The wineries I visited in the Castagnole Monferrato area of Piemonte in northwest Italy have a few key qualities in common. They are family-run, they operate their vineyards and wineries with a firm eye on tradition, and yet nearly all avail themselves of modern equipment and winemaking techniques. The Garrone family winery in the commune of Grana is fully representative of these. Farming twelve hectares (about thirty acres) of hillside vineyards, the Garrones produce a range of red, white and sparkling wines using indigenous grapes:
Grignolino, Freisa, and
Ruchè among the reds, Cortese and Moscato among the whites. For spirits fans, Garrone creates grappas from both Ruchè and Grignolino.
Dante Garrone, whose grandfather founded the winery in the 1920s, was kind enough to show me around (although we could not see much of the vineyards because they were fogbound). One interesting facet of the operation that caught my attention was a colorful stack of demijohns (carboys). “We still have a loyal following of local people who prefer to buy their wines every season in these demijohns,” Dante explains, “although I guess one day this custom will be ancient history.” I envision enjoying my own demijohn at some stage of my life, and the mess I would likely make in the process.
The subject of Grignolino came up, and soon a bottle of the liquid was opened and poured. “The center of Grignolino production has traditionally been in the Piemontese town of Portacomaro,” Dante relates. “The father of Pope Francis came from Portacomaro before he emigrated to Argentina, and it has been said that Grignolino is the Pope’s favorite wine.” By this time I was assessing the Garrone 2014 Grignolino d’Asti. A brilliant ruby in color with aromas of violet, geranium, and rose hips, the wine has flavors of cherry, dark berries and baking spice. Finish is nicely dry. This wine sees some oak for three or four months before bottling in spring. “Grignolino varies greatly in color from village to villages,” Dante explains.
I next tasted the Garrone 2014 Barbera del Monferrato. The wine sees three months of oak and carries a light sparkle, which I found played nicely with the acidity and would make this Barbera versatile with much food. It has a clean attack, a good deal of ripe berry aromas and flavors, and a long finish laced with fruit tanginess. The Garrone 2014 Barbera d’Asti has more body that the Monferrato, moderate tannin and acidity, plum, black cherry, and geranium notes and is the beneficiary of a four month stay in large oak barrels. The Garrone 2012 Barbera d’Asti Superiore is produced from hilltop grapes, is aged a year in an immense 2700 liter oak barrel, then waits two years in bottle before release. At 14.5% alcohol, the nose brings blackberry and vanilla. Tannins are soft but lasting, with some heat on a dry finish.
On to the Garrone 2014 Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato. The wine is a medium ruby with garnet touches, dried flowers and spice on the nose, with stimulating ripe purple plum and blackberry on the palate. The Ruchè has a little citrus quality on a lasting finish.
As a final touch before Dante whisked me away to visit another winery, I had the privilege of tasting the 2015 Grignolino directly from the tank. “Grignolino rarely ripens completely,” Dante tells me. “It is an unruly child.” What I tasted was green, and I agreed with the unruly verdict, but I am compelled to give this young one some slack. Here was a truly honest wine, directly from the source. I do not agree with the Pope on all things, but we are congruent when it comes to Grignolino.