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- Piedmontese and Tuscan Cuisine…
- TENUTA GRILLO, GUIDO RITA ZAMPAGLIONE, MONFERRATO, Piemonte – Organic
- CA’ D’ GAL, SANDRO BOIDO, Piemonte – Organic
comprised the indigenous grape varieties of Petite Rouge, Gros Rouge, Mayolet and Fumin. Originally, the grapes used to be harvested
and left in small boxes for a few days to increase flavour concentration. He explained that this was an area of very little rainfall; add to
this the sandy soils and great heat and you have vines which are extremely stressed and resultant natural low yields (30-35hl/ha). No
chemicals are used in the vineyard.
Once again the vineyard was composed of numerous minuscule plots. Some plunged straight into the valley towards the Dora Baltea
river, others clung to the mountain precariously further up the slopes held in check by stone walls and rock faces. The sun beat down
bouncing off the white rocks. According to Andrea the local almond harvest takes place here at the same time as in Sicily; this is
essentially a Mediterranean climate with bells on.
For all that people discuss airily extreme viticulture it really reaches its literal and metaphorical peak in Valle d’Aosta. Extreme in the
disposition of the vines, a row here a row there, on steep gradients, virtually impossible to tackle with machinery, extreme in the
temperature variations and lack of rainfall, extreme(ly) small in the size of the operations and extreme in the cherishing of traditions and
Back a bit… back a bit… back a bit… Oops, sorry, too far.
We descended to the winery which was surrounded by lilac, cherry-blossom and almond trees. Andrea glanced at the row of tanks. “We
don’t do much in here”, he said, “no filtration, a little bit of bentonite for fining and a touch of sulphur at bottling”. We could make about
25,000 bottles, but we would rather accept the low yields and stick around 18,000. A quick calculation suggested he would be earning all
of £8,000 per year for his wine (before tax!)
That winery tours could all be so mercifully brief. A tank is a tank is a tank for a’ that.
The wines, like the di Barròs themselves, are natural, generous and true to the locality. I am reminded that complexity is a false god to
admire and that purity or typicity of flavour is achieved with less intervention and less conscious extraction. The greatest wines will;
inevitably appeal both to our intellect and emotion; otherwise I will always favour the wines that appeal to my emotion, that I feel “on
the pulses” over the glitteringly insincere, meretriciously vacuous, carefully constructed, highly wrought wines designed to win
competitions and appeal to critics. The wines that attract me most have the quality of gratia placendia, a mouth-watering drinkability
that slakes thirst and gets the gastric juices bubbling.
Poets, like painters, thus unskilled to trace
The naked nature and the living grace,
With gold and jewels cover every part,
And hide with ornaments their want of art
- 230 -
Anna del Conte, in her excellent book “The Gastronomy of Italy” describes the cuisine of Piedmont as “both elegant and tied to the land”,
a kind of cucina orghese.
Generally speaking the diet is healthy. Garlic is an important seasoning, rice and vegetables are eaten in abundance: the asparagus of
Santena, the onions of Ivrea, the cardoons of Chieri and the bell peppers of Asti. These vegetables, and others, come into their own in the
best-known Piedmontese antipasti, bagna caoda (served warm, hence its name, meaning hot bath) a fondue-style garlic-anchovy dip. The
best wines to cope with oily, salty, bitter nature of this dish are the native Freisa, and perhaps, at a pinch, a youthful Barbera, otherwise a
Favorita, with its evocation of things Mediterranean, would suffice admirably.
The white truffles of Alba are legendary. As well as being grated over risotto and incorporated into pasta dishes, local classics include
ovuli funghi and white truffle salad and bruschetta of truffle cream and anchovy fillets layered with truffle. Piedmont is also one of the
most important rice growing areas in Italy (apparently, Thomas Jefferson smuggled a couple of bags out so that he could plant it in his
estate in Virginia) and recipes for risotto abound: with cardoons, artichokes, with Barolo and the rustic Paniscia (risotto with sausage
beans and various vegetables).
Pasta dishes are not prominent in this part of Italy, although original dishes may include agnolotti (a kind of meat ravioli whose delicate
stuffing contains spinach), dressed with butter and truffles in season, and tajarin (thin tagliatelle). A lightly chilled Dolcetto (sometimes
regarded – unfairly – as the Beaujolais of Piedmont) is the perfect partner to pasta and risotto dishes.
