In my first post about the alternatives to Pinot Noir we stayed a bit local, tramping just south of Pinot Noir’s home in Burgundy to get nice with the Gamay grape, which is celebrated in the Beaujolais region of France. But there is a lot of wine out there in the world and a good amount that will make lovers of the “Heartbreak Grape” nice and happy. So let’s go to Italy, shall we?
When I think about Italian wines for Pinot Noir drinkers, what comes to mind are three amazing little gems that don’t get enough love, but which are, thankfully, beginning to emerge onto the US market.
When talking about Piedmont in northern Italy, we often wax on and off about the Nebbiolo grape responsible for the famous Barolo and Barbaresco wines. And if you love Pinot Noir you are sure to enjoy wines made from Nebbiolo. But on that serious pine cone vibe there’s one grape that is often overshadowed by the Nebbs. Just west of the legendary town of Barolo is the village of Verduno, home of the Pelaverga grape. These wines are showing up more and more on the retail market and definitely on Italian wine lists. The Pelaverga grape makes wines that are more on the fruitier side, alive with distinct notes of strawberry and a bracing acidity. But don’t let those buoyant descriptors fool you. If you love that soft, sexy weight that Pinot Noir gives on the mouthfeel then these wines will sing to your soul. Among the berries and light-heartedness is a hint of peat on the nose and round meatiness coating your palate.
All the way in the north of Italy, tucked beneath Austria, is the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige, known to the Italians as the Südtirol. Here is home to the Schiava grape. And if you’re into Pinot Noir you’re gonna really dig this one. Because of this region’s proximity to Austria (it was actually an Austrian Empire territory until the early twentieth century), the grape is known as Trollinger and Vernatsch to the Südtirol’s northern neighbor as well as Germany. These wines will never run you more than twenty bucks and are a great crowd-pleaser. In the cold months, it pairs well with lean meats and baked vegetable dishes of the season, and, in the warm months, it’s one of the best chilled reds out of the boot. At my little Italian restaurant In Vino, located in the East Village of NYC, we always have a Schiava slightly chilled by the glass. The wines tend to be light red in color and have distinct raspberry and strawberry notes on the nose with subtle hints of earthiness. The high acidity of the wine makes it perfect to cool down a bit in the fridge and the subtle tannin structure holds up all of the waxy fruit notes keeping it alive on the palate.
And last, but certainly not least, from the soccer ball of the boot there is a grape that screams light and bright but has body and personality. That grape is called Frappato. Not only is it fun to say, but it’s up there in the ranks of great, light-hearted red wines that will please the Pinot palate. Frappato is often blended with another native grape, Nero D’Avola, in a southern region of the island called Vittoria where the wine is called Cerasuolo Di Vittoria. These wines are soft, deep in color and full of berries and earth with a nice dry finish layered underneath. When Frappato is on its own it’s cherry colored and quite aromatic withy soft tannins. Drinking a nice Frappato is akin to enjoying a well done Beaujolais.
Happy sipping and, if you try any of these wines, let us know what you think!