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Tre Belle Cose - Three Distinctly Different Vineyards in Southwestern Piemonte
So much attention is given in our beautiful region to the wines of the Langhe - Barbaresco, Barolo, Nebbiolo and more - that it seems all the other Piemontese wineries fall into its shadow. Realistically, the wines of the Langhe are among the most expensive and some of the most balanced and structured wines in the world, and deserve the respect and attention (if not always the price tag) which they receive.
But to pursue the wines of the Langhe and pay no attention to the wines of the neighboring regions is to shortchange Piemontese wine in general. Italian wines from all regions have made tremendous strides in production quality over the last two decades. Organic growing techniques, more patience with the maturation process, and slower fermentation have raised the overall quality found at both small and large producers. Nowhere is this truer as in the regions of the Monferrato, the Roero and the Colline Tortonese, which have grown strong and stable in the shadow of the Langhe.
We have visited many wineries over our years in Piemonte. We go back to some; we forget quickly that others exist. Here I have outlined three classic Piemontese wineries. I have chosen them for the fact that they all differ, they are all owner operated by three very distinct characters, and they all produce the finest wines of their particular genre.
Andrea Mutti - Le Colline TortoneseLocation: San Ruffino 49 Sarezzano
Telephone: 0131 884119
Andrea's wife Adrina speaks English well.
Producer of Cortese, Savignon Blanc, Cabernet, Dolcetto, Barbera and Timmorasso
A couple of years back, my friend, the award winning chef and cook book author Gina DePalma, and I were chatting it up on the phone about wine, when she told me, "Oh, by the way, we had a tasting at the restaurant the other night. There was a fabulous wine - from your area - a white." I assumed it had to be a Roero Arneis, the straw colored, richly textured white wine from the Roero, the region across the river from the Langhe.
She said, "Nope. This one is from around Tortona and hardly anybody makes it. It's called Timorasso." I could not believe that I had to hear about a Piemontese wine from a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, although she is an Italy expert. I ran up to Alessandria and found a bottle of Walter Massa Timorasso 2005 Derthona. Derthona, the enoteca owner told me, is the ancient spelling of Tortona. He also explained the small growing area for the Timorasso grape and that it had gone forgotten for many years, with no one even trying to make a vintage out of it until Massa had rekindled the interest in the old grape and planted a section of his 17 hectares.
I gulped at the price - €23 - and brought the bottle home.
Of course Gina was right. This is a complex white, with absolutely no need to ever see the inside of a barrel. Layers upon layers, the golden flavor of Gewürztraminer coupled with the grassy freshness of a Gavi. Fruity. Balanced acids. But still, it was hard to justify the price.
Fast forward two years. Our friends Peter and Marsha Clifford, who own a home in Umbria, have become regular visitors to the Monferrato. One of their local restaurant friends in Citta Civitella recommended a couple of wineries up our way, one being a Timorasso specialist in the Tortonese region. His name is Andrea Mutti, and we ended up going together to visit him.
Andreas Mutti, Micha, Peter
The Colline Tortonese borders Lombardia to the north and to the west, and Monferrato to the east. Bucolic, pristine, and without a tourist in site, a person could literally be rendered speechless by the beauty of the area. It was out of Tortona that we drove in a southwesterly direction to the town of Sarezzano, a sleepy hilltop community with beautiful views all around. Andrea Mutti's thirty acres consist of vineyard, woodland and orchards where he and his wife grow "Pesca del Volpedo," a prestigious peach type, which is a specialty of the region.
After listening to Andrea's delightful summary of the history of the area, complete with stories about the Spanish Occupation, the local bandits and how Napoleon saved the day, we sampled his wines. His Timorasso was as good, if not better, than Massa's.
Andrea explained that growing the Timorasso grape is very easy - as long as it is grown in the correct terrior. The more complex a wine, the more structure it has, the more specific is the growing area. Timorasso differs from, say, a Muller Turgau in so far that it is a much more complex wine, and is highly dependent on the earth structure in the valley where it comes from. The simpler the wine, the less specific the growing area needs to be. This is a plus and a minus for Timorasso, as its quantities will always be limited to those produced by only a handful of producers in these hills. Mutti produces approximately 4,000 bottles a year.
Mutti Timorasso Derthona 2007 retails for between 10 and 14 euros.
Azienda Agricola St. Ubaldo
Here in Acqui Terme, we have two wines which define our specific area. One is Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG, which traditionally is a lightly sweet, highly floral dessert wine, rose in color. The other is Dolcetto d'Acqui DOC, on of the five designate growing areas for this (despite its name) moderately dry, fairly high tannin red wine, which has come into its own over the past five years.
