Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life,” 
— Anna Akhmatova, a celebrated Russian poet.

I can still feel the cold breeze kissing my cheeks when we reached Piedmont, Italy. It was like I was walking into a romantic film, set in a timeless era overlooking alps, hills, valleys, castles, and vineyards stretched as far as the eye can see. The air is fresh with wafting scents of white truffles and newly opened bottles of wine. The place is perfect for wine geeks, honeymooners, and gourmands.

Canelli, Piedmont, Italy

Piedmont is home to the most revered wines in the world and the birthplace of great reds, and sparkling wines. There are 20 major wine regions in Italy and Piedmont ranks 6th in the highest production volume. The most famous wines from Piedmont comes from the Nebbiolo grape, a red variety that produces two of the world’s great red wines Barolo and Barbaresco. These two wine varieties are very popular but it only makes up only 3% of Piedmont’s wine production, and there are so much more varieties that deserve recognition. Right now, there’s a revolution of winemaking happening in Piedmont and winemakers are drastically improving the quality of wines available in the region.

Luigi Bosca Barolo and Barbaresco
Santo Stefano Belbo, Italy

During my visit, I had the opportunity to experience the launch of a series of new releases of *DOCG wines organized in cooperation with the Consorzio della Barbera d’Asti e Vini del Monferrato, the consortium that regulates Barbera d’Asti and Monferrato wine production. Highlighted during the trip were wines made from Moscato, Barbera, and Brachetto grapes. These wines are one of the most aromatic and romantic wines I’ve tasted, and it pairs perfectly well with the region’s rich, savory, and truffle-infused dishes.

*Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin) DOCG, is a classification that denotes the highest quality recognition for Italian wines. If you buy Italian wines in our local wine stores and it bears the DOCG mark, you have the guarantee that it is good quality wine as these bottles go through rigorous evaluations, testing, and analysis before they can be bottled.

Of Castles, vineyards, and glasses of Asti DOCG

Towering over Canelli, a municipality in the Province of Asti, Piedmont, is the imposing castle, Castello Gancia. The castle is privately owned by the Gancia family, one of the historic winemakers in Canelli that first produced the sparkling Asti Spumante in 1870. They opened their castle to the public for the first time for a special Asti DOCG Masterclass guided by Italian wine specialist Walter Speller.

 

Director of Consorzio Di Tutela dell’Asti Giorgio Bosticco Italian Wine Specialist Walter Speller, and president of Consorzio di Tutela dell’Asti Romano Dogliotti
Italian wine specialist Walter Speller
Castello Gancia, Canelli

Drinking atop a mountain and inside a castle made drinking wine an unforgettable and a grand experience. I sang A Whole New World in between sips of cold bubbly while enjoying the picturesque view of Canelli from Castello Gancia. During the class, we learned about the ancient Mediterranean grape Moscato Bianco that produces three Asti DOCG wines–the sparkling wine, Asti Dolce, the sweet dessert wine Moscato d’Asti, and new style, dry sparkling wine, Asti Secco. These white wines have delicate, fresh, floral, fruity, and grapey aromas and mostly served as an aperitif or during desserts. You can pair it with light cheeses or contrasting savory snacks. It’s very versatile; you have a plethora of pairings to try, up to you what best suit your palate. You can also do what culinary experts do and use it as an ingredient for unique savory or sweet dishes, Asian dishes might be a great cuisine to experiment with these delicate wines.

Frozen Moscato Bianco grapes from the 2018 harvest
Fifth-generation winemaker Edoardo Gancia welcomes the guests inside the Gancia Castle
Duchessalia Moscato d’Asti infused pastry. Moscato d’Asti is a dessert wine best paired with cakes, pastries, and other sweet concoctions. It may also be enjoyed as contrast pairing with savory snacks.
Hazelnut zabaglione cake paired with Bersano Asti
Bosca Asti
Asti Secco
Moscato Passito
Santero Winery Asti Dolce, Moscato d’Asti, and Asti Secco

The Moscato vineyards are located in steep sloping terroir which makes it one of the hardest grapes to harvest as it requires more time and manual labor. Imagine trying to cut the grapes from its vines, while trying to keep steady so you won’t roll down the hill. Yup, it’s quite a challenge.

