Astor Center, right around the corner from Astor’s excellent liquor store, is a well-organized and set up venue for learning about wine. We’ve taken a couple of classes there, and always learn something new. For example, did you know that on Crete they train the vines to grow in a circle, to conserve moisture and protect from the sea breezes in a semi-arid climate? Next time you are in a wine store, see if you can find a bottle of Cretan wine with an illustration of circular vines.
The classroom is set up as a two-tiered semi-circle, facing the teacher’s desk and an overhead screen where she can show maps, etc. When you enter, you see glasses of wine set up at each place, plus water, and, in this case, a basket of bread and a little slate with three cheeses. The cheeses were there to illustrate how food and wine complement each other, a concept with which I heartily agree.
We learned that Piedmont is an ancient wine-growing region, with its own unique grapes and set of growing conditions. For example, the hilly topography means that the best grapes are grown on the upper slopes, where you have the best drainage, and so on down the slope.
We enjoyed all the wines we sampled, which means that the following list will be useful to us when we are in a wine store, wondering whether or not to buy a particular Piedmontese wine. I’ll just check my own blog! The prices are ones given to us by Astor as their regular prices, though on that night we could have bought any of them for 20% off.
1. Gavi di Gavi, La Merlina, 2018 $18.96
Made from the cortese grape, the only white of our tasting was refreshing on a warm night, crisp but with some richness. I smell wet rock and green apple, and taste citrus at the end. The rich robiola cheese complements it.
2. Pelaverga “Basadone,” Castello di Verduno, 2017 $23.96
With a chuckle, Tess Rose Lampert, our teacher, notes that this is a “purported aphrodisiac.” Maybe because it is a light red, without a lot of alcohol to weigh you down? It is dry, with a taste of fresh berries, and no tannins. It is mouth-watering, which is an indication that it has some acidity. Pelaverga is the name of the grape.
3. Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato, Crivelli, 2017 $24.96
In this case, ruchè is the name of the grape, and its presence in the name means the wine is at least 90% made of it. Tess suggests that this is a nice wine to serve chilled in hot weather, and that it would go well with duck or venison or mushrooms. It is dry, with tastes of blackberry and other dark fruits, with medium tannins.
4. Barbera d”Alba “Castle” Barale, 2017 $17.96
I’ve had Barberas before, and Tess tells us that this is a fairly consistent varietal, with acceptable bottles in the $15-20 range, and really good ones for $30. This is another mouth-watering wine, with cherry tastes that remind me a bit of merlot. Tess adds that it is a crowd-pleaser, and goes well with pizza, lamb, and even chili.
5. Barbaresco “Ovello,” Gigi Bianco, 2014 $54.96
Decant this wine at least an hour before you plan to serve it, she tells us. Made from the Nebbiolo grape, which is, we learn, the most important grape of the region, grown on the best spots, this is a dry, slightly tannic wine with a complex flavor. She discusses the texture of the wine with us, which she describes as silky and rich, and recommends serving it with similarly rich food, such as beef tartare or home-made pasta with a meat sauce.
6. Barolo “Ravera,” Cagliero, 2012 $64.96
Another wine made from the Nebbiolo grape, this leads me to venture the opinion that they both have a smell somewhat like licorice. No one disagrees. Barolos tend to be expensive, but she cautions us that because of that, more and more of it is being made, so be careful to buy it from a grower. Delicate and complex, this doesn’t have a lot of fruit, and is somewhat austere. Tess says it can age a long time.
7. Moscato d”Asti, De Forville, 2018 $14.99
Unlike all the other wines, this one isn’t poured until just before we drink it. It is a dessert or aperitif wine, with an aroma of honey and a sweet, peachy taste, a bit frizzante. Tess advises it is good with something salty and crunchy. I wouldn’t buy a bottle of it, but a glass might be nice with a dish of salted nuts.