Tag Archives: wine

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.

Barolo and Beyond

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Making our way through all the grapes; meandering our way up as many hilltops as we can; seeing castle ruin after castle ruin – this area has it all! Piemonte is truly an amazing place. There is so much history here – we’ve discovered ancient Roman ruins in Pollenzo which subsequent civilizations built new homes over and  countless Medieval fortresses and towns scattered throughout the area.

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And throughout it all – wine! The Piemontese are very proud and knowledgeable about their grapes and the various types of wine they produce. It seems like everyone is in the wine making business! And perhaps the wine fortifies them with the strength to walk up all the hills!! In every town we visited, I felt like I was always walking uphill!

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The Wines of Piedmont – a guest post

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I am pleased to share this great article by Gabriel, from Panoram Italia, about this wonderful region of Italy, which by the way we’ll be visiting on our upcoming tour (click on “tour with us” in the menu above to see all the details!)  Tempting, isn’t it?

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The Wines of Piedmont

Visit the Langhe Territory

2011/08/04 – Written by Gabriel Riel-Salvatore

Barolo countryside - Ceretto Tenuta Bricco Rocche (photos Gabriel Riel-Salvatore)

Barolo countryside – Ceretto Tenuta Bricco Rocche (photos Gabriel Riel-Salvatore)

Near the end of October, the wine-producing backcountry of Piedmont offers an impressive visual spectacle as the region’s thousands of hectares of vine transform into a symphony of colours.

The panorama displays rows of plants revealing tones of yellow, orange and red that take on the steep curves of the hills of the region. These characteristic alignments, locally called rittochino or girapoggio, as they slide down the slopes or groove them in steps, are the traditional signature of the Langhe, in the province of Cuneo.

It is in this historic area that the best terroirs of Piedmont are found. Nestled at the foot of the Alps, about an hour from Turin, the Langhe benefit from an ideal microclimate for wine production. Split in half by the Tanaro River, the north forms a zone called Roero, renowned mostly for its white wines made from Arneis, while the south, the Langa, includes the famous appellations of Barolo and Barbaresco made from Nebbiolo at the base of some of Italy’s finest red wines.

On the international market, the wines from the Langhe region distinguish themselves thanks to their strong personality. Nebbiolo is without a doubt the varietal that yields the most interesting wines of the region. It is on the slopes surrounding the villages of Barolo and Barbaresco that this grape, locally called Spanna, Chiavennasca or Picotener, expresses itself with the most eloquence. The terms sorì or bricco that often go along the names of the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco relate to a “cru” or a specific soil type that belongs to one or more wineries of the region. (Brunate, Cerequio and Cannubi; Asili, Martinenga and Sori Tildin) are amongst the greatest parcels of Barolo and Barbaresco.

Visit the Langhe

The Langhe are filled with activities for history, outdoors and gastronomy lovers. While it is possible to visit the region in a few days, it is however recommended to spend at least a week in order to fully grasp the splendours of the area.

Alba and its surroundings

Halfway between Barolo and Barbaresco, the city of Alba – a lovely, posh and sophisticated little town – hosts Vinum every year in the month of April, an event that brings close to 200 wine producers together for a grand, open-air tasting. I also recommend visiting Alba in the fall for the famous Fiera del Tartufo (truffle fair), the most sought after in the world. You will then be able to purchase the legendary Alba white truffle, which releases a delightfully unique scent when fresh. But beware, at 1000 Euro per Kilo, the famous mushroom is well worth its weight in gold!

Shopping lovers will also appreciate the luxury boutiques of the via Maestra that leads to Piazza Risorgimento, commonly called Piazza del Duomo, where you’ll find the lovely Romanesque cathedral of San Lorenzo. This public square hosts two restaurants: Trattoria La Piola and Piazza Duomo that both belong to the Ceretto family, also renowned for its wines. The philosophy of the two restaurants looks to promote the incredible gastronomic heritage of the Roero and Langhe territory – the former thanks to a more traditional and accessible wine bar formula and the latter through a more experimental and researched setting. Playground of chef Enrico Crippa, restaurant Piazza Duomo offers a menu that cleverly deconstructs and reconstructs local dishes and ingredients in a supreme culinary alchemy, pairing tastes and colours with a refreshing and comforting harmony worthy of the two Michelin Stars it was awarded.

Alba offers various types of accommodations and has the advantage of being easy to tour by foot. However, for those who prefer the country-style atmosphere to the city, it is recommended to find a room in one of the surrounding villages of the area. Generally perched on top of a hill, they offer an impressive view of the region, that largely compensate for the additional time required to move up or down from them.

You will be particularly amazed with a stay at the Case della Saracca in Monforte d’Alba. Located in the historic center of the village, this hotel is composed of three ancient medieval houses completely restored and designed following a successful marriage between modern architecture and the original materials of the buildings. The unique complex counts six rooms, as well as a wine bar and a restaurant which are both frequented and supplied by the best wine producers of the region.

