Piemonte 3: Monferrato DOCG: 12 – 14 October 2021

Tuesday 12 October

Valentina, driving her beloved Cinquecento, arrived at La Romana promptly at 09.00. She freelances with the consorzio and other wine-related organisations putting her excellent English to good use as a guide and interpreter with real knowledge and love of wines, having qualified as a Sommelier. She also turns out to be wine maker Roberto ( of Bersano)’s partner!

 We drove to Cascina Vèngore, of Lucrezia Povero, very close to Cisterna d’Asti (above) where a striking Chiara (dressed in green with newly created reddish hair – Valentina knew her as blonde!) drove us to their main vineyard in its closed valley with its large rocks excavated from the vineyard, and whose old cascina will eventually be their place of production.

We learned from Chiara that Lucrezia is very committed to organic and biodynamic cultivation, and they are trying hard to establish greater biodiversity in the vineyard – leaving trees in place and tolerating adjacent woodland and scrub. The family Povero have several generations’ worth of experience and expertise, and like so many wineries, everybody is involved.

The next visit to Marchesi Alfieri was the first for which we had to show our NHS passes – partly so our host, Mario Olivero, could be sure we would gain entry to the Michelin starred ristorante to which he was taking us !

Mario explained the estate’s history as we walked through its magnificent gardens, showing us the fine house of the historic Marchesi, now the property of a different family of three sisters and their adult children, some of whom we met. (They reminded me of a chance meeting with minor English aristocracy at Cranborne in Wiltshire – all very tall, and speaking excellent, slightly mannered English). We also went ‘downstairs’ to see the original kitchens and central heating system – a wood burning stove whose hot air was piped around the mansion!

Mario was a delightful host, and after we had settled down to taste their wines, he drove us to San Martino Alfieri for lunch at Le Scuderie del Castello, where we heard more of Mario’s own impressive history as a traveller and intellectual, as well as enjoying some very sophisticated cooking.

Valentina had lunch with her parents who live nearby, and collected us from the ristorante at 15.30 to drive to our next visit and wine tasting at Cascina Castlet – Costigliole d’Asti with Maria Borio. The early part of the meeting involved alot of flapping (as if we were not expected) and very little tasting, but instead we went into the vineyards.

Our hostess is an institution – having rescued the very minor grape variety Uvalino and re-instated it successfully – and despite being dressed like a nun, she joined in on the big bench for a photo with Valentina and me. 

We returned to La Romana, and discovered an almost full house at the Piccola Torre with the upstairs room now in use. The usual ’giorno di reposo’ (day off) had been forfeited the night before in order to feed a large group so the small but efficient staff were working without a break for all the eight days of our visit. And I discovered that there are at least three cats around the place – all earning their keep (or at least their sleep) by chasing down rats and mice. Here’s another of them:

Wednesday 13 October 21

Today Valentina, who had organised these visits drove us to the Cantina di Nizza, a huge cooperative whose customers are both local and international.The ‘sfuso’ sales are still an important part of business, and the pumps immediately put me in mind of the UK’s parlous state over petrol delivery. (These look like across between a Dalek and a petrol pump)

The huge stainless steel fermentation and storage tanks were impressive, but I was captivated by the wall art… here’s a painting by Concetto Fusillo (2012) of Canto XIII of Dante’s Inferno:

At 12.00 we joined Daniete Chiappone at Erede di Chiappone Armando for a visit, a tasting and a light lunch in his tasting room with spectacular views above Nizza.

On we went to Calamandrana for a visit at 15.00 to meet Stefano Chiarlo at Michele Chiarlo, who brought David up to date with this very well-known and successful winery’s progress.

He also took us on a fantastic visit to La Corte – one of his vineyards which is a 22 hectare single piece of land part of which he has equipped for entertaining and hosting events. There’s a building still awaiting renovation but the gatherings have been frequent since 2013, incorporating a specially built viewing tower, and making use of the vineyard – with its fabulous views – as an outdoor art gallery

We returned at 17.30 to La Romana to meet a journalist that Valentina knows, and David was interviewed in Italian for half an hour. Valentina then joined us for supper at the Piccole Torre, introducing us to their wonderful raw fish starter – and a strange, over-oaked Chardonnay from Umbria which appears to be a great favourite of hers…

Thursday 14 October 21

This morning David met Patrizia Robino (the owner of both businesses – the Tenuta and the Restaurant) who is also involved in wine-making with her son Emanuele Gambino’s small winery, whose wines we had tasted in the hotel, at their request. 

We then moved off with Valentina to Scarpa, a very well-regarded and long-established company where we tasted some of teh best wines of our visits so far.

Silvio Trinchero, the youngish wine-maker, showed us around the cellars, where we met his predecessor Carlo Castino, who though technically retired, is a daily visitor to the cantina, and with whom Silvio clearly has a close and warm friendship.

On we went for another visit, wine tasting and light lunch – this time at Cascina Lana. We were made very welcome at this family-led traditional operation, and we saw more ’Dutch sleeves’ as the old-fashioned filters made from hessian were called.

We tasted a great number of their wines, many of which had charming labels, though it seems that the representation of children on bottles containing alcohol is frowned on in some quarters. O dear. I really liked the one with the little boy playing a traditional game not unlike contemporary football’s keepy-uppy. (It’s not rocket science! Just don’t let it touch the ground!)

Our final visit and wine-tasting of the day was at Cantina La Gironda

 Here we met Susanna Gallandrino, a warm and friendly woman who clearly enjoys all that she does and whose cheerfulness is infectious.

The views – again – in late afternoon sunshine were tremendous. The winery benefitted from a very clever invention of Susanna’s father, which enabled barrels to be moved in and out like drawers, for ease of access (now patented!)

And the wines were objects of pride – and of enjoyment… As are the labels – note another version of ’keepy-uppy’…

Valentina returned us to the Tenuta for our last night in Nizza. The ristorante menu has been completely trialled amid warm exchanges with the chef and his very competent partner. Tomorrow we move on to Gavi, and a very tight schedule of 22 visits over five days – including two on Sunday!

One final Monferrato cat…. and farewell and thank you Valentina – alla prossima volta !

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