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Resurrecting Monferace Grignolino in Piedmont

Grignolino was once the darling of Piedmont but has all but faded into obscurity - now it's back. Aldo Fiordelli tastes the first wines from the producers of a new association dedicated to resurrecting the tradition of oak-aged Grignolino, under the banner of 'Monferace'...

It’s quite rare to see a new wine emerge from such a traditional region as Piedmont, but this summer sees not only the release of the first wine from the Barolo cru of Raviole, but also the first aged Grignolinos labelled as Monferace.

Monferace is the ancient name of the Monferrato region, where an association of ten Piedmontese producers has rediscovered the intriguing concept of ageing the red Grignolino variety, holding it back for at least 40 months, 24 of which are in oak.

Historically, Grignolino was as important as Nebbiolo. In 1861, exhibitions in London and Paris boasted eight-year-old bottles of the variety, but by the end of the 1970s the practice of ageing Grignolino for the long haul had disappeared. According to Mario Ronco, leading winemaker in Monferrato, ‘at that time, nobody wanted to drink old bottles’.

The reason for this was that the countryside was emptying, handed over to the industrial labour force, and everything ascribable to the past was out of trend. Elio Altare bitterly remembers offering Barolo for free while selling his Dolcetto. Grignolino became a commodity wine, worsened by huge yields.

‘Where today we plant 5,000 vines per hectare capable of producing 1.5 kilos of grapes, in the past there were 2,500 vines per hectare with significantly higher yields, but Fiat needed to sell tractors,’ adds Ronco.

Today, the old traditions of maturing Grignolino are beginning to return in a perfect example of post-modern winemaking.

‘There’s an enormous difference between classic Grignolino and Monferace’ says Robin Kick MW, leading the presentation and tasting of the wines for the first time, in Ponzano Monferrato.

The first vintage of Monferace Grignolino is the 2015.

It will be exciting to see how it develops in bottle, and what the next few vintages bring…

Tasting Monferace Grignolino – First thoughts

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