Follow the wine route

A vacation in the Langa obviously means discovering great wines. Many producers offer guided tours of their property combined with wine tastings. The Strade del Barolo e grandi vini di Langa’s official website highlights a series of itineraries that follow the region’s wine routes. It is always preferable to book in advance and to plan a budget for your visits and purchases.

Barolo: south of Alba

Eleven villages make up the region of Barolo of which La Morra, Serralunga d’Alba and Monforte d’Alba are amongst the more renowned. Perched on a hill slope, the Castle of Barolo dominates the village of the same name. Property of the Falletti marquis from the 13th to the 19th century, it now hosts the regional enoteca (wine bar) where it is possible to taste and buy wines of the area. The village of Barolo also counts the Corkscrew Museum with its 500 different types of bottle openers dating from the 17th century to present day, as well as many restaurants and souvenir shops.

Recommended visit: Ceretto A stone’s throw away from Alba, the property of Monforte Berardina of the Ceretto winery offers a unique experience with its Californian style wine bar (dangling in the air like a springboard hooked to an impressive ancient medieval warehouse) that houses the head office of the business. Conceived by architect Giuseppe Blengini, the platform, nicknamed the ‘grape’, has a retractable roof that gives an exclusive view on the surrounding vineyards. In the heart of Barolo near Castiglione Falletto, their famous tasting room nicknamed the ‘Cube’ located on their Bricco Rocche property, is also worth seeing. Inspired by the concept of the Louvre’s pyramid, it was conceived by architect David Tremlett. Similar to a greenhouse, it is entirely made out of glass.

This audacious architecture reflects the image of the Ceretto family that mixes eccentricity with tradition in its business philosophy – a signature that Alessandro, Marcello Ceretto’s son and in-house winemaker, also tries to express through his wines thanks to exceptional raw materials and state-of-the-art technology. The winery has various ‘crus’ in Barolo as well as Barbaresco. Their Barolo Bricco Rocche Prapò and Bricco Rocche Brunate distinguish themselves from the other Barolos with their smoother and refined character tied to their unique terroir.

Producers to watch for: Prunotto (Barolo Brunate), La Spinetta (Barolo Campè), Michele Chiarlo (Barolo Cannubi, Cerequio, Brunate), Aldo Conterno (Barolo Granbussia)

Barbaresco: North of Alba The steep flanks of the villages of Barbaresco, Neive and Treiso (determine) the territory of Barbaresco. Recognisable because of its tower, the little village of Barbaresco has its own regional enoteca (wine bar), a few restaurants and holds the head office of the Cantina Sociale dei Produttori del Barbaresco.

Recommended visit: Gaja If the wines of Barbaresco now enjoy an equal reputation to that of their Barolo counterparts, it is mostly thanks to Angelo Gaja. A visionary and formidable businessman, he was able to emulate the French classification model of the great Bordeaux wines hoisting his wines to the top of the Barbaresco appellation prestige pyramid.

Like it is commonly accepted that a Château Latour sells for a far higher price than a simple Bordeaux, in addition to their taste, what distinguishes the wines of Angelo Gaja from the other producers is their prohibitive prices. Bruno Giacosa from Neive is one of the rare producers whose wines enjoy a similar standing to those of Gaja’s best labels. Even though Angelo Gaja became famous worldwide for his exceptional Barbarescos, he did not hesitate to downgrade his best crus such as the Sori San Lorenzo or the Sori Tildin to experiment with new blends, pairing Nebbiolo with great international vintages like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, thus ignoring the regional controlled denomination system’s regulations (DOCG).

An appointment is absolutely mandatory to get through the iron door of the winery located right in the heart of Barbaresco. If you manage to enter the dragon’s den, sumptuous cellars and an exceptional tasting room will be awaiting you.

Producers to watch for: Bruno Giacosa (Barbaresco Asili et Rabajà), Pio Cesare (Barbaresco il Bricco), Marchesi du Gresy (Barbaresco Martinenga)

Recommended visit: Marchesi Alfieri If Nebbiolo is king in Piemonte, it is however Barbera that dominates the region. Capable of the best and the worst, this grape type planted around the end of the 18th century, is easier to cultivate and more at ease in the flat lands surrounding the cities of Asti and Alba that each carry a specific appellation (Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba). Strongly recommended is a visit to Marchesi Alfieri which excel in the production of high-end Barbera. Their historic cellars in the basement of the Alfieri Castle in San Martino Alfieri are simply beautiful and their winemaker Mario Olivero is as intriguing and affable as his wines. The property also owns villas and rooms for rent.

On your way back towards Alba, stop by the small village of Prioca to experience the cuisine of the Cordero family at Il Centro restaurant. Their exquisite dishes such as the pancetta di maialino caramellata con purea or the pesche al forno ripiene con cacao e amaretti combined with a selection of close to 600 labels of the area will definitely make you appreciate the splendours of Piemonte even more.

