When I started this piece, I had a single phrase rolling around in my head — oddball Italian varietals. The word oddball seemed to apply to the quirky nature of a few of recent arrivals, and emphasize them as distinctly not run of the mill.
Then I started reading into them, and I realized my mistake.
To label these wines oddballs is to restrict them to cliché. It's letting abundance dictate meaning. It's saying, these wines are only interesting insofar as they deviate from the norm. But where do those norms come from? And how much should we care about them? To be moved by a wine — to be moved by anything! — we have to encounter it on its own terms.
Each of the wines in this group comes from the Italian Piedmont, a land of sprawling green hills nearly completely covered by a patchwork of vineyards. The craggy, snow-capped Alps float in the distance to the north and west. Everywhere you look there are rows of vines folded into the next hillside.
Piedmont is best known for dolcetto, barbera, and nebbiolo (from which Barolo and Barbaresco are made). Until recently, everything else seemed like little more than a curiosity, holdouts from a bygone era: freisa, ruché, uva rara.
But there are some really cool wines being made with these varietals, which aren't part of the export identity. Wine that feels fresh and contemporary, every bit as compelling as star wines from other regions. And this is the key. If not for the very large shadow cast by the towering figures of Barolo and Barbaresco, these so-called minor wines would light the way.
The beauty of Piedmont's lesser-known varietals — the reason I was tempted to think of them as oddballs — is that they only thrive in this one place, their place of origin. They are as captivating for their particular sense of land and culture as they are for their grace and intensity. Like certain country folk I've known, they don't travel all that well. If we want to experience their charms we have to make the effort to go to them.
Or at least put ourselves in the traveler's mindset.
Because the charms are real. And once you find them, you realize how lovely and accessible they can be. They'll surprise you with their wit, as it were. Startle you with an off-color joke. Show you the wisdom in a way of life not your own.
For those of us who like to find beauty in out of the way places, this dreamy cohort is worth the trip.
Five Recent Arrivals from Piedmont
Matteo Correggia "Anthos" 2014
A dry version of this varietal more often associated with sweet frizzante. Smells like spring in bloom. Light in color but packs a punch.
Decapo "Majoli" Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato 2014
Roses and strawberries popping out of the glass. Dazzling ruby/garnet color. Wash down the charcuterie like you never have.
Monsecco Colline Novaresi Uva Rara 2012
Grape: Uva Rara
Uva rara is so named for sparse clusters, not its lack of plantings. This version wafts up bold violet aromas. It's low acidity and dark tannins makes it a supple gulper.
Cavallotto Langhe Freisa 2012
Freisa in general gives off intense, ripe berry aromas. Definitely the case here. This wine aged one year in oak. It's got fine bones, but the over all impression is one of plushness.
Mascarello Giuseppe e Figlio Langhe Freisa 2009
Again, intense red color and big berry smell. Swirl this one around a bit and unlock a truly surprising grace and complexity.