Nebbiolo: the star, but not alone, of northern Piedmont. Other expressions to discover
When we hear talk of Nebbiolo, our memory 'turns' to the Langhe. Barolo and Barbaresco continue to be the most successful appellations on the market and among many critics. Our oenological map of Nebbiolo seems to be restricted to the Langhe, at most we go as far as Valtellina, but hardly, or only as a last resort, do we dwell on that area of northern Piedmont that has been trying to emerge from oblivion for a few years now: Upper Piedmont. With the intention of deepening and making this production area better known, we organised at our wine shop a very pleasant and entertaining tasting held and guided by Giorgio Fogliani and entitled 'Wines of Northern Piedmont'.
Below is a summary of the information that Giorgio has skilfully shared with us, leaving also and above all a voice for the wine.
- UPPER PIEDMONT OR NORTHERN PIEDMONT
- A BIT OF HISTORY
- MAIN GRAPE VARIETIES OTHER THAN NEBBIOLO
- DOC AND VOICE OF THE WINES
UPPER PIEDMONT OR NORTHERN PIEDMONT
'Northern Piedmont' is not a codified or recognised expression in the wine world. Instead, one often hears of 'Alto Piemonte', a term that is often used in a narrow sense to designate the hilly strip of the provinces of Novara, Vercelli and Biella (cradle of noble appellations such as Gattinara, Boca or Lessona) and that sometimes includes the Val D'Ossola.
The consortium 'Tutela Nebbioli Alto Piemonte', established just over twenty years ago, brings together the ten PDOs of this area: Valli Ossolane, Colline Novaresi, Boca, Ghemme, Sizzano, Fara, Gattinara, Bramaterra, Lessona and Coste Della Sesia, leaving out Carema, Canavese, Erbaluce di Caluso and a small part of the lower Val d'Aosta, which are instead absorbed by northern Piedmont.
In essence, North Piedmont also embraces the western extension of Upper Piedmont.
North Piedmont covers about 800ha but only 400ha are planted with vines: in this area, vines are to be found in the midst of virgin woods, and if until the middle of the last century cultivating vines was the main activity, today the woods have swallowed up everything due to socio-economic factors that we will see in a moment.
This is an exhaustive aerial view of Boca in the 1930s and a little below around the 1990s.
Although the Colline Novaresi and Coste Della Sesia PDOs have sub-types that do not include the Nebbiolo grape variety, here called 'Spanna', the use of the term 'Nebbiolo' in the consortium's name emphasises its centrality as the most talented and undisputed predominant variety.
The co-presence in the area of other notable grape varieties such as Croatina, Vespolina, Uva Rara, and others, gives an enriched picture in terms of variety, complexity, originality and biodiversity of the area under consideration. A blend of grapes that, despite the centrality of Nebbiolo, marks the difference with respect to the Langhe and which expresses, and will continue to express, all the explosive uniqueness of these vineyards.
There are wineries that renounce blending (in the DOCs that allow it), vinifying only Nebbiolo grapes.
Almost the same grape varieties and soil and climate conditions can also be found in the Canavese area, with the tiny DOC Carema as the jewel in the red wine crown. The definition of a wine-growing area broader than that of Alto Piemonte needed a name: Nord Piemonte (which also includes by affinity of terroir the very first part of Val D'Aosta).
A BIT OF HISTORY
The discovery of charred grape seeds in the Novara area would attest to the first experiments in wine-growing in the 7th century B.C. by Celtic populations, similar to the Val D'Aosta. Early attempts at viticulture probably inspired by contacts with the Greeks and Etruscans. Arriving at the Roman era, Pliny the Elder, although he is often quoted as praising the splendours of wine-growing in the upper Piedmont in this ancient period, reproaches the Novara farmers for lacking in the care of the vine shoots and is no less harsh with the quality of the wine, which he describes as sour.
In the Middle Ages, it was the monks who advanced viticulture, especially in the provinces of Novara and Vercelli, arriving in the late Middle Ages to take particular care in the cultivation of vines and also to offer themselves as hosts. The first written records of Nebbiolo date back to the latter period, and texts clearly indicate that wine-growing was of primary importance in the area.
In the modern age, North Piedmontese wines are also mentioned in laudatory terms in Switzerland and certainly in Milan, which remained for a long time the privileged market where the surplus production of wines from this area could be channelled. Particularly appreciated were Lessona, Gattinara or the wines of Sizzano, the latter being compared by Cavour to the wines of Burgundy. A lively and lively commercial activity therefore, as well as appreciated outside the production borders.