Moscato Bianco vineyard
Moscato harvest in Piana del Salto, Asti

Due to its laborious production, Moscato wines in this region are perceived and positioned at a higher level compared to other vineyards. According to Walter, the price of each bottle doesn’t reflect the tedious processes and hard work put into its production. We’re lucky to buy these bottles at such affordable prices. In Manila, Moscato d’Asti and Asti wines sell at Php1000 and above depending on the brand. But be warned, make sure to check the labels and if it has the DOCG mark when you’re buying Asti as there are a lot of fake Asti’s in the market. Some fake Asti brands are Salute Asti, San Martino Asti, Full Meat, Villa Krim, and Fratelli.

Fake ASTI around the world
Le Lucciole Asti Secco. Le Lucciole is winery Tosti’s line that is dedicated to the production of organic wines. Each bottle has a special navel design unique to Tosti wines.
You can mix a cocktail with Moscato d’Asti, just add apricot jam, orange, and grappa

Romantic and Aromatic Wines of the Nobles

According to Italian Sommelier Martina Doglio Cotto, Piedmontese citizens are usually shy, and reserve and they’re very humble about the beautiful things that their region has to offer. One that deserves recognition is their unique aromatic wine Brachetto d’Acqui.

“It’s the variety of aromas that make this wine enjoyable,” shares Martina. It produces a fascinating wine with a distinct aroma of red rose and other floral notes. It’s intriguing and stimulating for your nose and palate. I’d rather have bottles of this wine than a bouquet of roses during Valentines Day!

Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG

Known to have aphrodisiac qualities, Brachetto d’Acqui is regarded as luxury aromatic wine for the nobles. According to legend, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony used to send vinum acquense (an early fore-bearer of Brachetto d’Acqui) to Cleopatra. We can only imagine these aristocrats imbibing on this love potion to rekindle their passion.  

Brachetto grapes

Brachetto vineyards are said to emanate an unmistakable scent of roses. It would be lovely to visit the vineyards during harvest season in August to September and just enjoy the fragrant breeze. Its production is strictly limited to a vineyard area of 1,200 hectares located in the hills of the Upper Monferrato area which is composed of the provinces of Asti and Alessandria, distributed among 26 municipalities around Acqui Terme, a commune known for its hot sulfur springs.

Acqui Terme
Brachetto vineyard
Bastieri Brachetto d Acqui dry rosé and Brachetto d Acqui Secco

Brachetto grapes produce three styles of wines–the full sparkling, the semi-sparkling, and my favorite, the more vibrant and sweeter passito, also called a raisin wine, its grapes underdoes a passito method where the grapes are dried on wooden racks or straws before fermenting it as wine. These wines can are best paired with Italian sweet and savory dishes, but Martina suggests that it can also be exciting to pair with Asian dishes, something savory and spicy. It’s also an interesting ingredient in mixing with cocktails together with other liquors, citrus, fruits, bitters, and vermouths.

Passione Acqui DOCG (passito made with Brachetto grapes) and Passione Strevi DOC (passito white wine made with Moscato grapes). Passito has a more robust flavor, darker in color, and has a long lingering finish.
Cocchi Royale cocktail–Brachetto, Cocchi Americano Rosa, and sparkling water

During our visit, we got acquainted with Acqui DOCG Rosé Brut, a new style entry both as a sparkler and as a still wine with low sugar content. It is less sweet, fresh, and fruity, with notes of raspberries, currants, and hints of rose. This wine style works well with appetizers, fish, and cheeses.

Acqui DOCG Rosé Brut. The wine is fragrant with a floral bouquet, notes of red fruits and a fresh finish.

I also enjoyed the Grappa made from Brachetto grapes. Grappa is a liquor distilled from the leftover grape skins and pulp from the wine press. It’s very unique, I loved it so much that I took home bottles of Berta Piasi Grappa di Brachetto, it’s oily with hints of vanilla, fruits, and a lingering rose finish.

