Many of those who love to visit Italy, after seeing the “classic” beauties (Rome, Florence or Venice), then want to get away from the tourist capitals and discover the authenticity of Italian life. Interesting historical artefacts can also be found in the quiet villages and small provincial towns; certainly they are less known and there will be no queues at the ticket offices as in the museums of Rome, but for this reason the visit will be even more fascinating! What about the landscape? Wild nature alternates with villages shaped by the aesthetic taste of the Romans or the Italians who lived in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Traveling through Italy it is possible to discover gastronomic specialties that cannot be found in supermarkets; if you are in the company of an Italian, he will surely also be able to tell you about the origins of that delicacy! Then there are places that are the symbol of Italian sociality: the bar, the trattoria, the small town squares. All this is the most authentic Italy.
I will tell you about Italy with a series of episodes, always accompanied by a special guide: a local winemaker. I believe that wine producers are custodians of an inestimable cultural heritage. They know how to logically explain the shape of a landscape modeled centuries ago by man and they deeply know their territory. For many generations they have lived on the spot and handed down an “ancient knowledge” made up of legends, anecdotes and recipes. I always say that “meeting a wine producer is first of all a cultural meeting”. Let’s start this journey from my region: Piemonte.
The landscape of Roero
To visit the Roero we meet with Antonio Viglione (called Tonino), a producer of Monteu Roero, in the sub-region called Roero. Its most representative wine is the Roero Arneis Docg “Meo”. The Roero hills are right in front of the most famous Langhe hills.
The soils are mainly made up of sedimentary rocks of marine origin, often mixed with limestone, fossils and sand; they are very rich in mineral salts. The climate is particularly dry, with little rainfall that is not held back by the sandy soils. During the ripening period there are always good thermal excursions. These terroir characteristics allow the development of very elegant and persistent aromas in wines.
With Tonino, however, we want to discover a uniqueness of the Roero landscape, the so-called ciabòt. These are small buildings in the shape of a house that we see in the midst of many vineyards. Tonino tells us: “In the past centuries on these hills not only vineyards were cultivated, but also fruit trees, especially peach trees. The Roero peasants, who left their homes and spent all their time working on the hills, used to build huts of wood and reeds, to shelter from sudden storms. Little by little the huts were transformed into houses made of bricks, which were also used to keep agricultural tools and repair the fruits collected from the risk of theft.”.
It is a form of spontaneous peasant architecture that characterizes these hills of Piemonte and offers very suggestive photographic images.
Historical roots of Monferrato
Meeting the Marquis Giacomo Cattaneo Adorno actually means talking to a person whose family took part in making the history of Italy. The appointment with the Marquis is in his castle in Gabiano, a very small town in Monferrato. The castle has very old foundations; historical references can be found as early as the eighth century. Due to its strategic position in Piemonte, the castle was involved in many wars for a long time, from the medieval period up to the 17th century.
In contemporary times, the noises of the great European wars are no longer heard around the castle, but the scent of the cultivated land and the wines produced here are perceivable. There are 22 hectares of vineyards owned by the Castello di Gabiano. In this part of Piedmont, Monferrato, the Gabiano Doc is also produced, one of the smallest and rarest denominations in Piemonte.
This wine is mainly composed of Barbera, to which Freisa and Grignolino can be added. The Marquis tells us: “This Doc denomination identifies wines that have unique features. As you can see, we are on the last hill and then in front of us there is a huge plain, up to the Alpine mountains. What you see in front of us is Monte Rosa. During the grape ripening period, the cold winds from the Alps arrive here without barriers. The nights become very cold and the wines obtained from these grapes have a unique identity ”. A visit to the most private part of the cellar reveals a collection of the best vintages of Barbera and Gabiano, including 1945, 1947, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1971, just to name the most notable.
Hospitality in Piemonte
We move to the south of Piemonte, to Nizza Monferrato to meet Gianluca Morino, owner of the Cascina Garitina winery and get to know the Nizza Docg appellation a little better. In the area the vineyards alternate with small woods creating an environment with a high biodiversity. The soils of this area are mainly made up of marl, sometimes mixed with sand, other times mixed with clays. The climate is particularly windy, with a predominant wind from the South. These are just some of the characteristics that make this terroir rare. Nizza Docg stands out for its finesse and elegance, as well as for an excellent aptitude for aging.
Gianluca meets us in Via Carlo Alberto, the central street of Nizza Monferrato completely covered by arcades along its entire length. Gianluca has just cut his hair in the Soave brothers’ barbershop; walking out he immediately tells us: “Perfect hair cut, as I wanted! Antonio, born in 1942, never ceases to amaze me with his anecdotes! ”. In Italian countries, the barber still has the social function of storyteller, handing down stories of events that have happened, mixed with some legends and the most recent gossip. We pass in front of the Marabotti pastry shop where the elderly owner lets us taste a typical dessert of Piemonte, a hazelnut-based biscuit called “bacio di dama” – literally means: kiss from a lady.
Gianluca offers us an aperitif at the “Il Centro” Bar, an iconic place for a wine producer like him. He tells us that in the past all the wine trade took place in this bar. The producers of Monferrato arrived with a bottle of wine, tasted and discussed with the merchants coming from far Italian cities. The agreements were then concluded at lunch, in a nearby restaurant. Speaking of eating… we ask Gianluca to take us to a place that presents the authentic cuisine of Piemonte. Let’s go to the “Nicese Restaurant”. “Here for over 80 years you can taste panissa, made from chickpeas. In the past it was a poor food, now it represents something greedy!”. We also order the vitello tonnato and the typical ravioli. Gianluca opens his bottle of Nizza Docg “Neuvsent Vigna Cec”, vintage 2016. The bottle soon ends in chatter: a swing between family memories (great-grandmother, old vines) and innovation (the use of screw caps, new projects, etc).
Our first visit to Piemonte ends. Now you know details of authentic Italian life, past and present, which you could only learn by being accompanied by the winemakers from Roero and Monferrato!
20th November 2020,