In many cases, like their brethren in Alba, they use native Piemontese grape varieties – in the case of Asti, varieties such as Freisa or Grignolino.
Also noteworthy were the couple of Chardonnay / Pinot Nero, traditional method, lees-matured sparkling wines that a couple of Asti wineries chose to show. Matteo Soria’s Bolla Bea Cuvée Speciale Blanc de Noir, with 5 years on lees, was particularly convincing.
These traditional method wines include those from the DOCG Alta Langa region in the hills to the South and East of Barolo, where the wines are quickly gaining attention as Piemonte’s alternative to Champagne.
The most notable alternative, mainly indigenous, Piemontese varieties encountered amongst the other Asti wines include:
- Favorita: as Vermentino in known in the region. Its herbal aromatic lift to lemon rind citrus fruit appears to get a chalky, mineral tone and brisk acidity in its Piemontese expression
- Cortese: also known as Gavi and synonymous with the Piemontese town of the same name. This relatively neutral, apple-flavoured, crisp white wine-making grape is also found around Asti
- Freisa: producing moderately pale, floral-scented, cherry flavoured red wines, with good acidity. Though tannins can have a certain wild, rusticity to their texture, they are relatively light, so that is not intrusive
- Grignolino: like Freisa, making paler reds, with acidity and cherry tones. But with a firmer tannic structure – again carrying a certain rusticity to the texture of the tannins. Experiencing something of a revival, with a producer association now developing to improve and promote the variety
- Ruchè: a tiny production variety, most notably as a DOCG Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato. Apparently not much more than 100Ha of the variety are grown. Its moderate acidity, relatively deep colour and fruity style seem lend the variety to easy drinking reds, but I haven’t tasted enough to see more ambitious styles
- Dolcetto: perhaps more recognised as Dolcetto d’Alba and Dolcetto di Dogliani, there is nevertheless some of this deep-coloured, tannic, blue-fruited and herbal variety grown in Asti, under the Dolcetto d’Asti label
- Nebbiolo: clearly the great grape of the Langhe, in Barolo and Barbaresco, where it gets the best sites. Given that Barbera tends to get prime locations in Asti, there are surprisingly some spots there that it is also grown. In 2018, a new DOC for Monferrato Nebbiolo was announced to support that
The following other Asti styles were tasted in passing, amongst producers’ more classic wines, and are grouped into sparkling, white then red.
Traditional method wines
Matteo Soria, Bolla Bea Cuvée Speciale Blanc de Noir NV (16.5 / 20; 92 / 100)
Some magnum-stored reserved wines added. 100% Pinot Noir. 5 years on lees.
A: Very pale gold, with a lively bead
N: Rich, fresh baked bread and some meatiness from the intense lees. Some coffee
P: Dry, focused and bright. Some chalk. Touch of stone fruit to citrus. Mineral. Medium-long to long
Ganci, Cuvee 36 mesi Alta Langa Brut NV (15.5 / 20; 89 / 100)
Minimum 30 months for the DOCG. 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay. 7-8 g/L RS. 12% ABV.
A: Pale lemon. Frothy with a moderate bead
N: Some delicate biscuit lees and brisk citrus fruit
P: Brut. Fine mousse. Flinty citrus. Clean, with a toasty-flinty finish
Still white wines
Gallo, Cortese dell’Alto Monferrato 2017 (14.5 / 20; 85 / 100)
Azienda Agricola Gallo. Hot vintage, so not as aromatic as normal. Marls, clay and sandstone.
A: Very pale lemon; slight spritz
N: Flinty and nutty. Delicate floral apple
P: Honey touch to green apple, flint and stone. Moderate depth. Some saltiness
Terrabianca, Quattro Langhe Favorita 2017 (16 / 20; 90 / 100)
Vermentino / Favorita. 12.5% ABV.
A: Pale lemon
N: Nutty overtones, sage and aromatic lemon peel. Some wax touches
P: Saline, savoury, textured palate with bright acidity and full body. Rich. Stony finish
Still red wines
Fabioperrone, Langhe Nebbiolo Ciabot 2016 (15.5 / 20; 89 / 100)
Will be Monferrato Nebbiolo in the newly-announced DOC.
A: Pale-medium ruby
N: Sweet, rich red cherry, but with a rose lift and some flint mineral
P: Brisk not crisp acidity. Firm, sandy tannins. Ripe red cherry and some smoky-flinty mineral. Masculine but ripe. Medium-long finish. Well-made but not exceptional
Tenuta Olim Bauda, Freisa d’Asti Secco 2015 (14.5 / 20; 85 / 100)
A: Pale-medium ruby-garnet
N: Scented red cherry, some nuttiness and touches of dried thyme. Bright fruit – whole berries? Some orange peel
P: Smoky, bitter-green tones to the slightly wild, moderate tannins. Some soap tones to the floral finish
Bava, Ruchè di Castagniole Monferrato 2017 (15 / 20; 87 / 100)
A: Mid-deep purple
N: Berry fruit and some estery semi-carbonic type notes. Touch of ash and dried-herb complexity
P: Straightforward red cherry ripe fruit with dried herb and spice tones. Moderate acidity. Rounded. A little warming, but drinkable