I was in Piemonte in north-west Italy a while ago and spent a couple of days in Alba with Indigenous Langa, a new association of winemakers dedicated to promoting the indigenous grapes of the Langhe region, “focussing on Nascetta and Pelaverga”, the invitation announced. I have to confess, I’d hardly heard of either of them! Nascetta’s white whilst Pelaverga is a red wine by the way.
Nascetta’s claim to fame is that it’s the only white grape native to Langhe, the region that also produces Barolo and Barbaresco, two of Italy’s most famous reds. For my anorak readers, Arneis, the most prolific white Piemontese grape is indigenous to Roero, the region across the River Tanaro, whilst Cortese, the white grape behind the popular Gavi label, hails from the Alessandria vineyards to the east.
I tasted a large flight of Nascetta wines in the cellars of the imposing Grinzane Cavour castle outside Alba; some were good, some not so good. The good bottles carried lively acidity and a touch of minerality with nutty citrus aromas and flavours. The best reminded me of Chardonnay from Burgundy’s Maconnais vineyards, the very best had me thinking that they would improve with age. For the record the Nascetta producers that collected my highest scores were Cogno, Cellario, San Silvestro and Rivetto.
Before tasting the Pelaverga wine flight, I popped outside for a touch of warm spring sunshine in the castle’s courtyard - the views were breathtaking. Hilltop villages with silhouetted castles and churches, steep green vineyard slopes with the snow capped Alps providing a stunning backdrop to one of the most beautiful vineyard regions in the world. Next time you’re thinking of a holiday in Italy, don’t forget to put Piemonte on your itinerary.
Back to the wines! Pelaverga grapes were first recorded way back in the 1400’s and today thrive in the calcerous and sandy marl slopes around the town of Verduna. Like Nascetta however, the vines only occupy small vineyard plots. The wine was known for its aphrodisiac qualities but after a little research I found that this was ‘because of its excellent drinkability’ …. Mmmm, let me pour myself a glass and think about that one.
The first thing to strike you about a flight of Pelaverga wines is the light attractive colour, a feature of the grape variety. The aromas and flavours of strawberry, raspberry and spice with friendly tannins backed by crisp acidity are also a characteristic of this easy drinking wine. If you prefer a light red this is for you. The wines that headlined my tasting notes were from the estates of Reverdito, Cantina I Bre and Ascheri.
In a world dominated by Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and their international mates, it’s great to see winemakers promoting their local indigenous varieties. So, bravo to the Lads and Lassies of Langhe. Keep your eyes peeled for Nascetta and Pelaverga on a wine shelf near you, they’ll definitely keep the wine conversation going for a while.
John Downes, one of only 350 Masters of Wine in the world is a corporate entertainer speaker, television and radio broadcaster and writer on wine. Check out John’s website at www.johndownes.com. Follow him on Twitter @JOHNDOWNESMW