It’s no secret that when it comes to Italian wine, there is no beating Piedmont. From regal Barolo and complex Barbaresco to simple yet excellent gems like Barbera, Dolcetto, and Freisa, one could devote their entire wine drinking existence to this region and want for very little. Yet, often left out of these conversations surrounding Piedmontese greatness is the region’s subalpine, hidden alpine alter-ego, Alto Piemonte. Though wine nerds like ourselves have long appreciated these northerly gems for their high-toned fruit and considerable value relative to their cousins to the south, this subregion is also one of Italy’s most intriguing. The wines of Piedmont are generally often referred to as ‘alpine’, yet it’s really these wines that deserve that title. A recent discovery for us, Azienda Agricola NOAH is a real treasure of the subregion, and it’s their two best wines that will take us to the region this month.
We’ll begin with what is one of the estate’s ‘humbler’ bottlings that is actually sourced from their oldest vines of any variety. Though Croatina is most often used as a blender grape to round out Nebbiolo’s natural rusticity when grown in colder climates such as these, when sourced from very old vines it can indeed produce wines that rival the best Nebbiolos in complexity and depth. Case in point is this wine. The last vintage ever made was 2015 and is it ever spectacular. Broad, deep, and fresh, it is a glorious example of an alpine red that balances drinkability and ripeness perfectly.
Croatina, grown mainly in this corner of Piedmont and in parts of Lombardy, is one of Italy’s rarest varieties, covering fewer than 5,000 acres today. Unlike Nebbiolo, it is more at home in colder terroirs, and therefore achieves full ripess more easily than Nebbiolo, hence the tradition of blending it into the best Nebbiolo-based wines in favor of increased drinkability. When drinking this lovely wine, many other alpine reds come to mind–Savoie Mondeuse, Jura Poulsard, and Val d’Aosta Cornalin–they all share an alpine energy manifest by way of crunchy red fruit, mountain herbs, and a saline finish. Best drunk cool and with rich fare. Braised pork or beef with egg noodles would be ideal.