Meat and game dishes abound. Bollito misto is the classic boiled meat dish, which should contain at least five different cuts of meat
(tongue, beef brisket, veal shoulder, chicken, cotechino) served with boiled potatoes, carrots, onions and seasonal roots, and bowls of
salsa verde and/or bagnet rosso and mostarda di Cremona. Fruity Barbera with its delicate, cherry-bright aroma, cherrybomb palate and
tangy finish, has the necessary rusticity to weave and bob amongst the myriad textures and flavours. Sanato is the most prized Italian veal;
it is also used raw, thinly cut, in carne all’ albese. As Anna Conte enthuses: “a sprinkling, or even a shower of truffles, can make this one
of the great gastronomic experiences”. Barolo combines a dry austere character with a wonderfully fragrant nose and a velvety softness. It
goes wonderfully with game such as Fagiano (pheasant) alla Milanese, Stinco al Forno con Patate and Brasato (beef) alla Lombarda
(braised with vegetables and spices). As with Tuscany the big reds come into play with the denser red meats such as roast kid, wild boar
and hare, and, especially in Piedmont, venison.
Cheeses are excellent and are still mostly produced artisanally. These include the tangy-flavoured bra (yes, really), a cow’s milk cheese to
which ewe’s milk is sometimes added, and castelmagno, a powerful tasting cow’s milk cheese, which was the favourite of many kings
from Charlemagne to Vittorio Emanuele II, and the soft, ubiquitous, yet astounding toma.
Tuscan cuisine deserves a book to itself. It is often described as “cucina povera”, povera in this context meaning lacking elaboration and
based on the quality of the ingredients. As well as the commonality of the primary ingredients certain herbs are widely used, added to
soups, meat and fish, whilst spices are also common, with fennel seeds and chilli (called zenzero in Tuscany) being particularly popular.
The Tuscan olive oil is the ultimate signature of Tuscan cuisine. Rather than a dressing, it is the main character in the gastronomic
scenario of the Tuscan table. Food is sautéed and fried in it, soups are benedette by it, and every vegetable is made tastier with a couple of
teaspoons of it.
Traditional Tuscan meals often start with a soup. Full of vegetables, beans, herbs and olive oil it will be ladled over the local pan sciocco
(unsalted bread). The ribollita of Sienna and Florence rival in variety and quality the acquacotta of the Maremma, all made with local
vegetables. The former will contain a mixture of cannellini beans, onions, chillies, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, leeks, cavolo nero, garlic,
thyme and pepper. A youthful Chianti, Morellino, or Rosso di Montepulciano would be the appropriate guzzle-partner. Pasta dishes are
not a Tuscan forte, but pappardelle con lepre (thick ribbon noodles with a hare sauce) is a regional signature dish. Again a Sangiovese
wine with a certain rasp would help this digest.
Meat, chicken and pig are all superb – roasted on the spit or grilled – they are eaten as they are, no sauces, no trimmings. Various kinds of
game are popular from boars to thrushes and skylarks and various kinds of deer. Pork is cured to make the soppressata of Siena, sausages
with chilli, fennel-flavoured finocchiona and all the prosciutti. Salami, from wild boar, is also common. Charcuterie is best accompanied
by a fruity young red. The other major component of earthy Tuscan cooking is the bean (indeed Tuscans have been nicknamed mangia
fagioli – bean eaters). These beans are stewed in a cone-shaped earthenware pot and served as an accompaniment to pork (Arista alla
Fiorentina), or with grilled chops and fegatelli (grilled liver wrapped in caul fat). For grilled steak (especially bistecca alla Fiorentina) try
a Chianti Classico/Classico Riserva; for boar, pork or pigeon a medium-weight Vino Nobile; and for game stews and oxtail, Brunello di
Montalcino has the requisite strength and structure.
Along the Tuscan coast the most traditional dishes are based on fish. Cacciucco, originally from Livorno, is a fish soup or rather a stew,
thick, rich and black, which traditionally contains chilli and should be made with at least five kinds of fish – one for each of the c’s in
cacciucco. Triglie alla Livornese (red mullet) is also popular on the northern stretch of coast, while further south the catch is grey mullet,
which is usually simply grilled, as well as cuttlefish, squid and octopus. Another speciality of Tuscany are the cieche or ce’e (tiny baby
eels) caught at the mouth of the Arno near Pisa. They are thrown alive into hot olive oil flavoured with sage and garlic. Tuscany is not
renowned for its white wine. Vermentino or Trebbiano are options with seafood, and many of the top estates dabble in Chardonnay.
Tuscany offers splendid pecorino, made with ewe’s milk, of which the ones from the Crete Senesi and from Pienza are the most highly
prized. Also famous is the marzolino del Chianti which Caterina de’ Medici loved so much she had it sent regularly to France.
