New Piedmont Wines
September 1, 2010
By Tony Ventura
It’s hard to imagine tasting new wines in Italy’s Piedmont region, since they have been making them for hundreds of years. However, one might be surprised to learn that these new wines are being made in the Piedmont region of Virginia.
I’m sure that many of the early colonists may have raised an eyebrow or two when Thomas Jefferson proposed growing grapes near his home in Monticello, and I’m sure that even more eyebrows were raised when Gianni Zonin (of the famed Italian Zonin family that today produces wine at seven different estates from the Veneto to Sicily) proposed the same thing in 1976: that is, to grow grapes instead of tobacco at his newly acquired plantation in Barboursville, Virginia.
And it’s even more amazing that the Barboursville Winery is growing grapes that most people today only associate with Italy.
The American Chardonnay craze has subsided; and instead we can hear the call for a glass of Pinot Grigio in local bars and restaurants. I found the Barboursville Pinot Grigio to have more exotic flavors of pear and apple than a typical Italian one; however, I can tell you it was very well made.
Italy’s Piedmont region is also famous for its Asti Spumante. The grape responsible for its particular taste is the Moscato. Barboursville makes a wine called Phileo that is made with Moscato. I enjoyed its refreshing taste, reminding me of a typical Moscato d’Asti. It seems this wine impressed others also. The chef from the famous Inn at Little Washington in Virginia decided to serve this wine when he was the guest chef at the even more famous E Bulli restaurant in Barcelona, Spain. I don’t think that you would find many people who would disagree that this restaurant has been consistently rated as one of the top five restaurants in the world in the last few years.
The workhorse grape for most everyday red wines in Piedmont, Italy is the Barbera. Barboursville’s Barbera has the trademark earthy flavors and fairly high acidity of Italy’s Barbera wines.
My favorite, and biggest surprise of the tasting was Barboursville’s Nebbiolo Reserve. This grape is responsible for the most famous Barolo and Barbaresco wines in Italy. Even though this wine was very young with biting tannins, it seemed to me that it might be capable of evolving into a really nice wine with typical orange-red color and tobacco nuances.
If you want a little taste of Italy on your next trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, be sure to stop in at the Barboursville Winery. And if you really want to pretend you’re in Italy, I would definitely recommend their Palladio Ristorante; it’s right next door to the tasting room.