Towards the end of the century, the scourge brought by powdery mildew, downy mildew and phylloxera brought a flourishing wine market to a halt, as elsewhere. The beginning of the 20th century with its two world wars contributed to slowing down any attempt at recovery and, with the industrial development of the 1950s and 1960s, the villages and countryside of the hillside areas were gradually abandoned. The workforce was absorbed by the textile industries and viticulture for all intents and purposes abandoned or relegated to a secondary activity, allowing the forest to regain its lost space.
In the late 1980s, the wine sector throughout Italy was beginning to recover from the methanol scandal by focusing on quality bottled wine. In the following decade, when in the rest of Italy the drive towards quality had by then enlivened the wine sector, this area north of Piedmont faced its worst decade. The hectares under vine of the historic appellations were reduced from one to a few dozen, enthusiasts' lack of interest increased and the Gattinara exception remained on the wine lists.
With the textile crisis at the end of the 1990s, the questioning of the unbridled optimism linked to the production model dominant until the year two thousand and the arrival of foreign producers who relaunched some historic companies, a trend reversal was triggered, albeit later than in the rest of Italy. This delay together with isolation helped to keep local producers away from the fashions of the 1990s, from the unrestrained use of new woods or the hyper-concentration of wines, but it also prevented the construction of an overall vision.
The birth of the Consorzio Alto Piemontese, as we used to say a little over 20 years ago, has now finally led to greater cohesion and a new vitality, sustained by young winegrowers who are taking over the reins of those holdings left to abandonment by their parents.
The unstoppable interest that northern Piedmont arouses is leading to the creation of new companies, ex novo or from transformations of existing companies, and little by little, the hectares of vines wrested from the forest are growing again.
Even some historic Piedmontese producers, (Conterno taking over the Gattina-based Nervi winery is one of the greatest examples), are beginning to look at this area of Piedmont with greater interest. Paradoxically, interest is coming from the Langhe, fuelled on the one hand by the cheaper prices in these areas compared to the Langhe DOC territories, and on the other by the unrestrained search for places that can guarantee the production of light wines with marked acidity (today much appreciated) as opposed to the muscular alcoholic content that Langhe wines are increasingly assuming due to climatic changes.
It should also be emphasised that a steady growth in interest on the part of critics and experts, despite the public's disorientation, may lead us to believe that this could really become a production area of excellence in Italy in the near future. On the other hand, there is no shortage of topics to which we are most sensitive: the geology of the territory, the historicity of local vines, small wineries and sharp, light reds.
We can break down the North Piedmont wine-growing area into three main zones.
- The northernmost is the Ossola area that extends longitudinally for about 40 km in the province of Verbano-Cussio-ossola.
- Going south for about 40 km, we find the Boca and Colline Novaresi DOC, located in the north-eastern area of Alto Piemonte that occupies the hilly belts of the provinces of Novara, Vercelli e Biella.
- The third area is Canavese, the westernmost and southernmost of northern Piedmont located north of the province of Turin.
The Toce River flows through the Ossola Valley, the Sesia River separates the Novarese and Vercelli areas and the PDO Colline Novaresi and Coste della Sesia, the Dora Baltea River flows through the Aosta Valley and Canavese. A few kilometres from the vineyards of Novarese are Lake Orta and Lake Maggiore, in the Canavese area the main lakes are those of Viverone and Candia.
The rich presence of water has contributed to the geographical conformation of the area and influences its climate.
The presence of mountains is important throughout northern Piedmont.
Val D'Aosta, Carema and Ossola are alpine territories, while the Rosa mountain range shields from much of the weather from the northwest.
From a geological point of view, the Aosta Valley and the Canavese Valley, as well as the Ossola Valley, are similar. After the Alpine orogenesis, the erosive action of the Toce and Dora Baltea rivers shaped the territory and characterised the composition of the soils, which are therefore colluvial and morainic, made up of material eroded and re-deposited by rivers, surface waters and glaciers.
The Canavese, on the other hand, has a predominantly morainic formation (melting of the great glacier that occupied the entire area in the Pleistocene).
In Upper Piedmont, the Val Sesia volcano has greatly influenced the geological conformation of the area.
The terroir of Gattinara, Boca and part of Bramaterra are formed by porphyry from the ancient caldera of the supervolcano. Rocks rich in minerals, varying in texture and colour, which generally disintegrate easily on contact with oxygen to sandy granulometry.
Although Ghemme, Fara and Sizzano have fluvio-glacial and morainal soils, they also have rock fragments of volcanic origin.
In Lessona, the soil consists of sands described as marine, but the extraordinary mineral richness and acidity of the soil suggests that at least a percentage of these sands are of volcanic origin.
