Grignolino is at the heart of viticulture in the Piedmont region and is one of its archetypical crus. Grignolino vineyards are located in some of the most interesting parts of the Monferrato, a charming area between fortresses, medieval castles, sanctuaries and “infernot”, in seventy villages between Casale and Asti equally divided between two DOC references: Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese and Grignolino d’Asti.
In a more light hearted way, one could also talk about Grignolino di Sua Santità (Grignolino of His Holiness) since it is the favorite wine of Pope Francesco Bergoglio, whose father comes from Portacomaro in the Piedmont region.
The wine hasa a beautiful ruby-red color, with a tendency to an orange hue when aged, a distinctive delicate aroma with notes of red berries, herbs, spices and dried fruit. In the mouth, it’s dry, balanced and slightly tannic.
In fact the name Grignolino derives from the presence of numerous seeds as it is related to the word “grignole” which means “many pips” in the local Piedmontese dialect of the Asti region. Wines made from Grignolino are crisp and dry with a characteristic taste coming from the unique berries.
The area of production of Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese corresponds to an outcrop of arenaceous limestone-marl sediments from the Miocene while the area of production of Grignolino d’Asti coincides with areas of sandy-clay from the Pliocene. Since the two zones have different chemical and mineralogical compositions, it is obvious that the agricultural soil resulting from the decomposition of the substrate will provide different nutrients, especially as regards the amount of calcium, and therefore will impart different organoleptic characteristics to the two types of Grignolino wines, justifying the two DOC references.
Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese is a wine rich in spices and color, very pointy when young. As a consequence it is more suitable for ageing and tends to become more structured. Grignolino d’Asti is a wine ready earlier, even a few months after harvest, it has less tannins, more floral aromas and less spicy.
If we consider that among the characteristics of Grignolino are notable demands on the soil and climate, poor adaptability to different types of rootstocks, limited and inconsistent productivity, and differences in maturation not only on the same plant but also in the individual bunches then we should not be surprised that the choice to cultivate this grape and keep Grignolino wine alive is a matter of tradition and pride.
For this reason, Grignolino has a free, wild spirit and Veronelli, one of the top wordl-known oenologist, has rename it “testabalorda” or “hard headed” in his book “Guida all’Italia Piacevole” (Guide to the pleasant Italy).
Producing Grignolino is a commitment to continuing a rural way of life that is in harmony with the particular nature found in the Monferrato area. It is a rare wine whose caprices makes it able to continually surprise those who know it. As you will see, getting to know Grignolino is not only about searching for a taste or a momentary pleasure, but it is also about following the traces of the wine culture of the Monferrato area of the Piedmont region.
Grignolino and Pietra da Cantoni
The area is characterized by a singular type of architectural construction: the infernot. These underground rooms dug into a particolar geological formation called Cantoni Stone.
The infernot are used for the domestic storage of bottles and represent veritable works of art linked to popular know-how.
The area selected comprises the main quarries where the stone that also characterises the prestigious architecture of the hill villages was quarried. There is a very close connection with the vineyards and the cultivation of the Grignolino grape-variety and of other minor grape-varieties that characterise Piedmont’s varietal heritage.
Gianluca Bera, a food historian of Piedmont cuisine, emphasizes how Grignolino pairs well with all first courses, from pasta dishes to soups, poultry, rabbit and meat dishes. It pairs especially well with dishes that have bread as a main ingredient such as in a “panada” (stale bread soaked in hot broth), a Pavese soup (chicken and beef broth, stale bread, egg and parmesan cheese), a supa d’ sicot (a zucchini soup), soups typical the Val d’Aosta region, from “canederli” to Neapolitan pizza.
Because of the tannin content, Grignolino is very well suited to fried foods, such as the traditional “fritto misto” of the Piedmont region, fried vegetable fritters, vegetable or fish tempura, and anchovy dishes.
Grignolino also pairs well with a variety of paté, with all types of fowl if cooked without heavy sauces, with warm vegetable based appetizers, such as tarts and flans, certain cured meats typical of the Monferrato region and young cheeses.
In the summer, served slightly chilled, it is an excellent aperitif and pairs well with many fish dishes such as salmon, sardines or fried anchovies. Grignolino can also be served with such grab and go dishes as focacce, piadine, farinate from the Liguria-Piemonte area, sciatt from Valtellina, a type of crispy fritter made of cheese and Saracen wheat flour. Grignolino also pairs well with bites typically served during happy hour. It is best served at a temperature of 15-16 C in a chalice style wine glass.