Italy's Piemonte is a seemingly bottomless well of wine. There are a whopping 52 DOCG and DOC zones in Piemonte with a dizzying array of grapes and styles mixed through the region. I have briefly touched on a number of the wines here, but, as I realized not even 24 hours after writing that post, Piemonte's riches are more numerous than I had thought. Bastianich and Lynch's book Vino Italiano lists 12 different grape varieties used in Piemonte (of which, at least 8 will have posts on this blog). I am certain that their list is not comprehensive either, as I have a bottle of something called Verduno Pelaverga which is made from the Pelaverga grape and is notably absent from their list. If you had to drink wine from just one region for the rest of your life, Piemonte would be an excellent choice if you value quality wine production and diversity in equal measure.
For Brachetto d'Acqui, Brachetto is the name of the grape and Acqui (or, more specifically, Acqui Terme) is the name of the town. Acqui Terme is located in the Alessandria province in southeastern Piemonte, very close to the border with Liguria. Oz Clarke rather cryptically calls Brachetto "one of Italy's more unusual grapes," though he doesn't elaborate any further than that. It is thought to be native to the Monferrato Hills of Piemonte, though no one is really sure. For awhile, Brachetto was thought to be identical to the French grape Braquet, but recent research seems to indicate that they are two distinct varieties. Like many Italian grapes, it seems that there may be several different sub varieties of the Brachetto grape. The grape currently used in Brachetto d'Acqui bottlings won out over other varieties such as Brachetto del Roero in a battle that was theoretically based solely on taste and marketability, but which probably had as much to do with politics as it did with the perceived superiority of any particular sub variety.
Brachetto d'Acqui was promoted to DOC status in 1969 and was further promoted to DOCG in 1996 in part, it is thought, due to the excellent pairing the wine makes with the famous chocolates made in Piemonte. Of course with DOCG status comes a certain set of restrictions: the wine must be made from 100% Brachetto grapes that were harvested with yields below 8 tonnes per hectare. The wine must have a potential alcohol level of at least 11.5% with at least 5% of the sugars actually converted to alcohol for the frizzante wines and 12% potential alcohol and 6% fermented alcohol for the spumante wines (potential alcohol is simply a measure that tells you that if all of the available sugars in the juice were converted to alcohol, what the alcoholic strength would be). There are still wines made in the DOCG zone which can be either sweet or dry and there is a further blanket Piemonte Brachetto DOC that merely stipulates that 85% of the final blend must be made from Brachetto grapes.
The overwhelming majority of examples you are likely to run across are the sweet, frizzante wines. Rosa Regale is a very widespread brand that is easily available for most consumers. I've had it before and while it's pretty good, it has nothing on Giacomo Bologna's "Braida" bottling. The "Braida" wine is a little more expensive, but it's definitely worth the extra money. I've paid over $30 for it full retail, but the most recent bottle I had (the 2007 vintage) was around $23 from my friends at Bin Ends. In the glass, the wine was a pale purple red color with little saturation and a few bubbles hanging around. The nose smells like strawberry candy and is bursting with bright red fruit with a bit of a rose/violet floral element hanging around. In the mouth, the wine is sweet and lightly fizzy with candied strawberry and raspberry flavors. There's a nice acidity to the wine too which keeps it interesting and lively in your mouth. At four years old, this wine was slowing down a bit so ideally, you should consume this in the most recent vintage you can get your hands on. It is a knockout Valentine's Day wine that goes well with both chocolate and red fruits (chocolate covered strawberries are probably the Platonic ideal for a pairing here). Brachetto is a crowd pleaser of a wine and is the perfect gift for that someone on your list who isn't generally a fan of wine, but who still has an easily accessible sweet tooth.
Wine Bottega for about $23. Hilberg's philosophy, in their own words, "is based on symbiosis and empathy with nature. Man must not exploit natural resources but, rather, like a guide, ‘domesticate’ what is wild in nature with care and love so that it can become useful and benevolent." To that end, they cultivate their vines with horses and oxen rather than tractors and machinery.
The bottle that I bought seemed to have a minor cork failure issue, as the cork was stained all the way out to the end and the edge of the bottle was a little sticky. The cork was dry when I pulled it, though, so it may have happened at some point on its trip to Massachusetts. Whatever happened to it, it wasn't flawed so I pushed on. In the glass the wine was a medium purple-ruby color that was translucent at the core. The nose was very aromatic powerful candied red berry fruit, roses, sweet cherry and strawberry. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity, light tannins and a touch of sweetness. There was bright strawberry and red cherry fruit with a touch of chocolate and rosewater. The wine was juicy and lively on the palate and was very easy to drink. I had mine with boysenberry jam glazed duck breasts, and it was a very nice match. I'd probably stick with light meats in slightly sweet sauces for this wine, as it doesn't have the body to hang with richer meats and the little bit of sugar in the wine needs something to match up with. Like the sparkler above, I suspect this would be a crowd pleaser of a wine that would appeal especially to people who don't like drier, more austere red wines. The bottom line is that it's a fun wine with a more serious side to it that should appeal to tasters and drinkers across a wide palate spectrum.