The acidity of the soils is a characteristic shared throughout northern Piedmont, although areas with soils of volcanic origin, it goes without saying, have higher acidity.
On soils with very low pH only the vine, albeit with difficulty and undermined vigour, manages to resist. The choice of rootstock, however, becomes arduous and crucial for the plant's survival. Poor and very acidic soils make the plants so puny that their age can be underestimated. The influence on wines is marked to such an extent that acidity has become an identifying characteristic of local production, together with minerality (the causal relationship between soil minerality, wine minerality and taste perception is an inexhaustible subject of debate, and although the first relationship seems to be established, on the second, although it has not yet been fully clarified, acidity seems to contribute to enhancing the perception of the salinity of wines).
The climate is strongly influenced by the presence of the Alpine arc and is temperate pre-alpine, subalpine and subcontinental.
Precipitation is concentrated in spring and autumn with relatively dry summers and winters. On average, rainfall is above average in other areas of Piedmont, with the Ossola area leading the way in terms of annual rainfall, being among the wettest in Italy.
The temperature fluctuations in early autumn, which are particularly substantial, are favourable for greater aromatic ripening close to the grape harvest.
MAIN GRAPE VARIETIES OTHER THAN NEBBIOLO
Although the starring role remains that of Nebbiolo, as already mentioned, there are several companion vines in the area with a strong personality and rooted in the territory for centuries. We are talking about vines such as Vespolina, Uva rara, Croatina and Ner d'Ala, which have always been used to obtain a balance of tannins, acidity, ripeness and colour in wines, and which protected the winegrower from parasite attacks according to the different response of each vine. Basically, the very concept of a single grape variety was avoided.
The average increase in temperatures that allows Nebbiolo to reach full maturity today, together with the ever-increasing popularity of this grape variety, have pushed many producers to make wine exclusively from these grapes. As a result, almost all Gattinara, Lessona and many Ghemme wines are single varietals and the trend is to increase the percentage of Nebbiolo even in those appellations where, in the past, more space was left to comprimary varietals (Fara and Sizzano). In any case, the specifications of Boca, Bramaterra, Fara and Sizzano impose the use of comprimary grape varieties while the other specifications do not prohibit it. There are several producers who vinify the comprimary vines separately, giving us the opportunity to discover their potential, but they are often grapes that receive less care in the vineyard and cellar and the bottles are put on the market as soon as possible.
Nebbiolo is widespread in the lower Val D'Aosta, Canavese, Val D'Ossola and Valtellina as well as, with a less significant presence, in Sardinia and Brescia. In each area it takes a different name picotendro in Donnas and Pont-Saint-Martin, spa(n)na or spagna between Biella and Novara, prünent in Domodossola and chiavennasca between Sondrio and Tirano. The intra-varietal variability is therefore high, as is the aptitude to interact with the territory, developing peculiar characteristics that determine the ecotypes.
Wines deriving from Nebbiolo, although chromatically ephemeral and caducous (due to their easily oxidised anthocyanins) have, as is well known, a marked predisposition to ageing: dry extract, alcohol, tannins and high acidity are determining factors in this regard. Also worthy of note is the tradition, now fallen into disuse but still provided for in the Lessona regulations, of drying the grapes for a few weeks after the harvest.
Nebbiolo requires blending with other grapes: here, more than in other areas, the frequent rainfall, the extremely acidic and poor soils, and the high mountain temperatures, although the slopes and climate are not so much so, do not always allow the grapes to ripen well. Other more fruity and pulpy grapes thus complement them.
Uva Rara, or bonarda novarese, in the Asti region also known as balsamina (a name that in the Ossola region, however, designates Vespolina) takes its name from the shape of the bunch, which is sparse and with large, juicy grapes. It is very hardy and ripens late. Uva Rara wines show intense fruit (strawberry, cherry, grape), are fresh and easy to drink. It is used as a complement to Nebbiolo to soften its edginess and make it more voluminous and ready. Uva Rara is allowed in all red appellations in northern Piedmont (from 10% in Gattinara to 50% in Fara, although in reality its use is less).
Croatina, in some areas called Nebbiolo due to the similarity of their bunches, is sensitive to drought and powdery mildew, colourful, tannic, gives full-bodied, deep, tannic and slightly rustic wines. It is allowed in the PDOs Bramaterra, Valli Ossolane, Carema, Canavese Rosso, Coste della Sesia and Colline Novaresi.
