Cantina Coppo and the Underground Cathedrals of Wine

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UNESCO has been busy in Piemonte, recognizing this historic wine producing region which preserves the tradional methods of growing and producing grapes and wine. Evidence of wine production has been found here that dates back to the Etruscans!  Everyone we met while in Piemonte was pretty excited about this new distinction – they are hoping that it will bring more tourists to the area – thereby making them more profitable. Despite the fact that I wish for them lots of good fortune, it’s nice to still have a place to visit in Italy that is beautiful but not yet overrun by tourists. The roads are small – and driving them, without having to worry about too many cars, was relaxing. We could take in the scenery without the hassles of watching for passing cars whizzing by. We could easily find parking wherever we went and therefore allowed us to explore so much more. We could eat in any restaurant we chose and got to chat with the restaurant staff in a more intimate manner. We were even given a ride back to our agriturismo by a waiter one night after dinner when we didn’t feel like walking back UPHILL to it!

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The DOWNHILL walk we took to the restaurant.

These small interactions with the locals are what we remember about our trips and which make it all the more special.

UNESCO has recognized a unique site in Canelli called the Underground Cathedrals of Wine. These caves, which reach deep into the hillsides, have been in use for hundreds of years and therefore have some historic significance to the wine making tradition. We wanted to visit one of the wineries whose cellars make up these Underground Cathedrals of Wine and were fortunate to arrange a private tour at Cantina Coppo. The same family has been producing these wines since 1892 – it’s great that every new generation  has the interest to continue the family business. Our tour guide, Luigi, was one of the youngest members of the family. He studied business law so that he could bring a new element to the family business. The passion he has for his family’s wine making tradition is infectious. He talked about the wines they produce with lots of love, as well as having great knowledge of the wine making process. They produce some red wines like Barbera and Gavi, some whites like Chardonnay, and the sweet Moscato…but their prized wines are what they call The Metodo Classico (or sparkling wines) produced in the same method as champagne.

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These wines are crisp and refreshing. Coppo’s sparkling wine would be perfect as an aperitif, with a beautiful al fresco summer lunch, or as a dessert wine. It is so versatile and delicious that we didn’t even mind lugging 6 bottles home in our suitcases!

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Luigi took us into the giant caves in which they age their wines.  He explained to us that the caves are always at a constant temperature of 15 degrees centigrade – no matter how hot or cold it gets outside!  The walls of the caves can become very wet with the rains, and they can even flood, but the water doesn’t hurt anything.

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The caves were built over 100 years ago with brick and the original brickwork is still there!  He showed us one cave room where the family keeps their own private stash of wine – he said that on special occasions, one of them is sent down to pick out a special bottle 🙂  Dust covered many of these old bottles, just adding to the charm of this very special place.

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If you visit the Asti region of Piemonte, make sure to make a stop in Canelli to visit the Underground Cathedrals of Wine.  Our cantina was Cantina Coppo at Via Alba 68, Canelli (AT) and they charged 15 euros/pp for a tour.  The other more well known winery is Contratto at Via Giovanni Battista Giuliani 56, Canelli (AT) and we were told they charge 25 euros/pp for a tour.  Both, I’m sure, would be an excellent way to see this new UNESCO World Heritage site.

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