Grignolino: Native Grape of Monferrato in Piemonte
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Grignolino: Native Grape of Monferrato in Piemonte

My December tour of the Monferrato area in the northwestern Italian region of Piemonte put me face to face with a grape and wine I had hardly even heard of. I mean, I must have read at one time the Grignolino piece in The Oxford Companion to Wine, since, being certifiably OCD, I gobbled up the entire opus (bit by bit, at night, in the sack). When you are out with the vines and in the winery with the wines, it is another story. Whenever I run into blatant vinous ignorance on my own part, I take joy in the cure (I do not drive when I do this). My Piemontese romance with Grignolino was on, and it rapidly progressed beyond the tentative dating stage.

“Grignolino,” Monferrato winemaker Dante Garrone told me, “varies greatly in color from vineyard to vineyard.” A good generalization nevertheless is that Grignolino makes light colored red wines and rosés with bold fruit aromas that have strong acidity and pushy tannins. The name of the wine is probably a derivation of the word grignole which signifies “many grape seeds—pips” in the local Piemontese dialect. These pips are the probable source of much of the wine’s tannins. Winemakers sometimes try to work around these tannins by resorting to slow and gentle pressing of the grapes. Grignolino d’Asti DOC and Grignolino Monferrato Casale DOC are the two local appellations. Nearly all Grignolino is produced in the Asti province of Piemonte with the exception of two California producers: Heitz in Napa and Guglielmo in the Santa Clara Valley.

It is important here to clarify the fact that the “pips” in Grignolino have nothing to do with the musical group Gladys Knight and the Pips, although they, of course, had a hit with “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” We can only speculate which grape variety was growing on that grapevine. For present purposes, let us guess Grignolino.

“The center of Grignolino production has traditionally been in the Piemontese town of Portacomaro,” Dante Garrone tells me. “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.” The Garrone 2014 Grignolino d’Asti DOC is 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.

I had the privilege of tasting the Garrone 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.

I later tasted the Goggiano Grignolino d’Asti DOC “Brunot” 2014 and liked it so much that this was the wine I accepted when Goggiano’s Andrea Scassa offered to wrap me a bottle to take home to the USA. This Grignolino was a medium intensity ruby with purple highlights, a spicy, floral nose, very dry with some nice orange peel on the finish.

In Monferrato I tasted a number of Barbera wines. I had good familiarity with Barbera previously. I also had much Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato, love the wine and the passionate Piemontese who produce it, but abbastanza for the moment. It is Grignolino I want more of! Fortunately I still have Andrea Scassa’s bottle to share with that special someone.

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food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

bunch of Grignolino grapes

Grignolino grapes loook like this

Grignolino wine label

A Grignolino d'Asti DOC from Massimo Marengo

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