Vespolina (ughetta in the Oltrepò pavese area), is a close relative of Nebbiolo. It has low yields and is very delicate, but it has continued to be cultivated because, fearing sunburn, it is suitable for exposures that are not recommended for Nebbiolo. Among Nebbiolo's co-competitors, it is considered the most talented and fragrant. It has distinct notes of spices and aromatic herbs attributable to rotundone (an odorous molecule also present in grapes such as Syrah, Mourvèdre, Schioppettino and Corvina)
All red North Piedmontese PDOs allow its use, it is most widespread in the Novara area, but in any case there are only 40 hectares under vine in the whole of Piedmont.
The area's white grapes see Erbaluce as the sole protagonist. Not very fertile, it is traditionally grown using the pergola method. A versatile grape, it is suitable for various types of vinification. It can be found in raisin, dry white or sparkling versions. It is endowed with marked acidity and a predisposition to ageing that allows it to express itself to the full.
Its high acidity prompts some producers to intervene to reduce its perception through residual sugar, others enhance it with early harvests or by inhibiting malolactic fermentation.
Erbaluce is the protagonist of the Caluso PDOs (white, passito and classic method) and Canavese white.
It is the only grape that can be used in the white PDOs Colline Novaresi and Coste della Sesia (a variety that cannot be mentioned on the label).
DOC AND VOICE OF THE WINES
CALUSO AND CANAVESE
The Canavese is a vast area that falls mainly within the province of Turin and borders on those of Biella and Vercelli. It is a morainic amphitheatre resulting from the melting and sliding of the Balteo glacier that in the Pleistocene pushed from the Valle D'Aosta towards the Po Valley. The amphitheatre consists of three concentric layers corresponding to the three phases of formation of the amphitheatre.
The outer areas of the amphitheatre have higher altitudes that gradually slope towards the centre. On the outside, we find rocky, compact soils with very little organic substance; as one approaches the centre of the amphitheatre, the presence of gravel, sand and clay increases. The amphitheatre is closed to the north-east by the Serra d'Ivrea (a hilly strip running from north-east to south-east for about 20 km), to the south by an east-west oriented moraine, and to the west by the western group that reaches as far as the Alpine arc. At the centre of the Ivrea amphitheatre, where the enlightened entrepreneur Olivetti urged workers not to abandon the countryside and helped to reduce the post-war exodus, which was less impressive in this area, he was also the founder of the Piverone social wine cellar.
The Caluso PDO includes 36 municipalities that occupy the heart of the morainic amphitheatre of the Canavese area and 254 hectares claimed, with soils and exposures that vary according to their position within the amphitheatre. The specifications of the Caluso or Erbaluce di Caluso PDO allow only one grape variety to be used: erbaluce. Erbaluce has thick-skinned berries and retains a high level of acidity in the grapes even when fully ripe, which makes it possible to make dry white wines, sparkling wines and passiti. In modern times, most of the area's erbaluce grapes were used almost entirely for the production of passito wine, which was considered the great wine of the area. In the dry versions, as with Nebbiolo, they express their best after a few years of evolution.
This is a 'spillover' denomination of Carema and Caluso. Whites are based on erbaluce while for the reds and rosés the regulations allow the use of Nebbiolo, barbera, uva rara, bonarda, freisa, neretto>60%, + other non-aromatic vines; with mention of vines: Nebbiolo, Barbera>85% + other reds.
NOW VOICE TO WINE
1 Origini Cantine del Castello delle sorelle Conti
The first wine is the only white in the battery, an Erbaluce macerated on the skins. The maceration, although not excessive, gives much more intense aromas than a classic white. Clear notes of honey, tea, chamomile, medicinal herbs, a very broad wine compared to a white wine, but on the other hand more rustic. It lacks a definite and clear interpretation of the grape variety, and gains in structure and depth of flavour
COSTE DELLA SESIA AND NOVARA HILLS
They tend to be considered spillover denominations in any case, with Colline Novaresi and Coste della Sesia being the only possible option besides the generic PDO Piedmont. The two denominations share Upper Piedmont from Oleggio to Biella and although they are not held in high regard there are some areas of undisputed historicity such as Suno, Bogogno and Mezzomerico located to the east of the Ghemme, Sizzano and Fara ridge that share similar terroirs. In the western section of Alto Piemonte for historicity, we can mention Castello, Cossato, Quaregna, Valdegno and Vigliano, located west of Lessona and which have 'risked' inclusion in the Lessona DOP. The soils of the Colline Novaresi are formed by fluvial deposits, glacial bottom and ablation deposits, and fluvioglacial deposits. The soils with a high presence of porphyry in the Coste della Sesia to the north are similar to those of Boca and Gattinara, while the two southern portions have fluvioglacial deposits and some granite veins.
