Monday, June 13, 2016

The Other Piedmontese Wines

"Which grape varietal do you think is the most-planted in Piedmont?" A winemaker from the region raised this question to the audience at a wine dinner I attended a couple weeks ago.

I was at the trendy restaurant Mr and Mrs Fox in Quarry Bay for this dinner hosted by Ms. Raffaela Bologna from the 3nd generation of the family-owned winery Braida, located just outside Asti in Piedmont region. She was trying to make a point that while Nebbiolo, the grape behind Barolo and Barbaresco wines, may be the better-known varietal in the region, there were other grapes that were as significant, if not more, to this important wine region in Northern Italy (the answer to the question is Moscato, by the way, and Nebbiolo only came as fourth or fifth, if I remembered correctly) Of course, that’s particularly relevant to Braida winery, as they are famous in producing wines with Barbera grapes, Piedmont’s other famous grape varietal.

The other day I got a message from a friend asking me to join the wine dinner organized by his company, which distributes wines from Braida, featuring a six-course wine-pairing menu with the winemaker in attendance while she’s in town for the Vinexpo event. We just popped open a bottle of barbera just the night before at a dinner so I thought it’s just meant to be that I should go. Plus I always wanted to go back to this relatively new restaurant after trying their dishes late last year when they first opened.

The dinner was served family-style, with plates of food passed around the long table at the private room on the top floor of the restaurant, so I didn’t take pictures of every dish. We began not with a wine from Piedmont, but a sparkling wine from the neighboring Lombardy region. Then as we sat down for our meal, a series of wines were poured, each paired with a specific dish served. The menu was an interesting mix of Asian fusion and western dishes and they were delicious.

We began with two appetizer-style courses – the grilled Chiang Mai sausage and pomelo salad has a hint of spicy Naam Prik Num and was refreshing. Then it’s a pasta course of Cavatelli with clams, a creamy white wine sauce with a kick of chili and bits of chopped chorizos. The cavatelli has a firm bite and held up well with the rich sauce, though I secretly hoped they would serve Tajarin, a native Piedmontese dish instead. We started with a sparkling Barbera which was cheerful and easy to drink, something you didn’t need to put a lot of thought in.

The Asian influenced theme continue throughout the rest of the meal. The chicken was marinated with soy sauce, roasted whole and finished with the infusion of some applewood smoke and a ginger-green onion vinaigrette. That reminded me of the Cantonese dish of Tai Yeh Chicken, prepared similarly. The barramundi was steamed with tangerine and dry mandarin peel, again a common cooking method in Asian cooking, but served with toasted cashew, deep-fried shallots and star anise in top. They were paired with a “late-harvest” chardonnay, the Asso di Fiori. The grapes were grown on the relatively high ground of Trezzo Tinella (the very town we stayed when we went there 2 years ago) and harvested slightly later than normal. Not talking about the botrytis situation here but the late harvest did leave the wine a slightly sweeter taste and a very floral nose, and a relatively full body due to the aging in small barriques.

Of course, the star of the evening was the series of Barbera d’Asti (and the Barbera blend) for which the winery was most famous for. We first had a horizontal tasting of two vintages of their flagship Bricco dell’Uccellone, the 2009 then 2011 vintage, with the latter poured from a magnum bottle. I was always under the impression that Barbera is best drunk young, like within 2-3 years of harvest, but the 2011 seems to have some legs to go even further. Excellent acidity, as one would expect, and dominated by red fruits on the palate. Still a bit tannic and still developing.

On the other hand, the 2009 is just ready, with a more profound floral nose and a bit of vanilla. Ripe plums and some tobacco on the palate, and much rounded tannins with a good long finish. I don’t know the retail price for this but this is something I am happy to keep a few bottles at home for everyday drinking. We also tried their Barbera blend, the il Baciale, with 60% Barbera blended with Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. That one was interesting too, with red fruits and spices on the palate.

With the trio of big red wines, we had equally rich food to go with, and the lamb shoulder and beef shank were decent. The lamb wasn’t overly gamey and with good smoky flavor form the hay burning underneath the baking pan as the piece was brought in, and the beef shank has an interesting exotic touch with the tamarind rub. I also loved the hand-cut fried served as side.

Two more wines were served at the end with the dessert of berry crumble cooked in a huge round cast-iron pan, including the Brachetto d'Acqui, a red dessert wine local to Piedmont (specifically, Acqui Terme in the south) and not commonly found here. I actually prefer this to the more common Moscato, especially for richer dessert like those berry-based, nuts or even chocolate. I must admit I wasn’t that big a fan of grappas, but the Braida one made with the skin of Barbera grapes was quite decent and went down smoothly as a good digestif, just when we were completely stuffed with all the food and drink.

It’s a lovely evening, meeting new people and trying the "other" Piedmontese wines. Thanks Cuvees Hong Kong for their kind invitation.

When? May 26 2016
Where? Mr and Mrs Fox, 23 Tong Chong Street, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Steamed Barramundi - Tangerine & Dry Mandarin
Ca' del Bosco Cuvee Privilege Brut Franciacorta DOCG NV
Braida "la Monella" Barbera d'Asti Frizzante DOC 2015
Braida "Asso di Fiori" Langhe Chardonnay DOC 2014
Braida "Bricco dell'Uccellone" Barbera d'Asti DOCG 2009
Braida "Bricco dell'Uccellone" Barbera d'Asti DOCG 2011
Braida "il Baciale" Monferrato Rosso DOC 2014
Braida Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG 2015
Braida "Vigna Senza Nome" Moscato d'Asti DOCG 2015
Braida Grappa invecchiata di Bricco dell'Uccellone 2010
Mr and Mrs Fox:
Braida di Bologna Giacomo Winery:

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