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Wine: Italy's real aristocrats

When it comes to the red wines of Piedmont in northern Italy, it is Barolo and Barbaresco who grab the bragging rights.

Made from what is classed as one of the noble grape varieties, Nebbiolo, they can be awesome, and expensive, so great choices if you have a relatively deep pocket on the day.

Then there are Piedmont's more everyday and affordable reds, whose reputations are somewhat diminished by virtue of living in the shadow of two vinous aristocrats. Meet Barbera and Dolcetto, and enjoy the taste of one of the world's great wine regions from another two very fine Piedmontese reds.

What you get with both Barbera and Dolcetto are distinctive wines with a comforting deep colour, great fruitiness and usually plenty of that bitter-sweet cherry tang associated with Italy, sometimes rounded off with oak, sometimes not.

Helpfully, and unusually in Europe, these wines are generally labelled with the names of the grape, so it is easier to recognise what you are buying.

So, for instance, it's Barbera d'Asti from the area around Asti, or Dolcetto d'Alba from around the town of Alba.

They're Italian, so it almost goes without saying that they are great wines for food -- an Italian spread that could include anything from pizza to risotto to meaty pasta dishes (and, remember, Piedmont is also famous for the white truffle) gives an idea of what they are used to encountering on the table.

Barbera earned the name 'the people's wine' because it is the most widely grown -- and presumably most widely consumed -- grape in Piedmont.

It is renowned for its high acidity and low tannins, the former an important asset in wine, particularly for tackling fattier foods, while the latter makes for a softer drinking style.

Dolcetto translates as 'the little sweet one', but that may be only because it has less acidity than Barbera. It is fragrant too, and while its tannins are higher than Barbera, it generally represents a soft and rounded easy drinker.

If these wines are good enough for the fine people and cuisine of Piedmont, then there's no good reason not to do as they do and drink plenty of the stuff.


email: weekendwine@independent.ie

Irish Independent