NOW VOICE TO WINE
2 Coste della Sesia Fabio Zambolin 2019
We are at Fossato in the province of Biella, south of Lessona and a few kilometres from Bramaterra.
Vinification takes place in steel with some ageing in wood. On the nose, 2019 immediately reveals Nebbiolo, with its classic notes of undergrowth, bark, and fruit that is not too explosive. It is a very serene, fresh wine, without heaviness and absolutely a faithful mirror of the Nebbiolo of the area, giving an immediate snapshot of northern Piedmont.
In the mouth it is drier, bony, vertical, much leaner than a Nebbiolo di Langa. Its alcohol content is well measured, as is its freshness, tannin and savouriness, in perfect balance with each other.
Slight haematic note on the finish that recalls the mineral strength of the soil.
It is located in the southernmost belt of the historical Alto Piemonte appellations and also includes the municipality of Briona, south of Fara. The warmer climate, here as in Sizzano, has favoured the development of Vespolina and rare grapes, but also Croatina (here called üga dal ziu) and Barbera, making Nebbiolo less of a protagonist. The social wine cellar is still very active and has played a central role in keeping viticulture in the area alive by receiving the grapes produced and guaranteeing a fair price. The hectares of this PDO remain few in number, only five claimed. The wines of this PDO tend to be considered more immediate and graceful than Ghemme and Gattinara. Permitted grape varieties: 50-70% Nebbiolo, Vespolina and/or rare grapes 30-50%, plus other non-aromatic reds authorised in the region.
NOW VOICE TO WINE
3 Fara Barton Vignaioli Boniperti 2019
70% Nebbiolo 30% Vespolina
Characterised on the nose by sweet spacing, it is as mouth-watering as strawberry jelly can be, with a fresh, disengaged note from the Vespolina. It immediately presents itself as a technical and precise wine, like a fingerprint or model of wine-making at Fara.
Although Fara has a lower percentage of Nebbiolo and although they are cultivated at lower altitudes than the others, their capacity for ageing is no less.
The structure is certainly less impressive, but it remains a very serious wine that lingers in the mouth for a long time. Its concentration and progression of taste and its remarkable freshness entice re-tasting.
Round, juicy, fruit defined and responsive between nose and mouth
Some may not appreciate its simplicity but it is by no means a foregone conclusion, an excellent wine for an aperitif or to start the evening with, as it invites a second glass.
CAREMA THE VINEYARD CITY
The last Piedmontese municipality before Valle D'Aosta, Carema is nestled between the Biellese Alps and the Graie Alps to the west, the gateway to Val D'Aosta. Soldati called it a 'vine-growing town' because of the pervasive presence of vines, even in gardens and vegetable plots.
Over the centuries, Mount Maletto has been terraced with topsoil from the valley floor held by granite dry-stone walls.
Practically every family made its own wine from its own grapes, so much so that when the social wine cellar was founded (1960), no grapes were brought in but the wine was made directly. A custom that continued for years. When the DOC was founded, there were 40 hectares, but the difficulty of working the vineyards on terraces led over time to a micro-dividing of the vineyards and relative abandonment, so much so that in 2013 the number of hectares under vine was reduced to around 13. Today, a few young people attracted by the charm of the city-vineyard have added new vineyards to the only two protagonists in the area: the social wine cellar and the Ferrando company.
The DOC Carema vineyards (all located in the municipal area) are mainly south-west facing and stand on moraine soils with high acidity and poor organic substance. They are trained by the pergola system and some by espalier. The Carema pergola is called tòpia and is similar to that of the Ossola and Valle d'Aosta. Here, however, the supporting columns, called pilum, are characteristic. The regulations require the use of Nebbiolo vines (picotendro or pugnet - a sub-variety of Nebbiolo) >85% + other non-aromatic reds authorised in the region.
NOW VOICE TO WINE
4 Carema Muraje 2018
On the nose it paws with an energetic desire to express itself at breakneck speed.
We are in Carema, in its funnel-shaped valley that stretches from north to south. It is characterised by steep mountains, terracing and heroic agriculture as in Val d'Aosta, little sunshine, mountain viticulture as an ecosystem but not for the altitudes.
There are beautiful pergola vineyards on terraces enclosed by columns reminiscent of a distant Doric style.
A handful of very young producers have settled here, and they have made a turnaround in returning to viticulture fascinated by the magic of the vineyard, but in one of the most impervious places to cultivate, sometimes even starting from scratch.
The use of small barrels was not a deliberate choice, rather forced by the low production, insufficient to afford the use of large barrels, if we consider that the 5 or 6 producers do not exceed 2 ha each.
