Tag Archives: barbera

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.

Not Just Spumante in Asti!

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Tucked away in the heart of Piemonte’s wine region and about 55 km east of Turin lies the medieval province of Asti.

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This area is part of the Langhe and Monferrato hill regions of Piemonte and is a major producer of some of the world’s finest wines. Among it’s most famous is the sparkling wine made from the Moscato Bianco grape aptly called Asti (DOCG). My family has made many a toasts with this sweet and sparkling wine – most memorably at my wedding!

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While Martini and Rossi, Gancia and Riccadonna made commercial wines like Asti Spumante and transported them all over the world, Asti is quickly gaining international acclaim for its classic red wines such as Barbera d’Asti, Freisa d’Asti, Grignolino d’Asti, Bonarda and Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato.

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The province of Asti hosts some unique and very interesting events which depict it’s rich history and famous gastronomy. Among one of the most popular yearly events is the Palio di Asti, a medieval race between the various “old” neighborhoods (“rioni” or “borghi”) of Asti and it’s surrounding areas.

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Horsemen compete in bare-back horse races to win the crimson banner bearing the coat of arms of the city of Asti and of its patron saint, San Secondo. This Palio is the oldest one recorded in history, dating back to the 13th century. It is even older than the famous Palio di Siena.

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A week before the Palio, Asti hosts yet another party: the Festival delle Sagre. This is a food-lover’s delight! Asti turns into the biggest open-air restaurant in Italy when most of the towns in Asti’s province meet in the great “Campo del Palio” square and offer typical food and wine for which they are known.

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On the Sunday of the Sagre all the towns involved stage a parade with floats depicting traditional farming with everyone in costume along Asti’s roads to reach “Campo del Palio” square.

And then in the later Fall, Asti falls into the white truffle or “tartufo bianco” season. Some of the best truffles are found around Asti’s hills, and every weekend there is a local truffle festival.

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The city of Asti is one of the most important cities of art in Piedmont. The old town is picturesque and charming with noble palaces, medieval towers, ancient churches, and the magnificent Gothic Cathedral.

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Being ruled by Italy and France, and eventually passed to the Savoy ruling family as part of a dowry, it was a city full of riches and power.

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Venturing outside of the city walls into the northern part of the province, one finds the ancient pilgrim route called the Via Fracigena. Here lie more quaint towns, enchanting churches and imposing medieval castles.

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The wine routes in Asti offer great walking, trekking or biking opportunities through hills covered by vineyards. At every corner is the temptation to make a stop at the wineries and farms to taste different wines and local produce. And the winemakers are all too willing to please!

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Let’s go!