Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Great Champagne - in Piemonte!

Text and photos ©Tom Hyland

No matter which wine region in whatever country you visit, you'll find that winemakers need to try something besides their own wines from time to time. Sometimes, it's beer (especially on a hot day), at times it's another product from a local estate and then there are days when the choice is something totally different from what they produce.

In Italy, winemakers - as well as most wine drinkers there - adore sparkling wines. Look at how many sparkling wines are produced throughout the country; not just Franciacorta and Prosecco, but cuvées made from varieties such as Falanghina in Campania, Verdicchio in Marche and Ribolla Gialla in Friuli. It's quite a love affair Italians have with sparkling wine!

That extends, of course, to Champagne and it was with great anticipation that I joined my winemaker friends Sergio Germano (Ettore Germano) and David Rosso (Giovanni Rosso) from Serralunga d'Alba at a wonderful enoteca in that town called Vinoteca Centro Storico, home to one of the most varied selections of Champagne I've found anywhere outside of that famous zone. The owner, Alessio, is a charming young man who loves finding excellent Champagne from some of the finest artisan producers from Champagne and he's been rewarded for his efforts by the area's vignerons.

Alessio, one of Piemonte's greatest promoters of Champagne

I've met Sergio and Davide before at the enoteca and was anxious to see what we would be enjoying this particular evening. For starters, we enjoyed the Doyard Extra Brut, a very dry Champagne with only a slight dosage. The wine was an excellent start with a pronounced yeastiness and aromas of dried flowers. It was a great partner with the various salumi offered at the bar.

We then ordered a Georges Laval Brut Rosé, made in the saignée style, where the color is bled from the skins of the Pinot Noir grape. Bursting with ripe strawberry and cherry fruit, this was a delight! How nice that Alessio provides choices such as this, allowing the customer to experience a rainbow of flavors from Champagne in the heart of the Barolo zone!

A few days later, Sergio and I enjoyed a tremendous lunch at Antica Podere Tota Virginia, located in Serralunga with magnificent views of the entire Barolo zone. We enjoyed some amazing seafood (not the usual fare in Piemonte) from Chef Claudio Cagliero and with it, paired the non-vintage Larmandier-Bernier Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru (pictured at top of the page), a wine Sergio recommended for the quality/price relationship (the cost was a reasonable 45 Euro on the list). Quite rich with flavors of dried pear, the wine has a distinct minerality and excellent persistence with beautiful complexity. The wine made for a stunning pairing with our seafood (I had a plate of octopus, shrimp and swordfish that was incredible) and I'd order it again, especially at the price.

I admit that the prospect of trying more than 300 wines from the Nebbiolo grape that upcoming week made me long for sparkling wine (or just about any dry white). But these Champagnes were more than just alternative choices - they were excellent selections in their own right and reminders of how good the quality level is in the Champagne district.


  1. Great minds think alike indeed, Tom. I enjoyed a meal and a glass of the very same Doyard Extra Brut, also with Sergio, on my first day in Piemonte. (Can't believe it was two weeks ago already.) Here's my post, btw: Vinoteca Centro Storico.

    I was really amazed to see how Champagne culture has spread in the Langhe since my last visit there. Larmandier-Bernier, in particular, seems to have quite the following. I found their wines on the lists not only at Centro Storico but also at La Libera and Enoclub in Alba, as well as on the dinner table of a producer in Castiglione Falletto. It was hard not to appreciate the pricing as well, generally about the same as what we'd pay at retail here in the States.

  2. Thanks for the comments, David.

    Interesting information about the Larmandier-Bernier, epecially its apparently widespread availability, at least in the Langhe. La Libera and Enoclub are excellent choices in Alba. on my last night at More e Macine, a very good osteria in La Morra, I saw the wine on the list as well. And yes, how nice that it's so reasonably priced.