Don't know what wine to bring to dinner? Don't fret – it's hard to go wrong if you seek out a cru wine.
Imagine yourself walking down the quiet aisle in your local wine shop, the bottles silently lined up and gleaming, each one hoping you’ll choose it to take home to dinner (if wine bottles could wish). When you’re faced with this line-up, what do you look for—a winery name you recognize, a grape you know, something new or an old favorite? Maybe you even look for cru wines.
When it comes to Italian wine, the choices can be overwhelming, the information on the label mysterious rather than helpful. You’ll be faced with the wine type and denomination, IGT, DOC, or DOCG (think Roero Arneis DOCG); the producer; and the name of the wine itself, which is completely up to the producer to choose. Wine Folly has an excellent diagram to help understand an Italian wine label better. The diagram is immensely helpful, but it’s just an example—labels can vary widely. And, it’s missing one important detail that will make your next dinner selection that much quicker: the cru.
For cru wines, the hint is on the label
Cru is a French winemaking term that denotes a single vineyard or cluster of vineyards that are noted for excellent quality wine, bottled separately. Italy has adopted the term in their own winemaking, singling out vineyards with incredible micro-terroirs that are produced, often, only in the best years. Read more about it here: Italy’s 3 most expensive wines and crus.
Winemakers often tout these as their top wines. Indeed, the quality and care given to these wines goes above and beyond other bottlings. They demonstrate nuances that mixed-vineyard wines could never match. In a world where every wine is unique—whether cru, blend, or mixed vineyard—cru wines have a certain je ne sais quoi (must the French always have the perfect word?). So, when it comes to your housewarming gift or a special dinner, you can’t go wrong with a cru wine, even if you know little else about the producer or wine denomination itself. Its quality is almost guaranteed to be excellent.
Here is where it gets interesting, though, because it’s not always easy to know which word on that Italian label is a cru. The label doesn’t exactly spell it out for you. No “Cru: Cannubi” will grace that bottle. Often, the name of the wine itself is the name of the cru. Our best advice is to start getting familiar with the cru names of your favorite wine denominations. Think of it as a badge of wine-lover honor: the more you recognize, the more you can gauge your own knowledge of the wine world.
Or, you know, ask the person in the wine shop.
We’re going to help you flesh out your cru knowledge, featuring three wines from the Roero in Piedmont—an area famous for the white arneis grape and for a wonderful 100% nebbiolo wine, the Roero DOCG (an excellent, wallet-friendly alternative to its neighbors Barolo and Barbaresco). What these three crus have in common, beyond their winery Cascina Chicco, is they are all historical—which means their reputation for excellence goes back centuries.
Crus of the Roero (and beyond)
Cascina Chicco is located in eastern Piedmont, just on the edge of the town of Canale and atop a hill with incredible views over the vineyards. Founded in the 1950s, they initially only produced barbera and nebbiolo. The winery was passed down through the family, generation by generation, gradually expanding: production, vineyard property, grapes, and the winery itself.
Today, Cascina Chicco offers 14 labels, and their modernized, restructured winery is a wonder to behold. But, though they’ve undergone important additions and transformations over the decades, one thing never changed. They always sought out the best plots for vine cultivation when purchasing land. And, they studied which varieties were best suited for each specific terroir. Some of these vineyards have been cited as excellent wine zones for centuries: the historical crus.
Anterisio – Canale, Roero
The Anterisio vineyard has the most ancient history of Cascina Chicco’s vineyards. First documented in 1041, it was lauded for producing high quality wines by the Counts of the Roero and, in the 1500s, the local Malabaila lords appreciated its soils and microclimate. Anterisio is planted with the white arneis grape, which has enjoyed a comeback in the past decade or two. Previously, arneis was mainly used as literally bird food: nebbiolo vineyards were interspersed with arneis for the sole reason that arneis ripened earlier, and so enticed the birds away from the more precious, noble nebbiolo. Cascina Chicco’s Roero Arneis DOCG “Anterisio” is fragrant with apricot and apple, chamomile and spice, and it is refreshing and well-balanced with a good amount of acidity.
Valmaggiore – Vezza d’Alba, Roero
The Valmaggiore vineyard is one of the most renowned vineyards for excellent, age-worthy nebbiolo wines in the Roero. Wine lovers (and illicit lovers) of yore Princess Christine Marie of France, Duchess of Savoy by marriage, and Count Filippo of Aglié cultivated grapes on this very land in 1640. Vineyard cultivation was quiet the vogue pastime among the nobility. This Roero DOCG “Valmaggiore” has a rich bouquet of violet (a classic tasting note for nebbiolo), raspberry, blackberry, and spices. It’s elegant and well-structured on the palate, with violet, cacao, and powerful tannins.
Ginestra – Monforte d’Alba, Barolo
Cascina Chicco also owns vineyards in the Langhe today, from which they make Barolo and Barolo Riserva wines. Ginestra has been historically noted as a great winemaking hill, documented as far back as 1800 as a land for producing Barolo wines of “a superior excellence.” The Barolo DOCG Riserva “Ginestra” is exceptionally elegant on the nose and palate, with good, tight tannins that help lend it smoothness, and a fine, long finish.
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