A rosy glass of Brachetto conjures imaginings of soft, romantic summer evenings. Indeed, it was the wine that was said to unleash the passions of Cleopatra’s lovers, Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar, who presented seven gourds of the sweet, aromatic wine to the queen. Of course, back then it was known as vinum aquense, also favoured by ancient Rome’s patricians for its decadent and heady qualities. It was even honoured in the Commedia dell’Arte through the stock character of Gianduja da Gioan d’Laduja, or Giovanni of the Jug, whose bubbly personality and general high spirits were purported to reflect the characteristics of the much-loved Brachetto d’Acqui.
The black-skinned Brachetto grape is produced in areas throughout Asti and Alessandria provinces. It is also known as Borgogno in Canelli. For years, it was thought to be related to the French variety, Braquet. Recent studies have shown that the two grapes are, in fact, distinct entities.
The more prestigious DOCG yield is Brachetto d’Acqui, made near the famous hot spring town of Acqui Terme. It consists of 100% Brachetto grapes and comes in both semi-frizzante and spumante forms. It is generally low in alcohol, with the DOCG variety peaking at 11.5 per cent for the frizzante and 12 for the spumante.
The maceration process for the red Brachetto grapes is relatively short – just two days is enough for the skins to unleash their ruby pigments and slight tannins into the wine. It is then rested in an initial fermentation process that allows its complexities to develop. The wine is refrigerated to control the behaviour of alcohol-producing yeast in the juices. A second fermentations process takes place before bottling. Throughout these procedures, the tanks in which the wine is made are sealed. This retains the natural, effervescent liveliness of the wine. It should be consumed while young.
The aroma of a glass of Brachetto is difficult to forget. Rose petals, violets and orchids permeate the bouquet, with subtler hints of clove and tar. Sensual flavours of strawberry and raspberry feature on the palate. The overall texture of the wine on the tongue is delicately foamy.
It is medium bodied and perfect with delectable, fresh summer fruits. It is generally served as a luxurious aperitif or accompaniment to a range of desserts. It is particularly sexy with chocolate or with Amaretti di Mombaruzzo, a traditional type of amaretto biscuit, made exclusively in Acqui Terme. Also pair with a piece of melt-in-the-mouth Gianduia, a type of sweet chocolate from Turin that is made up of thirty per cent hazelnut paste.
Enjoy a glass of Brachetto d’Acqui for yourself in the city that bears its name. Numerous restaurants and osteria line the cobbled streets of the famous Roman town (previously known as Aquae Statiellae), especially around the Pavillion of La Bollente, where the celebrated hot sulphur springs reach seventy-five degrees Celsius. Also visit the Gothic Acqui Cathedral, which houses a fifteenth century rose window, as well as triptych by Bartolome Bermejo of the same age.