50 Shades of Royalty

August is coming to an end and I finally find the time to write about this month’s topic for the Piemonte Blogging Group. I didn’t have to think long about how to decline the subject: there are so many aspects of Piemonte’s history, art and culture which are strongly related to – or at least have been influenced by – the Monarchy or the noble class in general. I’ve chosen to interpret “royalty” in the broad sense, thinking about which of the wines from Piemonte would be more suitable to hold a royal position and considering also some of the influences going beyond Piemonte’s borders.

The king of wine, the wine of the kings

Well, this sounds more like a stereotype to me than the truth, as it’s not in my Top 10, but in the Piemonte wine family Barolo certainly must wear the crown. He is one of the most renown and successful Italian wines in the world and no doubt the only one – together with its step-brother, the throne-aspirant Barbaresco – to have built up a certain reputation for nobility and exclusiveness. With a price to match: Barolo is not an every-day wine. Well, I could certainly do with a daily bottle, but my economies wouldn’t be up to the task for long. He keeps you at a distance, you have to know him well to fully appreciate him, but he also usually keeps his promises for a great tasting experience. As I’m not his first supporter (I prefer democracy), I put most of his qualities down to the grape he’s obtained from: Nebbiolo. And dream a day will come when the crown will move to the northern branch of the family.

Licence by Blue Moon in her Eyes – A royal Barolo label

Behind a big man, there’s always a big woman

Every king needs a queen and in the Piemonte Royal family these are Barbera’s shoes. Actually, she would be glad to try out the king’s role as well – but the winemaking history has relegated her to the “wife’s place”, which has it’s pros and cons. Barbera it’s cheaper, more vulnerable, taking part to so many DOC(G) it is difficult for the consumer to feel the prestige behind the label and the guarantee for high quality. But for the same reasons, Barbera is like a chameleon: whatever the food, she offers a style to match. She’s intriguing, difficult to tame, with her lunatic acidity and powerful character. A real Lady in Red, this is what she’s called in her homeland, the Monferrato.

The prince

Now, it’s not a matter of prestige or relationship with the previous Royal wines, but if I were to assign the Prince role, I would suggest the only wine from Piemonte whose name has a hint of nobility: Doux d’Henry. He is native of the Pinerolese area and owns his name to King Henry IV of France. There are two versions of the story: according to the first, it was the king himself who, during his visit to Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy in the early 1600s, appreciated this wine so much so as to name it his “dolce” (sweet) Henry. The second version sees the king bringing the very vine stocks with him in his journey to Italy, so that the grape variety could be grown here as well. Doux d’Henry is a fresh, light wine, with no sweetness but in the name, a fair hue and a fragrant nose; despite his huge past importance for the peasant economy of the Val Chisone, today he’s still pretty unknown but worth the effort of finding a bottle to taste it.

Royal influence…

I could write for hours about the crucial role of the Savoy family in Piemonte winemaking. The king of wine wouldn’t exist, hadn’t King Carlo Alberto and Count Camillo Benso of Cavour been such a couple of wine geeks so as to hire General Paolo Francesco Staglieno as an oenologist. The castle of Verduno and the royal residence in Pollenzo were the set of the first experiments which brought to the birth of Barolo. According to the literature, the Savoy were also aficionados of Pelaverga, a wonderful alternative to Barolo. So elegant and spicy, it offers fruity and peppery aromas and is more easy-drinking than its mate Barolo. But I guess it’s been its reputation as an aphrodisiac wine to decree its success at the court.

A room with a view - Grinzane Castle
A room with a view – Grinzane Castle

Another personality who played an important role in the culinary tradition of Piemonte was Giovanni Vialardi (mid 1800s), chef assistant and pastry cook at Casa Savoia. Apart from its contribution in retrieving traditional popular dishes, he was among the first to propose a wine list to accompany the menu and to promote the wines of Piemonte where French wines were the rule.

… and the like

The history of Piemonte is dominated by the Royal Savoy family, but there were also several feudi belonging to noble houses which were loyal to different parties. Among them, the Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta were devoted to viticulture and winemaking since the origin of the house around 1000. In this remote part of the province of Asti, home to wonderful examples of Barbera (Giacomo Bologna was from Rocchetta as well, and the winery is still run there), Mario Incisa (1899-1983) was born and was destined to lay the foundation stone of one of the most mythical wines in Italian winemaking history: Sassicaia. Yes, the so called “Super Tuscan” wines were actually invented by a Piemontese. Mario’s greatest passion were the horses – and horse races – but he also loved French Bordeaux wines and dreamt of creating an Italian first-class wine with a similar character. After his studies in Pisa, he moved with his wife to the Tenuta San Guido, on the cost of Tuscany, where he found the ideal soil conditions to plant Cabernet (so similar to the gravelly Graves). It is here that the first Italian Bordeaux blend was born: Sassicaia, indeed. Between 1948 and 1967 it remained a private experiment, not always successful and often criticized. But like all the great wines, Sassicaia just needed time to develop and once this was understood, every year a few cases were stored in the cellar of Castiglioncello until in 1968 this Premium wine made is debut on the market – and it was a huge success.

Read the other August posts from the Blogging Piemonte Group!
Feel Like a Royal in Torino, by A Texas Mom in Torino
Ice-Cream: The Ultimate Status Symbol, by Turin Mamma
Palazzo Chiablese: A Tour of Turin’s Royal Residence with Italian Touring Club Torino, by Tidbits on Tap
The Royal Enologist of Barolo by The Entire Pizza
Turin Legends: Royal Alchemy by Once Upon a Time in Italy

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Elisa Pesce

Esperto assaggiatore ONAV, assaggiatore ONAF, WSET Advanced in Wines & Spirits nonché tecnico di marketing per l'enoturismo. Dato che la vita è una sola, preferisco sia il più incasinata possibile: il vino è l'unico modo per mantenere l'equilibrio. Vistita il mio Blog o scrivimi una mail

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