This wine exalts fresh and pungent notes of mint, but also rounder ones of hazelnut, nougat, with a slightly toasted hint in the mouth that is not perceptible to the nose.
5 Carema Sole e Roccia Monte Maletto 2020
Vinification in steel and small barrels
The nose is reminiscent of wood, but not barrel wood or young wood, but a raw, fresh, woody, barky scent.
Already freed from the wood notes given by the stay in the barrel, it expands, preserving its wild side in a range of spices, red berries like blueberries.
A wine that invites you to taste
Its wild side is also found in the mouth, it does not expand in width, rather in verticality, a savoury and mineral wave floats in the mouth and evokes a rocky suggestion.
A wine to think about for a long time, it deserves to be waited for or tasted with an imaginative effort to be read in at least 5 years.
Strong acidity, slightly metallic, cold and sharp. Absolutely a great wine, without any jarring notes, or perhaps it is: its great drinkability makes it a 'dangerous' wine, impossible not to like it and to finish the bottle in a moment.
Let's move on to Bramaterra, which, however, is not a place even though it was a place name around the 15th century, with identified boundaries that form the core of the denomination
It occupies seven municipalities: two in the province of Vercelli (Lozzolo and Roasio) and five in the province of Biella (Brusnengo, Curino, Masserano, Sostegno and Villa del Bosco). It has a varied geological identity. Masserano, the most politically important municipality, was also the name with which Bramaterra wine was identified for a long time, at least until the early 20th century. In a historical document dating back to the end of the 15th century and drawn up to settle a dispute between Roasio, Lozzolo and Sostegno, the term Bramaterra appears for the first time, also defining its production boundaries, which can be partially traced back to those of today. The first wine to be called Bramaterra was produced by the Sella family in 1902.
To return to the varied composition of the soils, we find: quartziferous porphyries in the east and in the central portion of the PDO interspersed with dolomite and sandstone; sandy-gravel successions and partly fluvial deposits in the valley bottom; granitic inert materials in the western portion.
Because of this variety of soils, the Bramaterra can be very different.
A few years before the PDO was established, which dates back to 1979, some vine growers asked, but were not granted, for the eastern areas of what is now Bramaterra to be annexed to Gattinara, due to the similarity of soil compositions.
The ampelographic composition laid down in the regulations requires the use of comprimari with a percentage (the only case in the area) of Croatina and a quota of Vespolina (Nebbiolo 50-80%, Croatina <30%, rare grapes and/or Vespolina < 20%). This denomination has been enjoying a fair amount of success recently, even if competition from its better-known neighbours (Gattinara and Lessona) is perhaps slowing down its success. In the areas where volcanic porphyry prevails, it is also complicated to cultivate vines (here too, the choice of rootstock is crucial) due to the high acidity of the soils and lack of organic substance, factors that drastically reduce vigour and productivity.
NOW VOICE TO WINE
6 Bramaterra Colombera e Garella 2019
Vinification steel and ageing in large wood
Starts with a well-defined lymphatic note, the nose is reminiscent of fresh vegetables, a freshly broken celery. Nice final tannin, and vegetal correspondence between nose and mouth. Notes of cinchona, liquorice, in the mouth finer, cleaner than the olfactory assumption. If you wait a little, you discover that the nose is also cleaner, a reminder of a bitter, little fruit but much more. Very herbaceous, woody, deep, relaxed, all in perfect balance with the acidity.
7 Juan Agricola Garella
Vinification steel and ageing in large wood
We are in Masserano, a historic winery with vineyards on both types of terrain.
50 nebbiolo 30 croatina 20 vespolina an element that contributes to its decision to leave the appellation
Very inky, slightly oxidative note which is its stylistic characteristic. Slightly dark fruit, vague smoky and peaty notes, probably due to the croatina, as well as being its distinguishing feature: a photograph of a traditional style, perhaps a less innovative version, but a more rural and peasant wine. In the mouth, it recovers and exceeds initial expectations in terms of matter and expressiveness.
At first it stiffens you then conquers you. Even in the mouth it retains some of that rusticity, a little more tannin than the previous Bramaterra. The excellent concentration and density immediately reveal the quality of the raw material.
An excellent wine to accompany braised meats, meat dishes with long cooking times and for this reason it differs significantly from the others. The mineral finish, despite its great concentration and chewiness, balances perfectly with a final freshness.