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RENATO AND EZIO TRINCHERO, AGLIANO TERME, Piemonte – Organic
This old winery in Agliano Terme is situated in Vianoce, an ancient-hamlet including a peasant house and a church. It
was built during the first half of the 19
century by the Visconti Barons of Ornavasso, then, at the beginning of the
1920s it was bought by the brothers Secondo and Serafino Trinchero. Today it belongs to Renato and Ezio. Most of
the vines are over fifty years (some were planted in the 1920s) with resultant smaller yields giving structure and
quality to the wines. Historical note: in 1952 the first bottles of Barbera d’Asti were produced and Trinchero was
given position number one in the wine-producer registry of Asti. The vineyards are organically farmed. The baby
Barbera is from 20-year old vines with the grapes fermented in cement vats and matured in old wooden barrels for
another twelve months before bottling. This is a fresh and fruity Barbera, sour, savoury and tasty. Vigna del Noce, the
flagship wine of the estate from an eighty-year-old plot of vines, undergoes 45-day maceration on the skins, enjoys a
leisurely fermentation in 50-hl Slavonian oak barrels and is aged for a further minimum of 2-3 years in large botte.
Red with violet tints, this Barbera announces itself in the glass with deep, very intense, complex and heady perfumes
and a palate of pungent vitality and, ahem, soulful rusticity.
These Barberians are at your gates clamouring for entry.
BARBERA D’ASTI SUPERIORE “TERRA DEL NOCE”
BARBERA D’ASTI SUPERIORE “VIGNA DEL NOCE”
TENUTA GRILLO, GUIDO & RITA ZAMPAGLIONE, MONFERRATO, Piemonte – Organic
Owned by the Zampaglione clan
production is based on low yields, scrupulous selection of the grapes, respect for nature and traditions. The wines reflect the
naturalness and the characteristics of the land, the vines and the year. Pratoasciutto is Dolcetto which undergoes a long
maceration of 30/40 days, ferment on native yeasts, extremely limited use of sulphur and ageing in big barrels in order to
provide stability and complexity to the wine before being bottled without filtration. I have always wanted to like Dolcetto –
maybe it’s the name – but, unhappily, found most examples to be clumpy, fruitless and tannic. The nose here is instantly
appealing, oozing violets, black fruits, liquorice, and parma ham. The fruit is great, the tannins velvety and there is a bitter
black cherry rasp to the finish that taps your taste buds on the shoulder and reminds them that absence of food is not a serious
option. I am a convert – to this wine at least. Dolcetto et decorum est. Baccabianca is crazy Cortese, 30 plus days of skin
contact giving the amber colour and grippiness adding texture and complexity to a wine which is all about nuance – gentle
orchards, herbs, dried spice and minerals.
BACCABIANCA ~ Cortese
CRISOPA ~ Freisa
PECORANERA ~ Barbera, Dolcette, Freisa
Hidden in the hills just outside the sleepy town of Neive near Santo Stefano Belbo is Ca’ d’ Gal, home to Sandro
Boido and some of Piemonte’s most sublime Moscato d’Asti. The vines are located on steep slopes on variable soils
of limestone-clay and sand. Capturing laughter in every delicate bubble, Moscato d’Asti is an effervescent elixir that
lifts you up and slows time to a delicious crawl (and contains only 5% alcohol.)
In contrast to so many other mass-produced Moscato wines, Ca’ d’ Gal Moscato d’Asti is truly an artisanal nectar,
harvested by hand and vinified naturally in closed vat with extended lees contact. This added attention is what gives
these delightful wines their unique personality—and surprising ability to age.
“Lumine,” the estate’s regular bottling from 30-35 year old vines, captures sunny notes of elderflower cordial,
mandarin oranges and rose petals, illuminated by a lovely silver-gold effervescence on the tongue. Flavours of white
peaches and pears melt on the tongue like cotton candy, perfectly light and balanced. Just a touch of fragrant
bubbles cleanses the palate.
Drink joyously as an aperitif, as a sorbet-like palate-cleanser, with strawberries, fruit pastries, torta di nocciole
(hazelnut cake) and zabaione.
MOSCATO D’ASTI “LUMINE”
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ALESSANDRA BERA & FIGLI, CANELLI, Piemonte – Organic
The little town of Canelli is situated at the entrance of Langhe hills, along the left bank of the Belbo stream. The
territory is covered in vineyards and a centre of production of the Asti Spumante, the slightly sweet, bubbly white
wine, which is a symbol of Canelli and also of the whole province of Asti. The wine production industry is
strictly connected to the local economy and history. Canelli is divided in two areas: the lower part in the valley,
called “Borgo” and the upper part, called “Villanuova”. Azienda Agricola Bera Vittorio was the first family
vineyard to start bottling and marketing its own Moscato d’Asti in Canelli. In 1785 Giovanni Battista Bera
bought land from the Community of the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta. Later purchases of land
brought the total farm area to 10 hectares of vineyards, which are still farmed in the traditional family way.
Bottling started in 1964, initially in small quantities, then with an increase in technology reaching today’s rates.
Azienda Bera produces wine from grapes ripened in the family vineyards situated in Sant’Antonio di Canelli,
Regione Serra Masio, the heart of the most qualified, the most prestigious, and the most ancient area of
The vineyards are facing towards the south-east on slopes of from 50 to 70%. The ground is marmoreal and
strongly calcareous, originating from ancient sea-beds which surfaced five million years ago.
