a traditional sort of place, but perhaps the most important reason is that the region is blessed with a remarkable number of world class and unique varieties of its own.
With the Swiss Alps to the north, the French Alps to the west and the Ligurian Alps to the south, Piedmont (the word means ‘foot of the mountains’) forms a large bowl, with every river and stream feeding the Po River. The vineyards tend to sit in the foothills, between 250 and 500 metres above sea level and often on steep slopes. Despite the proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, the climate is more continental and alpine in nature, with the surrounding mountains providing a barrier to weather systems from the north and south. A long growing season is typical here, with grapes still being picked in November in most years.
Amongst the reds, Nebbiolo always takes pride of place. Italy’s greatest red variety is almost exclusively grown in Piedmont, but not just in the Langhe hills around Barolo and Barbaresco. Good Nebbiolo is also grown to the north of the region; lighter, but with warmer summers, not as light as it used to be. In terms of prestige, Barbera plays second fiddle, but in terms of quantity, anything but; Barbera is the one Piemontese variety that can be found all around Italy. Dolcetto, Grignolino, Freisa, Croatina and Bonarda play supporting roles, but all are distinctly Piemontese in character.
The whites are perhaps less well-known, with one exception; the grape that has made more fortunes than every other variety combined; Moscato. As Asti Spumante, it swept the world with frothy, grapey low-alcohol fizz, but not all sparkling Moscato is cheap industrially-produced rubbish. The best Moscato d’Astis are glorious, and much better than orange juice at breakfast time… To the east of Piedmont, the Cortese grape makes the region’s most famous white; Gavi, but the rare Timorasso grape makes the region’s best white – some might say Italy’s best. In the Langhe, where Barolo and Barbaresco dominate, Arneis, Favorita and Nascetta all produce characterful wines.
Master of Wine, Michael Palij, will be at Bow Lane to guide us around this fascinating and complex region’s wines. Having arrived in the UK from his native Canada thirty years ago, Michael passed the Master of Wine examination in 1995; founded Italian wine importers, Winetraders in the same year, and has since become one of Britain’s foremost authorities on Italian wine, writing extensively and lecturing around the world. Having imported Piemontese wines for a quarter of a century, Michael remembers the days when currently feted producers struggled to sell their wines and is the perfect guide to this fascinating region.
Roero Arneis ‘Camestri’ 2018 Marco Porello
Gavi di Tassarolo ‘Terrarossa’ 2017 La Zerba
Timorasso ‘Derthona’ 2016 Walter Massa
Dogliani Superiore ‘Siri d’Jermu’ 2013 Pecchenino
Barbera ‘Monleale’ Colli Tortonesi 2012 Walter Massa
Barbaresco 2016 La Morandina
Barolo 2014 Cabutto – Tenuta La Volta
Barolo ‘Liste’ 2013 Damilano
Moscato d’Asti 2018 La Morandina
Tickets are £85 each or £450 for a table of six.
Planet of the Grapes Bow Lane
74-82 Queen Victoria Street
020 7248 1892