Our very favorite producer of both is Domenico Botto, who lives and works on his hill above Acqui Terme. His nine acres form an amphitheater like bowl below his home and wine cellar, and anyone we have taken there is in awe of the panorama.
Arriving at St. Ubaldo is like arriving at a secret haven. The gate opens, and you are greeted by one of the friendliest, most genuine people you can imagine. If the weather is nice, you can walk in the vineyards and sometimes even taste the cherries and peaches and figs along the way.
At St. Ubaldo, you taste wines in Domenico's living room and you share your salami with his 11 year old mutt, Kika. It is a personal, wonderful experience. Afterwards, everyone heads downstairs into the wine cellar for a barrel tasting.
The Acqui Terme appellation for Dolcetto is known to be the lightest in the group. All of the other four (Asti, Alba, Doglani, Ovada) are known for bigger tannins, deeper cherry tones and higher alcohol content. But because Domenico exercises patience in the harvesting process (waiting to absolute full maturation), in the fermentation process (slow) and in the aging process (he waits a full year to put anything in the bottle, six months longer than the appellation requires), he produces one of the fullest Dolcetti in the Acqui appellation - with a 13 percent alcohol content, a robust, berried fruit flavor. He also makes a barrique aged Dolcetto Superiore (unusual for the already high-tannin Dolcetto but definitely rounds out the wine).
His Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG, lightly frizzante, full of peach and rose petals, has received the best in its class at VinItaly and has to be tried to be appreciated.
St. Ubaldo is a certified organic producer and employs no full time help. Domenico does it all himself.
Forteto della Luja
I cannot complete a summary of three wineries without including one Barbera d'Asti producer. This wine, which gets relatively little international attention compared to its Barbera d'Alba counterpart, deserves far more, as far as we are concerned. I have chosen to highlight a winery I have written about before, a winery that is representative of all that is good about this region. It is also a winery whose bottles have made it into places like Joe Bastianich's Italian Wine Merchants in New York, which, for a small organic producer, is a very big thing indeed.
One arrives at the Forteto not quite knowing what to expect. Down the gravel road, one comes to the first building, which is a bit hidden and topped with photovoltaic solar panels. Around the curve, you arrive at the main house.
A few minutes later, you can see it - you have arrived on the fine line which divides the Monferrato from the Langhe. From the property, you can see Barbaresco's famous tower to the left, and to the right, in the distance, is the city of Alessandria and the start of the Padano Plains.
Giovanni showed us the views and the steep, mountainous vineyards from every perspective, and explained the ecosystem, the importance of the sea winds and the moisture for the grapes, the significance of having vineyards surrounded by woods for organic farmers (birds live in the woods, and birds eat the insects), and explained the microclimate up here in the mountains around Loazzolo.
The photovoltaic panels on the first building, we learned, are to power one of two presses. The first press is an old manual one, over a hundred years old. It is only powered by human muscle. The other, a modern press, is powered by the panels.
Moscato Passito is a wine pressed from dried Moscato Grapes. The fermentation process takes up to two years. The result is an exquisite passito for which Loazzolo holds the DOC. By the way Loazzolo is the smallest village in Italy to have a DOC. And it is for this Moscato Passito. This is a very rich, smooth sweet wine, with an alcohol percentage of between 11.5 and 12.
Loazzolo is part of the Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG growing region. The DOCG, however, is only for the sparkling version of Brachetto, which has only been produced since World War II. Before that time, the area only produced Brachetto Passito, and this is the only Brachetto which the Forteto makes. It is pressed from dried Brachetto grapes in a similar process to the Moscato Passito. The result is a completely different sweet wine than the Moscato Passito, more amber in color and extremely fruity.
Forteto della Luja's version of Barbera (Mon Ross), a clean classic, is one of our favorites that we have found to date. It is a straight forward wine, and can be drunk with every course, from antipasto through to the end of the meal. It was this wine which first got our attention and brought us to the Forteto in the first place. The wine is aged in steel and passes briefly through oak casks before being bottled and sold in the fall of the following season.
Le Grive is the Forteto's blend of Barbera and Pino Noir. The two grapes are complimentary. The Barbera, relatively high in acid and low in tannin, receives the Pinot Noir's low acidity and high tannin content well. The rich color of the Barbera compensates for the Pinot Noir's less full color. The wine is aged for two years in oak and for six months in the bottle. The blend is wine which is best enjoyed with a hearty meat-based main course.
Stepping out of the Langhe region can only enhance and expand your ideas on Piemonte wine and you will not go wrong with any of these three producers.
© Diana Strinati Bar, 2009. Do not republish without permission.
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