2006 Elio Grasso Barbera d'Alba Vigna Martina

Elio Grasso Barbera d'Alba Vigna Martina

If you've never visited the vineyards and wine towns of Piedmont, and the sloping hills that form a sort of bowl on which the magnificent vineyards of Barolo reside, you need to. Each village is distinct with varied soil types and expositions. The style of the wines of Piedmont are probably more varied than any of the world's great wine regions. La Morra and Barolo have more clayey soil, typically offering softer wines. Serralunga's highly mineral south facing vineyards provide the most structured wine. Monforte, with its sandy, calcareous soil, has both power and warmth. This is not only home to some of the greatest red wines of the world, but to an incredibly spirited, innovative band of winemakers.

The innovation comes with the varieties and the terrain. The special challenge facing winemakers is one of balancing magical aromatics with the tannins and firm acid backbone of the region's principal varieties -- Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. When you find a producer who has really mastered this balance, in superb vintages even his 'little wines' are spectacular.

On a recent trip to Piedmont, we visited Elio and Gianluca, the winemaking magicians of Monforte. We had tasted a number of excellent 2006s before we got to Grasso's, but as expected, the Grasso wines just blew us away with their richness, aromatics, and perfect acid balance. One key is the vineyards themselves: this high-altitude, varietal Barbera comes from one acre of rich limestone and marl soil.

But the influence of the winemaker matters too. Winemaking techniques run the gamut in Piedmont -- from softer ultra-modern wines (these seem to be on the way out) to hard, aromatic, earthy examples. The best examples are in the middle, and no producer in the region seems to better marry fine aromatics with explosive fruit than Elio Grasso . When we asked why, in each vintage tasted, the wines seemed in perfect balance, Elio led us off the terrace to the first row of vines beneath the cantina. Bending forward, he scooped up a big handful of earth. He poured the sandy, calcareous soil through our fingers. He smiled and said, "Monforte."

Elio Grasso Estate
Elio Grasso Estate
This Barbera is deep ruby red in color, with notes of red currant and plum on the nose. Red and purple fruits continue on the palate, in addition to savory notes of spice, alongside rich texture and soft tannins.

Pair this wine with a firm Italian cheese, like Fontina Val D'aosta, or with simple, hearty Italian fare, like pasta with ragu.