With its 90 hectares claimed together with the 15 hectares for the Coste della Sesia PDO, it is historically the most productive PDO in Alto Piemonte and one of the first in the whole of Piedmont. It has always enjoyed a very high reputation, consecrated in the 1960s. Gattinara too suffered an exodus of its inhabitants at the beginning of the 20th century, following a storm, seeing its vineyard area reduced by more than 80%. Despite the exodus and the reduction of the vineyards Gattinara has resisted. The vineyards are located on a single hill. The presence of a historical producer such as Travaglini, a structured network of small producers and the excessive slopes of the hill, which made it impossible to convert the land to other crops, have been the key factors in keeping the local viticulture alive.
Here we find the volcanic porphyries that make up the vine-covered hillside and little organic substance, as well as a wealth of iron.
Nebbiolo is the undisputed protagonist.
The regulations allow the use of comprimary vines: Vespolina <4% and/or rare grapes, together <10%, but the wines are often single varietals of Nebbiolo. There is no lack of place names that can be claimed as vineyard mentions, the best known being Osso San Grato, del San Francesco, della Valferana. Winemaking by cru is not feasible for all those micro producers who, having vineyards scattered in various areas, are forced to blend. If for those who manage to vinify per cru, the choice may be to propose a line with vineyard mention and a more economical one informally called Gattinara classico, for those who fail, the distinction will only be between Gattinara and Gattinara riserva (from batches of better grapes). The Coste della Sesia, on the other hand, receives all those lesser lots, generally located on the lower part of the hillside.
NOW VOICE TO WINE
8 Gattinara Franchino 2018
Unquestionably elegant, it brings back memories of the classicism and assertiveness of the first red, but with an extra gear in finesse and definition.
It has spicy notes, vaguely smoky from a newly extinguished fireplace, but also pepper, tobacco, all expertly balanced between elegance and finesse.
A family-run estate of about 2 hectares, passed down to the grandson in his early forties. In Gattinara, the places are very rustic, the wineries welcome you with beautiful courtyards, but the cellars are to be discovered, completely underground and so deep as cavities in the ground that the barrels are usually built on site or have been handed down through generations. Places where time seems to stand still.
In the mouth, a delicate saltiness and grace stands out. A frugal, peasant, traditional elegance.
A wine that is certainly not immediate, it allows itself to be discovered slowly, to be researched, introverted, subtle, cerebral.
Also suitable for long waits, it is an interesting wine to discover now, but one that could remain intact for a long time to come.
9 Gattinara Vigna Molsino Nervi 2018
A very distant nose from the previous one, although the place, the hill, the terroir are identical. What changes slightly is the exposure, but we are talking about details.
Nose more like a great Nebbiolo hints at a more Langhe-like idea, a more classic wine.
The persistent pulp distances it from the verticality of the previous wines. One immediately senses the style of Conterno, who took over the winery in 2018 and left his mark.
Molsino is a vineyard, a subzone of Gattinara that counts several, so much so that there is even a small census of cru. Molsino is the best known.
In the mouth it maintains a good freshness, but the round fruit is the real protagonist. Thicker, less sharp and more broad than the other wines. A sort of liason between the Langhe and northern Piedmont. The impact of the wood is clear, sharp.
Situated in the heart of the ancient caldera of the supervolcano, Boca is one of the most beautiful and fascinating territories, predominantly hilly with altitudes approaching 500 metres and significant slopes. This splendid volcanic terroir seriously risked extinction, going from 3-4 thousand hectares under vine to only 10 in the 1990s, with only 84 hectolitres of production in 1998. A few historic companies resisted until the arrival from Switzerland of a Graubünden wine merchant, Christoph Kunzli, who founded the Le Piane company by taking over the few ares of a local producer.
Example is always the best lesson, Kunzli was in fact the lever that stimulated the few remaining companies. To replant the vines, the initial work was to rid the land of the locust trees that had invaded the vineyards after abandonment.
There are a dozen current producers, 15 hectares under vine, and 5 municipalities included in this PDO established in 1969.
The soils are composed of volcanic porphyries outcropping or crumbling into draining sands. The soil composition varies chromatically due to the mixing of materials and the projection of pyroclasts following the eruption of the supervolcano. Very acidic soils, little organic matter (with the exception of the siltier arches near Marjoram). The presence of Mediterranean plants such as rosemary, olive trees and mimosa testify to the protective effect of Monte Rosa and Fenéra (the only limestone formation in the area) against rainfall (abundant but never critical rainfall). The vines permitted by the Boca DOP are: Nebbiolo 70 to 90%, Vespolina and Uva Rara.
DOC since 1969 and DOCG since '97. Ghemme is a small village located north of Fara and Sizzano, on the left side of the Sesia and shares the appellation with part of the municipality of Romagnano Sesia. Most of the vineyards are west-facing and are laid out on two hill ridges that run parallel, between the slope towards the hill and the hilly plateau. The pattern is repeated on the second ridge. A very small area, just a couple of kilometres wide in the municipality of Ghemme.
