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What our expert thought of Castello di Neive, Piemonte Grignolino




about this wine About this wine
 
Piemonte in northwest Italy is one of my favourite wine regions.  It’s home to the sharp, blood-red Barbera (perfect pasta and pizza wine) and the mighty, magnificent Nebbiolo, the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco.  They’re fiercely proud of their local varieties here and they don’t plant international varieties or even Sangiovese.  It took DNA testing to convince them that their precious local white Favorita was in fact the same grape as Sardinia’s Vermentino and (horror!) probably originated there.
 
This variety, Grignolino, is most definitely native to Piemonte.  It was recorded growing here in the middle of the 13th century and until a couple of centuries ago it was deemed as noble as Nebbiolo.  The King of Savoia (Savoy), then the ruler of Piemonte and Sardinia, preferred to drink Champagne… and Grignolino.  Yet today it is almost unknown.  I had never even heard of it until I tasted this one a few months ago.
 
Its name derives from the Piemontese dialect word gignòle meaning ‘pips’ with the diminutive ending -ino added; so “little pippy one”.  The name is apt because its berries contain 3 to 4 times as many pips as other varieties.  Those berries are on the small side, too, and this is exacerbated by its tendency to millerandage, where some grapes in a cluster don’t develop fully and remain tiny.
 
Pips contain far more tannin than grape skins.  However, most tannin in wine comes from the skins because it’s much easier to extract it from them.  The broken skins have a much higher surface area and their tannins are water-soluble, whereas pip tannins are soluble only in ethanol.  But if pips are damaged during crushing or pressing then massive amounts of tannin can be released - and pip tannins are particularly bitter.
 
This is a problem for Gignolino; it’s got loads of pips and its thin, pale skins don’t cushion them very effectively in the crusher or the press.  Over the centuries that this variety has been cultivated a range of techniques have evolved to manage the problem - and these in turn determine the character of the resulting wine.
 
First and foremost, the grapes must be crushed gently.  This was easy in the days when grapes were foot-trodden.  Modern crushers are only just catching up with the human foot in this respect, which may partly account for the decline in Grignolino plantings over the last hundred years.
 
Second, don’t let the alcohol levels get too high; those pip tannins are ethanol-soluble, remember?  That actually equates to “don’t let the grapes get too ripe”, which is almost too easy to achieve since Grignolino is notorious for ripening reluctantly and unevenly.
 
Third, keep the fermentation cool to reduce the extraction of tannins, and separate the wine from the skins and pips as soon as enough colour and aromas have been extracted.  Usually this is before the fermentation has even finished.
 
Consequently the wine is fresh and fruity, high in acidity, low in alcohol, and very pale.  In Piemonte it has traditionally been the wine to drink (and sell) while waiting for the heavyweight Barbera and Nebbiolo wines to mature in barrel and bottle.
 
It shares this role with the better-known Dolcetto, but the two are very different.  Dolcetto is deep-coloured, low in acidity and, crucially, easier to grow.  Sharp pale reds are a hard sell these days so, while Grignolino is still enthusiastically consumed locally, it’s rarely seen outside the region and its plantings have steeply declined.
 
This is one of only a handful of Grignolino wines to be exported, and is made by the prestigious Barbaresco producer Castello di Neive.  Only 4000 bottles are made every year.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
I’ve drunk rosés darker than this!  But they were still pink, whereas this is definitely red despite its translucent pallor.
 
There’s a delightful, medium+ nose of ripe red cherries that soars out of the glass.  I’d go so far as to say they’re Morello cherries - the sour but fragrant sort used in tarts.  If I concentrate hard I can detect hints of roses and spices (cloves and cinnamon) but those cherries rule the roost here.
 
On the palate this is fully dry with strong acidity, lots of red cherry fruit, and a definite lick of tannin.  It’s actually medium-bodied, or very close to it, which comes as a surprise after the light colour.  12.5% alcohol is high for this grape, and helps to round things out nicely in the mouth.  This is a red, not a rosé after all.
 
Some herbs join the cherries on the mouthwatering, medium+ finish.
 
Assessment
 
Grignolino may be little-known but they still make two million bottles a year in Piemonte and almost all is consumed locally.  Still white wines are rare in this red-wine-dominated region so chilled Grignolino fills that role and has become the default drink during the summer months.
 
And with good reason - I can’t imagine a more perfect summertime red.  It isn’t complicated but its exuberant cherry fruit, mouthwatering freshness (and its red-wine ability to still taste great after the Champagne has warmed up) mean there’s no wine I’d rather have with me on a picnic.
 
We’ve been holding this one back until the sun came out, and I really hope the weather holds so you get to drink it in the sunshine!


Tasting notes

Appearance
very pale garnet, bordering on dark rosé
Nose

Intensity medium(+?)

Aromas ripe red cherries (Morello), hints of roses & spice (cloves, cinnamon)

Development youthful
Palate

Sweetness very dry

Acidity high

Body medium

Tannins medium-

Intensity medium

Flavours red cherries
Finish

Length medium+

Flavours as palate, herbs. Mouthwatering.
Other notes
Unoaked. Very refreshing.


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