Climatic conditions are particularly favourable to the growing of Moscato: not too wet, with rain falling only in
winter and in the spring months. The temperatures are never too extreme, there are never late frosts and
although summer storms with hail are frequent, they are never violent enough to damage. It is windy until
The vineyards are cultivated using organic production methods: only humus and compost are used; chemical
fertilisers, herbicides, insecticides and pesticides banned. Parasites are successfully discouraged using copper
sulphate and powdered sulphur. In the Azienda Bera vineyards the ecosystem is alive: an abundance of snails is
proof of a harmonious environmental balance. The Moscato is the best we’ve tasted and offers more in terms of
flesh and softness than effervescence, combining melon, orange peel and sage on the nose. In the mouth, it is
moderately sweet and superbly vinous and would complement richer desserts as well as being the dream partner
for strawbs. Easy to distinguish this Asti from your Elbling. The unfiltered Barbera “Le Verrane”, fermented in
cement tank, is true to type with varietal notes of mulberry, cherry-soda, balsam and mint and faint traces of
liquorice on a palate that drives all the way. The wine undergoes its malolactic in the bottle; do not be surprised
to get a Lambrusco-style tongue-prickling epiphany. This unpredictable red is a party in glass, vinous space
dust. It is frivolously serious with a charming bitter-sour contrariness guaranteed to offend the techno-
squeakers, nit-pickers and fault-fetishists. The vivid Ronco Malo is classic Barbera cherry-amour; it brilliantly
grips tongue, throat and attention. More vinosity and layers here. The “Arcese” is a pleasant fusion, but not
confusion, of three Piemontese indigenous white grape varieties: Favorita, Arneis and Cortese, a blend that
works to balance aroma, texture and acidity to excellent effect.
Extraordinary wild wine, a churn of yeast, peach skin, almond blossom and smoky minerals. The palate is alive,
prickly, cidery and tangy – drinking it is like attaching electrodes to your taste buds.
VINO BIANCO DA TAVOLA “ARCESE”
BARBERA “LE VERRANE”
BARBERA D’ASTI “RONCO MALO”
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CASCINA IULI, CERRINO MONFERRATO, Piemonte – Organic
Iuli is located in a small little town called Montaldo in the somewhat undiscovered region of Monferrato in
Piedmont. The population of Montaldo is 110 people and counting... very slowly. In addition to the mixed and poor
soil type in the vineyards (which helps the strength and vigour of the vines), there is, importantly, a vein of limestone
that runs directly through the property – giving an amazing acidity and special character to the wines.
Fabrizio is certified organic in his vineyards, and the land surrounding the town has always been cultivated without
chemicals for as long as his father can remember. He is technically organic as well in the cellars – although has
decided not to go through the paperwork and extensive “red-tape” bureaucracy to be certified in the cellar. “I know
how I make my wines, and want them to be as natural as possible – reflecting the territory and nature of the grape,
and do not need this piece of paper to prove that.”
He interferes as little as possible with the natural process of fermentation and ageing. Iuli uses natural yeasts, and
does not fine or filter the wines. With an average of three years ageing (some wines see less, some more), he believes
the wine prepares itself in its own time to go into the bottle and his only job is to communicate (taste) with it along
the way to find out where in its life line it is. Fabrizio says about his wines, “While each is different and has a unique
personality – they all share the common characteristic of being ‘loyal and honest’”.
Born from Burgundy clones that Fabrizio selected and planted in 1999, “Nino” is a completely unique expression of
Pinot Nero from the white calcareous-clay soils of the Monferrato vineyards These vines are still babies for Pinot
Nero, but the wine is starting to show a real complexity and elegance. A simple everyday Pinot Noir that has the
depth of a Burgundy, but also the playfulness of a wine made with young vines. The wine is fermented in stainless
steel at 30C with indigenous yeasts. There is a ten to twelve day maceration, malo occurs in barrel, and the wine is
aged in a mixture of new and second year French oak for sixteen months before being bottled without fining or
Fabrizio is still playing with the ageing period as he is looking to capture and develop the evolution of the aromas he
personally experiences in the cellar while the wine ages in barriques, from the delicate red floral tones to the richer
spicer notes. The Nino has bright cherrystone character, a moderate rasp to the red fruit, a hint of briar and tar and
well-integrated wood. One for food. File under “it looks like Pinot, it smells like Pinot and by jiminy jillickers it
tastes like Pinot.”
MONFERRATO ROSSO “NINO” (PINOT NERO)
UMBERTA VINO ROSSO BARBERA
MONFERRATO ROSSO MALIDEA ~ Nebbiolo
BARBERA MONFERRATO SUPERIORE “BARABBA”
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