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What To Drink Now: Piedmont Wines from Ricossa Winery – Part 1

Nebbiolo Vineyards surrounding Barolo

I recently returned from a week in the Piedmont region of Italy as a guest of Ricossa Winery, a part of the MGM Mondo del Vino family of wines.  Having never been to the region, my anticipation was overwhelming as I have had a love of Barolo since I started drinking red wine, and I was finally venturing to it’s home. The region, located at the foot of the Alps and literally meaning “mountain foot” in Italian, is known for their high quality, approachable wine that is usually paired with tasty Italian dishes equally as distinct.  As I traveled through the picturesque valleys and villages of Piedmont, tasting the wine, enjoying the food and soaking in the culture of Italy, I found this area had much more to offer than just delicious wine.  The history, tradition and pride in the land shines bright throughout Piedmont with gracious people and a welcoming atmosphere. But first, the wine.

I recall the first time I had the red variety, Nebbiolo from an Italian producer in the Langhe region. I was participating in a wine training which focused heavily on Old World varieties.  With the first sip I said WOW…and proceeded to finish the glass and another (somewhat of a no-no for the training.)

I also recall a few months later trying a true Barolo wine, not just a wine made from the Nebbiolo grape, from the town of Barolo in Italy. Though Nebbiolo is grown throughout the Piedmont region, those from Barolo reign as some of the best reds in Italy.  Simple perfection, especially when aged to a sublimely delicate state, when the abundant tannins have softened to a velvety texture as the wine guides its way along the palate with flavors of dark cherry, blackberry, and chocolate combined with slight herbaceous earthy layers wrapped in finesse and balance.

I also recall not being able to afford it either and was thrilled when a friend shared this special wine with me.

Many people think a Brunello di Montalcino, a nicely aged Amarone or lively Super Tuscan is the best of the best from Italy. And though they are delicious, nothing can compare to the character, elegance, structure and strength found in a glass of Barolo, considered the King of the Italian red varieties.

This history of Riccosa dates back to the late 1800′s when Lorenzo Ricossa opened a Portacomarese distillery on the outskirts of the village of Asti, which quickly became a gathering place for both local villagers and travelers passing through. The hospitality of the Piedmont people is never ending. At Ricossa, guests were welcomed like family and greeted with award winning, ever flowing wine.

Today the Mondo del Vino team carries on this family like spirit with everyone from their internal colleagues, to young and old vineyard owners they work with, to chefs, business owners and visitors, offering a glass of wine while enjoying a conversation.

Barbera grapes

Though Barolo is the King, it is certainly not the only wine produced in the Piedmont region. There are 46 different DOC, Denominazione di Origine Controllata or Original Location Certified, areas in the region producing wine from Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, Malvasia, Moscato and many more varieties.

Through the years, from Roman occupation, to housing Italy’s first capital city in Turin when the Savoy family ruled in the 1400′s, to Sardinian rule in the 1700′s, to the eventual rise of the Italian Republic, wine has always been a part of life in the Piedmont region, as throughout Italy, with family vineyards passed down through hundreds of years of generations and century old traditions guiding the work that is still done today.

We met one 90+ year old vineyard owner who had helped her father plant her Barbera vineyards when she was a child of 3. She lived in the same home her entire life, as her parents and grandparents had, following in the footsteps of those who came before her, just as they had.

90+ year old Barbera vines

Ricossa embraces these vineyard owners, as years have shown their grapes benefit from following tradition, allowing the fruit and vineyards to shine with a hands off winemaking approach producing an exceptional product.

Their portfolio, filled with wines from Alba, Asti, Barolo, Barbaresco, Casorzo and Gavi, display the Piedmont terroir with characteristics of the rich Italian soil, the temperate climate, the mountainous slopes.  Ricossa has also established a reputation for making high quality wine from this area at a reasonable cost and encourages consumers to drink the wines when they are released, instead of waiting 5 or 10 years to allow the tannins to soften.  The long standing contracts and handshake deals on with the vineyards they source fruit from has allowed them to produce high quality wine from old vines throughout the area. Ricossa is able to produce wines layered with character and personality, as well as freshness, lively acidity and balance.

Though best known for their reds, Ricossa does produce one still white wine, their Gavi made from 100% Cortese, a dry, crisp wine filled with tart green apple, melon and citrus flavors with a touch of vanilla flowers and orange blossom.  Very clean, light and refreshing, yet still with body and a lush mouth-feel.

The Barbera grape is the third most planted variety in Italy, outside of Sangiovese and Montepulciano.  Known for its deep purplish hue, low tannin, high acidity and robust well-rounded flavors, making it a go-to wine for pairing anything from flavorful cheese to pasta dishes to stewed meat, grilled pork or game. Ricossa Barbera D’Asti highlights the natural acidity of the grape with enhanced flavors of blackberry, raspberry and bing cherry.  Though the overall feel of the wine is fresh, it is nicely balanced with structure and agreeable tannins. A good value wine as well, costing just around $15 a bottle.

The Ricossa Barolo redefines the variety a bit for me, as noted above.  Created in  anapproachable, fresh style, yet still with notes of vanilla, chocolate, cherry, fresh herbs and slight minerality.  Following the Barolo DOCG standars, a step above the DOC standards, Ricossa Barolo is aged at least 3 years prior to its release, at least two of which are in oak barrels.  Though created in an approachable style, this is still a big, tannic red wine which benefits from aeration, preferably a few hours prior to drinking.  I have used both a traditional decanter and a Vinturi on this wine think the Vinturi helps open it up a bit more and a bit quicker, great if you are short on time but really want to enjoy this wine.  And, like the other wines in the Ricossa portfolio, this one offers good value for the quality of the wine, costing around $40 a bottle.

Ricossa makes two off-dry frizzante wines, or with a slight effervescence, Moscato and Malvasia.  I have noted a few times that if you are a fan of the Moscato varietal then do it right and try one from Italy, the originator of Moscato D’Asti, from the town of Asti known for its floral, fruit filled aromas and low alcohol ideally served with dessert options like stone fruit, pear or apple filled cakes and sweet, flaky pastries, cookies and pies.

Their other, Malvasia di Casorzo, is bight blackberry/cherry colored and filled with similar juicy flavors and aromas of wild roses and violets.  Also low in alcohol this fruit forward frizzante wine pairs well with richer desserts made with chocolate, berries or hazelnuts.

Though I am not typically a sweet wine drinker, I can appreciate something like these two wines at the end of a meal that is not too sticky sweet, almost acting as a fresh palate cleanser, with a low alcohol and though the residual sugar level is high it is not cloyingly sweet.

My next post will touch on more pairing ideas, especially those from the charming Piedmont countryside filled with Michellin starred restaurants, century old panetterie (bakeries) and casual espresso bars.
Ricossa wines are sold exclusively through Centennial in Texas. If your local Centennial store doesn’t have one of the wines noted above they can special order it for you.