Berta Piasi Grappa di Brachetto—oily with hints of vanilla, fruits, and a lingering rose finish

The Barbera Revolution

If Barolo and Barbaresco wines are royalty, Barbera wines used to be the ‘commoners.’ Touted as ‘the people’s wine,’ Barbera is an everyday drinking wine compared to the prestigious Barolo and Barbaresco, which is usually served during occasions. Barbera grapes are planted widely in the region because it is adaptable, easy to accommodate and grows easier compared to Nebbiolo. Wineries used to plant it for quantity, not quality. They make it in huge quantities because of the demand for easy drinking and affordable red wine. But in the 1980s, there’s been a shift in the quality of production. Winemakers started to lower yields, choosing only the best grapes and monitoring its perfect time for harvest. The result transitioned Barbera from your regular bloke to a world-class wine now widely exported in the US, Germany, England, Canada, Denmark, and Switzerland.

The best examples of high-quality Barbera wines are Piedmont’s Barbera d’Asti and the recently created Nizza Denominations.

We sat down for an intense 19-bottle Barbera d’Asti tasting, guided by American Wine Specialist Kerin O’Keefe at Nizza Monferrato. The sensory experience made me fall in love with Barbera wines.

Barbera wine tasting
Barbera d’Asti tasting, guided by American Wine Specialist Kerin O’Keefe

Barbera d’Asti wines have an intense and vigorous aroma. There are two bottlings, Barbera d’Asti DOCG Normale, and Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore. Normale doesn’t have an age requirement and can be released in the market from March 1, following its harvest while Superiore must age at least six months in oak, and can be released 14 months starting from November 1, in the year of harvest.

Barbera d’Asti DOCG Normale and Superiore

Barbera d’Asti DOCG Normale has intense notes of black currant, cherry, spices, a mix of fruits, and delicate floral notes. The Superiore has more complex tasting notes. If you like rich red wines, the Superiore might be to your liking. It has blackberry notes with additional flavors of spice and oak, hints of chocolates, and toffee. Some brands even have cheese and savory notes. Just writing about its tasting notes make me hungry and salivate, as these wines are perfect to pair with food. It goes perfectly well with aged cheese, mushroom risotto with a generous shaving of white truffles, and spicy stews.

Barbera d’Asti DOCG Superiore paired with Tajarin al Tartufo. Tajarin is a popular Piemontese pasta made with a higher proportion of egg yolks than flour
Winemake and president of president of Consorzio di Tutela dell’Asti Romano Dogliotti holding his own bottling of La Solista Barbera d’Asti DOCG
White truffles the size of my fist
Scagliola Giacomo Barbera d’Asti paired with Risotto and white truffle shavings

If you’re purchasing a bottle, try one of the best recent vintages of Barbera d’Asti which is the year 2016 when the region experienced the best harvest due to the great weather. My favorite bottlings were from Coppo’s Camp du RoussFamiglia Berta Barbera D’Asti (Superiore), Araldica Castelvero (Superiore), Tenuta Olim Bauda Le Rocchette (Superiore), and Franco Roero Sichei (Superiore).

2016 Coppo’s Camp du Rouss. The wine is savory on the nose, it has notes of aged cheese and oak.
Berta Paolo 175 Vendemmie (Superiore). It is pungeant, fruity with notes of blueberry, and chocolate.
The Paolo Berta Winery 7th generation winemaker Paolo Berta
Alberto Bracco holding Araldica Castelvero (Superiore) and Gaia Colonna holding their brand’s Moscato d’Asti
Tenuta Olim Bauda Le Rocchette, Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG. It has a complex and intense aroma of ripe fruits, plum, copper, and balsamic notes.
Franco Roero Sichei (Superiore). The liquid has nutty and creamy notes with added hints of baking spices.

From big wineries to boutique brands, there are so many Italian wines to discover, I’ve met a lot of Italian winemakers who are looking into exporting their wines in the Philippine market, and we’re hoping they will reach our shores soon. Some brands are already in Manila, next time you visit your local wine store look for Moscato d’Asti, Barbera d’Asti, and Brachetto d’Acqui wines with DOCG labels as it’s a guarantee that you’ll have your money’s worth.

DOCG and DOC labels

For more information visit www.astidocg.it and www.viniastimonferrato.it

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