I love wines from the Piedmont region of Italy. If I had to choose only one wine to drink for the rest of my life, it would almost certainly be good Barolo. I also love the diversity of the Piedmont area. There's Nebbiolo for when you want something deep, intense and serious; Barbera when you want something a little juicier and friendly; Dolcetto when you want something even softer and simpler than that; Moscato d'Asti when you want a sweet, light refreshing bit of fizz; Brachetto when you want the same kind of experience from a red grape; Arneis when you want a full bodied white wine; Erbaluce when you don't. Most of those varieties are relatively accessible to the US consumer, and several of them will be the focus of future posts here.
And then there's Grignolino. This grape is native to the Monferrato Hills of Piemonte between the two towns of Asti and Casale. There are three DOC regions: d'Asti, del Monferrato Casalese and Piemonte. Aside from a patch grown by Heitz Cellars in California, as far as I can tell, the grape is not grown anywhere else in the world. Even in Piemonte, acreage devoted to this grape is limited and, consequently, there isn't much Grignolino produced. The grape is difficult to ripen fully and is prone to millerandage, which is when grape clusters ripen unevenly either across the vine (with some clusters being ripe and others very underripe) or within individual clusters (with some grapes within a cluster being fully ripe and others underripe).
The wines produced from Grignolino also tend to be very tannic due to the higher numbers of seeds in the grapes. Most wine grapes have two seeds per berry but Grignolino has three. In fact, the name Grignolino means "many pips" in the local dialect. High tannins are usually forgiven in a wine with enough fruit flavors to wrap around them, but Grignolino is a bit deficient in that respect as well. The wines tend to be lightly colored and can resemble rough-edged rosés more than full-bodied red wines. Quality varies wildly between producers as well, for a few reasons. The grape is very strongly influenced by the type of soil it is planted in so different vineyard sites tend to bring out different qualities in the wine. Additionally, there is a great deal of clonal variation in the Grignolino family, which can produce differences in the finished product across producers. Grignolino is referred to as an "unquestionably local taste" by the Oxford Companion to Wine, but lately, even local tastes for the wine have been waning, and many producers are pulling up their Grignolino vines in order to plant more user-friendly, crowd-pleasing grapes. The two major DOC regions producing Grignolino (Asti and Monferrato Caslese), produce just over 150,000 cases between them, and those numbers are on the decline.
In short, this is the kind of wine that is virtually impossible to market successfully to American drinkers since it doesn't really conform to the so-called "international palate" and since quality is so variable, so most of the wine that is produced within Piemonte is consumed locally. I was fortunate enough to pick up a bottle of the 2008 La Casaccia Pogetto Grignolino del Monferrato caslese at Bin Ends for around $16. The wine is very pale salmon color in the glass with an onion skin rim, resembling a rosé more than a red wine. My entire tasting note for the nose on this glass was "dumb nose...extinct...nothing." On the palate, the wine was surprisingly medium bodied, given the pale color, with very high, rough tannins and high acidity. There were some light cherry and red berry fruits, but for the most part, this was pretty austere. A good comparison would be to think about a Barolo that some terrible person had removed most of the fruit and aroma from. It has the same kind of structure as Barolo, but none of the ornamentation that makes Barolo or Barbaresco such a delight to drink. As far as food is concerned, something with this kind of tannin and acidity just begs for some kind of protein. I might be inclined to try it with a rich stew or something kind of rich and mouth coating for the tannins to grip onto. I would avoid grilled meats, other than perhaps salmon, with this because it just doesn't have enough density to stand up to something quite that strong. It's a very interesting wine that I'm very glad I got to try, but I can't really imagine a scenario where I find myself wishing I had a Grignolino to go with dinner.