Producers to watch for: Prunotto (Barbera d’Asti Costamiole), Vietti (Barbera d’Alba Scarrone), Olim Bauda (Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza)

View our selection of Piedmont wine reviews   

Address book

Restaurants and accommodations :

www.piazzaduomoalba.it

www.ristoranteilcentro.com

 www.saracca.com

Tourism boards:

 www.langheroero.it

www.turismoinlanga.it

www.stradadelbarolo.it

Fairs and museums:

www.fieradeltartufo.org

www.baroloworld.it

Producers:

www.ceretto.com

www.brunogiacosa.it

www.la-spinetta.com

www.gajawines.com

www.prunotto.it

www.marchesialfieri.it

Sicilian Wine Tour

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Before I even get into writing about this experience, I want to let you know that I am, by no means, a wine expert!  My post is definitely written as a “regular” wine consumer, and therefore my descriptions and explanations are very simplified!  

 This past weekend, I had the pleasure of being an interpreter for a group of 6 family run wineries from Sicily that are on a USA tour promoting their unique wines!  The tour has been named the X Wine Tour 2011. The wineries are looking to bring their wine talents to the San Francisco Bay Area and therefore had a presentation to members of the wine and restaurant industry.  At times, my translating skills were put to the test when the technical aspects of wine production were discussed…but, as in all languages, when you don’t know the exact term, you find a work around!  Even though my translations probably weren’t very “wine-specific”, I think I was able to make myself understood!

During the presentations at the press event by each winery on Sunday at the Italian Consulate,  I learned so much about wine production in Sicily, and the uniqueness of their wines and grapes.  Sicily is an island where the sun plays a huge part in the final wine product, thus leading to a sweeter grape (and also a higher alcohol content!).  The terrain and the various altitudes where the grapes are grown also contribute to their uniqueness.  Sicily has grapes that are indigenous to their island.  thus creating wines varieties that are only produced there.   They also produce wines with “international” grapes, but these as well,  take on a totally different aspect because of Sicily’s particular characteristics.

The two wineries I assisted with produced totally different wines.  The first one, FINA, produced red and white wines – some with indigenous grapes and others with “international” ones.  I learned that the typical Sicilian variety of red wine, Nero d’Avolo, is widely produced and distributed worldwide.   But what the wine merchants wanted to stress was that Sicily produces so much more than just Nero d’Avolo!  The indigenous white wine grapes had lovely names with  Grillo and Zibibbo being my favorites!

The second winery I interpreted for, CANTINE INTORCIA, only made Marsalas and dessert wines.  But their Marsalas were different than the norm.  They had a very dry Marsala, Marsala Vergine Soleras,  which, when chilled, could be served as an aperitif with cheese.  Serving this very same Marsala at room temperature completely changed the palate and pairing it with biscotti or even meats was great!  Who ever thought of Marsala as a dinner or apertif type of wine?  But because the Marsala is dry, it lends itself to this.  I also had the pleasure of experiencing the sweet wonder of their Passito – the wine produced from those grapes that have dried on the vine.

The information I gained was so interesting – and the best was that I was exposed to that unique “continent” which is Sicily!  The Sicilians very affectionately call their island a continent….and now I see why!  It has a character all its own, with a history so diverse and intriguing that it could easily be a continent unto itself.  Even though they are technically part of Italy, their land is different and their people have a character all their own.  I’m just thankful that they speak a language that I can communicate in, so that when I do visit it (which will be very soon, I hope), I can experience it to the fullest!

What a Pretty Label!

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I am, by no means, a wine connoisseur!  Pretty much any bottle of wine tastes fine to me (except maybe “two buck Chuck”!!!).  Now, if I were comparing wines side by side, I could probably tell the difference, but with a random glass – it’s all good!!  You have to understand – I was brought up on Italian table wine – nothing fancy at all.  The more home grown, the better it was!!! 

Anyway, when it comes to picking a new bottle of wine to try, I don’t really go by all the descriptions of the bouquet, legs, etc. that the real wine connoisseurs give.  Usually, I cannot detect the “flavors” that they describe anyway – my palate is no where near that sophisticated!!  But, I can appreciate a beautiful label.  I seem to pick my wines the same way I pick my horses at the race track – the prettiest one gets my bet!!!  So, when last night we visited our favorite new wine bar here in Los Gatos, Enoteca La Storia, and they were having a special on “fizzy” wines from Italy, I found a wine from my homeland, Lombardy!!!  And, what really sold me on trying it was the absolutely GORGEOUS label 🙂  Fortunately for everyone who shared it with me, it was also VERY good!

Here is the description of the wine at the Enoteca:

2007  Castello di Luzzano  Bonarda from Lombardy, IT

Bright ruby color with fragrant raspberry aromas.  The lightly sparkling, elegant, dry wine is from Rovescala where Bonarda has been grown for centuries and with great reknown.