My first genuine introduction to wine began with the vino of Italy, primarily the wines of Piemonte (translating as the foothills of the mountains), including Barbera, Dolcetto, Moscato and Nebbiolo. The wines enthralled me… the heavy tannins in the red varietals were not off-putting but rather intriguing; the power of the wines was noticeable from the beginning. But it was only when I began to familiarize myself with the wines of other parts of Italy that I began to really understand their charming qualities. Fast forward four and a half years later and it had been a while since I had enjoyed some Barbera d’ Asti or Alba and Tuesday’s class would be harkening back to my roots, exploring the rustic nature of Piemontese wines as well as examining nearby regions like Valle d’Aosta, Lombardia and Alto Adige. It was looking good on paper.

Piemonte is located in the Northwest of Italy acting as the foothills to the Alps, producing some of the most famous wines from Italy like Barolo and Barbaresco as well as one of the most highly sought after food items—the almighty truffle. The surface area between those two legendary winemaking villages (Barolo and Barbaresco) is not all that far, fueling a major rivalry over the centuries. Both wines are made from hundred percent Nebbiolo, but, of course, the vines live in each respective region. There are some differences though, like the mandatory aging time between the regions. More pronounced variances occur between producers of each village; new school winemakers instituting new oak in order to create a contemporary style versus the traditional-minded winemakers who favor neutral wood barrels to craft an old-world wine. Both versions are revered for their chiseled structure, immense aromatics of rose petals, tobacco, cherries and anise and big-time palate delivery. Excellent food wines that embody fall and winter, boasting eHarmony-matching skills when paired with cold weather fare like roasts and truffles.

From Piemonte, we would depart, covering terrain to the Northeast like Lombardia and Alto Adige, where we would taste some interesting varietals between the two regions. Those two areas both incur cold, continental climates, harnessing the weather to create high acid white varietals. We tried Sparkling wines and cross varietals (Müller-Thurgau), getting nerdy with the wine selection like listening to way too much Ornette Coleman, or strictly grooving on the Art Ensemble of Chicago. It was very cool to say that I have tried one of only a handful of imported Erbaluce wines in the USA and while I am sure that I am not going to be requesting a case any time soon I was happy to try it.

In all, we tasted the following:

08 Erbaluce di Caluso DOC

09 Sandrone Dolcetto d’ Alba

08 G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo

06 Giorgio Pelissero Barbaresco

98 Conterno Barolo

NV Quattro Mani Franciacorta

09 Erste Neue Südtirol Müller-Thurgau

08 San Maurizio Cornalin Valle d’ Aosta

09 Lechhaler Teroldego Rotalino DOC

08 Convento Muri-Gries Lagrein Rosso

09 G.D Vajra Muscato d’ Asti

The tasting order was interesting, shuffling between white and red wines, quick palate adjustments were required and I was able to sift out a few gems like the 98 Conterno Barolo for its interesting aged notes of truffle, soy sauce and tobacco and elegance on the tongue with refined tannins. I could easily see the appeal for this wine despite its grand price tag ($175). I was also impressed with the Erste Neue Südtirol Müller-Thurgau with its powerful and youthful aroma intensity of ripe peach and apricot, portraying a simple flavor profile, that lacked acidity but was otherwise delightful; it was not a thinking man’s wine, instead a perfect supplement to the highly anticipated warmer weather of the Golden state.

On a side note, the NV Quattro Mani Franciacorta sparkling wine was a disappointment, most likely the bomb of the bunch. Coming off my recent high with Champagne, this wine offered limited aromatics, almost recalcitrant, barely giving off scents of toasted brioche and minerals and was even less alluring on the palate.

The tasting was one of my favorites; it rekindled my fondness for a part of the world that I hold responsible for igniting my passion for wine and it was also very tasty. Eleven bottles were knocked off the list on Tuesday, leaving 389 left on my righteous path to 500. My sojourn-by-bottle to the North of Italy marked the beginning and I am excited about the remainder of the trip down the boot of Italy and possibly to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Onward ho.