The erosive action of the Sesia, here as in Fara and Sizzano, has generated a soil richer in clay, presence of silt, rocks of volcanic origin, pebbles and stones rich in minerals and presence of limestone. Here, therefore, one can find all the materials that we find singly, or in groups, in the other DOCs of the area.
In Upper Piedmont, there are only two DOCGs, one is Gattinara and the other is Ghemme. Although in Northern Piedmont additional geographical units (Uga) or additional geographical mentions (Mga) are not part of any specifications, the consortium has identified 52 toponyms in Ghemme that could one day be integrated into the specifications as Mga.
In Ghemme, there is a historical and tenacious rootedness of wine-growing that has experienced recognition and fame over the centuries and that, with its 50 hectares under vine, places it as the second largest producer in Alto Piemonte, second only to Gattinara.
The vines allowed by the regulations are Nebbiolo >85% plus Vespolina and/or Uva Rara.
Here we find mainly sandy soils (unique in the area of the historical appellations), the presence of clayey portions especially in the Rive Russe (red) area, and loess sand (sandy formation due to the action of the winds). The presence of plants such as olive trees testify to the exceptional nature of this area with its mild climate for the latitudes in which we find ourselves.
The area is made up of five long and narrow plateaus called oro (gold) due to the presence of gold deposits (Oro lungo, Bedotta, Calzaga, Oro di San Giorgio), sandy soils (sandy oess with clay inserts) and a more extensive area.
Nebbiolo has regained its primacy and although the regulations allow up to 15% Vespolina and Uva Rara in the wines, most Lessona wines are single-varietal Nebbiolo. The single-varietal Nebbiolo wine is in any case a historical reality, so much so that in the early 20th century Lessona wines were distinguished into Lessona Spanna and Lessona Uvaggio.
Descending to the south of Ghemme we find Sizzano whose only 6ha claimed are located on the hilly strip of the commune's territory alone. Here the yield of very old vineyards is very low and production is only around 9000 bottles. Many of the grapes are, however, declassified as Colline Novaresi DOP.
The terroir is similar to that of Ghemme and Fara, but the slightly wetter and warmer microclimate is more favourable to the development of Uva Rara and Vespolina than Nebbiolo.
In the early decades of the 20th century, Spanna accounted for just 20%. Somewhat contrary to tradition, today the regulations have increased the percentage of Nebbiolo compared to the past (it is possible to use 50-70%, Vespolina and/or Uva Rara 30-50%, plus other non-aromatic reds authorised in the region).
In general, at least today, a Sizzano has less structure than a Ghemme and is more immediate and fine.
This PDO includes, in addition to the valley carved out by the Toce, the two side valleys. An area wedged between Valais to the west and Ticino to the east, very close to Switzerland, it has always maintained close ties with Lombardy and the neighbouring Swiss cantons. Vines were already being cultivated by the Celts. Maximum production dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries (production estimated at 25,000 hectolitres), but already in the 19th century, production plummeted drastically due to various factors, such as increased production in the Valais and competition from wines from the lower Novara area; cryptogams and phylloxera, until it almost disappeared with depopulation due to the industrialisation we have already mentioned.
The absence of a social wine cellar perhaps contributed to the disaster of abandonment. And so it went from 1,438 hectares in 1929 to barely thirty in the 1990s!
Even today, the number of hectares under vine remains unchanged.
It was precisely in the last decade of the last century that a trend reversal took place thanks to the work of a single company, that of Roberto Garrone, who began to vinify not only his own grapes but also those of the few remaining active vine growers. The study of prünent dates back to the same period, to its selection from the stocks of the best vines recovered in ancient vineyards that were then multiplied in nurseries. This work of recovery and study preceded the establishment of the DOC in 2009. The types envisaged by the DOC are white, red, Nebbiolo and Nebbiolo superiore. White based on Chardonnay, red based on Merlot and Croatina (up to 60% allowed). Today there are eight wineries in operation, 30 hectares under vine, 10 of which are DOC. The eastern side of Val d'Ossola is more suited to prünent: here we find Masera, Trontano and Montecrestese, historical places of Ossola production.
Southern exposures are only found in some of the valleys transversal to the Ossola. The average altitude of the vineyards is 300 metres. The soils are acid and rich in sarizzo (granite-like rock) and bèola (similar to sarizzo). Texture: loamy-sandy, with clayey veins on the eastern side and slightly fatter on the western side.
If you have come this far, you will be thirsty and only want to listen to the wines.
Below are our selections