The Piemonte region of Italy is celebrated for its robust Nebiollo fruit used to craft powerful Barolo and Barbaresco wines; the Rhone region of France is known for their earthy, layered blends often with Syrah taking the varietal lead; Bordeaux shines for their blends, leading with Cabernet Sauvignon on the Left and Merlot on the Right Bank. But, in each of these regions, various other varieties thrive, including three favorites, Barbera in Piemonte; Grenache in the Rhone; and fragrant, floral Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux. Lucky for us, these beauties are also showcased in other regions throughout the world.
I am a lover of Barolo, caught in the arms of its powerful embrace, filled with tannin, tar, and tobacco, early in my wine appreciation. But, it is a big, bold, powerful wine from Piemonte in Northwest Italy. For something slightly lighter, with softer tannins, great acidity, and a medium body, Barbera is ideal! The easy to cultivate grape grows in abundance as well, making one of the most planted varieties not only in Piemonte but all over Italy. From the village of Asti within the Piemonte, Michele Chiarelo Le Orme Barbera d’Asti ($15) is very dry, very fresh and energetic, with medium body and easy drinkability. Opening with aromas of red and blue fruits with a touch of earthy aromas, leading to red cherry, nutmeg, and touch of black pepper.
From taking advantage of the diversity available throughout Sonoma County, Lake Sonoma Winery showcases a diverse array of varieties in their portfolio, including classic Bordeaux, but also Burgundy, Tuscany, and Piemonte. Lake Sonoma Winery Sonoma Valley Barbera ($60) is bright and punchy, leading off with fragrant herbal aromas of wild sage, thyme, and lavender, with tart cherry, blackberry pie, wild mushroom, and cola flavors on the palate. Harvested early to ensure the freshness and acidity of the fruit remain intact, keeping the wine bright and inviting.
Throughout the slightly cooler regions of Southern France, with influence from the Atlantic Ocean and the Rhone River, particularly within the Vacqueyras where Grenache wines layer Herbs de Provence notes of lavender, wild sage, and thyme with ripe red fruits and an earthy forest floor layer. Famille Perrin “Les Christins” Vacqueyras ($29) blends predominantly Grenache with Syrah creating a wine with structure, texture, and aging potential. Powerful and rich, yet beautifully balanced, the wine reveals layers of blackberry, raspberry, dried herb, tobacco, and pink peppercorn.
From the rocky slopes of Sonoma Mountain, benefiting from cooling winds off the Pacific blowing through the Estero Gap, Benovia Winery crafts its silky, savory Grenache ($45) wine from the Four Brothers Vineyard. Produced with a hint of Syrah and Alicante Bouchet added to give additional structure to the complex wine, and aged 15 months in neutral oak, creating a savory wine with character. Spicy notes of black pepper, anise, and clove meld with wildflowers, ripe black plum, and ripe black cherry.
Though Grenache is a staple of the wines of Southern France, its home is actually thought to be in Spain’s Aragon region. And within Aragon, the Calatayud DO shines as one of the leading producers of spicy, earthy wine, especially when looking for highly affordable selections. Named after a walking bridge within Calatayud, Bodega San Gregorio Tres Ojos Garnacha ($8) highlights the earthiness of the variety creating a wine filled with dried leaves, forest floor, crushed pepper, balsamic, and ripe wild berries.
Sitting just outside of Bordeaux in Southwest France, along the banks of the Garonne river with Entre-Deux-Mers to the southeast, sits Côtes du Marmandais. Here classic Bordeaux varieties thrive, along with some interesting additions, including Abouriou, thought to be indigenous to the region, and Syrah. Elian Da Ros shines as one of the premier producers of the region, showcasing the terroir, delivering wines with great character. Le Vignoble d’Elian Côtes du Marmandais ($25) brings Right Bank favorites Cabernet Franc (50%) and Merlot (30%) together with Syrah (20%) for an aromatic, spicy, smoky, earthy blend. Ideal with braised beef or stews, the structured wine leads with aromas of purple flowers, black fruits, dried tobacco, and spiced Cigar box, followed by layers of blackberry, blueberry, anise, dark chocolate, and toffee.
Within the middle Loire Valley, along the Loire River, about 2 hours outside of Paris, Samur, Chinon, and Bourgueil produce some of the loveliest Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc wines in the world. The cooler maritime climate of the region, influenced by the River and Atlantic breezes blowing in from the Ocean gives an inherent freshness to the wines, enhancing the floral and fruity character of the varieties. Clay and limestone soils add crushed stone minerality, and moderate use of oak ensures the essence of the variety shines. Though often considered just a blending variety, Cabernet Franc has been a Loire Valley star for generations. Domaine Olivier is a certified sustainable 58-hectare family estate in Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil specializing in Cabernet Franc. Crafted from 100% Cabernet Franc, Domaine Olivier Cuvee du Mont des Oliviers 2016 ($20) wine layers crushed violets, wild strawberry, raspberry, and black cherry, with a touch of cigar box and toasted spice on the finish.