“I’m looking for something fresh and flirty!” you overhear a customer tell the wine store clerk, that clever one who seems to know so much about wine. “We’re having friends over for an alfresco lunch of poached salmon and salad, so nothing too deep or serious …”By Fred Benenson (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Savvy wine lover that you are, you begin to play the pairing possibilities over in your mind. Will the clerk suggest a Pinot Noir? If so, from Burgundy, California, or beyond?  Yet what does the customer mean by ‘fresh?’ And ‘flirty?’

A few minutes later the clerk brings the customer an Italian wine, explaining it is from the grignolino grape, which grows in Piedmont. “It’s a nice, light, friendly red wine,” he says, “with refined fruit flavors perfect for your salmon and salad.”

Grignolino is traditionally found in Monferrato, in southern Piedmont. There, it is a wine meant to drink fresh and young while the region’s “serious wines,” Barolo and Barbaresco, mature in barrel. Like pinot noir and nebbiolo, grignolino is a temperamental grape to grow, demanding sunny hillsides to ripen evenly, as well as dry, sandy soil. The grape’s name comes from the local dialect for grignole, which means seeds.  It is a challenging grape to vinify because this fragile, dusty, dark-skinned grape is full of pips. For this reason, the grapes need to be very softly pressed so the bitter seeds do not break and result in astringent/green flavors in the wine.

You can find Grignolino in wine shops across the country, and this wine is perfect for the warm weather and lighter fare of summer. Grignolino is a special treat for wine aficionados who are bored with Pinot Noir, Gamay, and other lighter red wines, and crave something fresh and new.

I recently sampled two styles of Grignolino, one from Asti in Piedmont, and one from Napa, California where growing Italian varieties is all the rage. Both are similar in many ways: very light color (think light, transparent Pinot Noir) with the scent of fresh red fruits such as strawberries and raspberries.

The 2008 Heitz Cellar Grignolino from Napa seemed slightly more complex, possibly from riper grapes and some maturation in wood. It and the 2009 Francesco Rinaldi can both be found for under $18, and would be excellent with dishes that feature summer produce and lighter proteins. Try these wines with salade Niçoise, tuna tartare, or a composed salad with chicken, raspberries, pomegranate seeds and mint. Also easily paired with entrees, try Grignolino with poached salmon or even chicken or steak, especially with a light fruit marinade.

2009 Francesco Rinaldi e Figli Grignolino d’Asti
Pure red cherry fruit on the nose leads to bright refreshing red fruit flavors on the palate. Nice beam of focused acidity and a long finish.

2008 Heitz Cellar Grignolino
Light, bright red cherry on the nose, marked acidity, and a ‘red hot’ candy cinnamon element that hints at wood maturation and makes this wine a very lively companion to a steak or duck salad.

Marisa D’Vari DWS, CWE, CS, CSS is the publisher of the online wine magazine AWineStory has contributed to London’s FT, Quarterly Review of Wine, San Francisco Chronicle, Food Arts, Wine Enthusiast, and many other publications. She is a judge for the International Wine and Spirits Competition and wrote her thesis on marketing wine to millennials for the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust.

7 Responses

  1. Ashley Jaquez

    The idea of pairing Grignolino with a salad makes so much sense! Most people think of a white wine with salad, but your idea of adding raspberries and strawberries to match the flavors of the wine makes sense and I hope to try it.

  2. James Frischling

    Interesting article, Marisa. I’m a fan of pinot, but like you said in the article, I’m a little bored and looking for some variety. Love the idea that’s it’s a wine to drink fresh and young! I’ll check it out.

  3. Paul Valenti

    Great article Marisa. Italy has so many interesting grapes it’s fun to learn more about the more obscure ones! I also appreciated the suggestions for pairing the wines.

  4. Alfonso

    I love the Heitz Grignolino (and their Grignolino Rose’ too) even though it isn’t typically similar to the Italian versions – but as a California wine, it’s old school deliciousness.

  5. Tom Maresca

    Nice piece, Marisa. It’s good to see someone paying attention to Grignolino, which was almost in danger of disappearing, even from its Piedmont home. Once upon a time everyone in Piedmont produced it; now there are very few in commercial release. Of those, Pio Cesare makes a lovely one.

  6. Charle Scicolne

    Ciao Marisa, interesting article. Grignolino is still not very well known in this country and it is a wine that must be drunk young. I like it slightly chilled.

  7. Paul Balke

    Hi Marisa
    Interesting to read your article. Great that someone pays attention to Grignolino!

    Only it would be nice to mention that there is also the Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese! In fact that type of Grignolino is most produced and you may find a number of very good ones. Like Gaudio, Vicara, La Casaccia, Tenuta La Tenaglia and many others.