Piemonte 9: wine regions around Turin: May 2022

Sunday 1 May : all about travel

Unusually, it was a car journey to Gatwick on a quiet early morning to leave the car; the charge for a fortnight is less than two return train fares – and there were no trains early enough! We had an anxious if short delay on floor 4 of the multi-storey Orange 3 carpark, but someone appeared, took away the car key, and we assume, the car. The early start was then frustrated by a delayed departure; though we arrived c 16.30 at Malpensa, the shuttle to the very unprepossessing Auto One car hire (not far from the Moxy Hotel at T2) was slow. We took the keys for a sporty Fiat 500 

Off we set on our long drive (180 km) from Malpensa, joining the E74 after 30 km. The motorway section was pretty straightforward, if quite busy – it was La Festa dei Lavoratori – Labour Day

As we were arriving at Susa we were involved in an unpleasant if small collision. The situation was hugely helped by a helpful local, Marco, and two pragmatic if slow carabinieri: but it was not what we needed and left us a little shocked, and it precipitated a lot of residual anxiety in me. 

Susa has some remarkable roman and celtic structures which we had hoped to explore in daylight. It was dark as we arrived at the Hotel Napoleon – the first night of their season! It is a moto/bici hotel; perfectly adequate, and the only hotel in town, at the foot of the beginnings of the French Alps. We ate supper at a traditional  trattoria with several families and cheerful children before taking a late night walk around Susa and its illuminated Roman arch and medieval bell tower.

Monday 2 May : Valsusa DOC 

We met Lorenzo at I Garbin, in the hills above a police depot and its menacing cancello, with his brand new ristorante and stone faced cellar, and a very steep sloping vineyard in a small but effective amphitheatre shape.

Next was a rendezvous in vineyards cowering beneath fly-over motorway to meet Stefano Turbil who was busy creating a ramp for his vineyard machinery in very tight spaces on perilously steep slopes. Remarkable. 

His wife took us to the cantina in Chiomonte for a delightful tasting, and between them organised our lunch at Ristorante San Michele in Almese, forty minutes away towards Agriforest, our afternoon visit – which remained open for us. I had a starter and a asparagus risotto; delicious. 

Giuliano Bosio is 76 and feels and behaves as though 50. Very knowledgeable, he is keen to share knowledge and to explore possibilities. For example, on planting Nebbiolo here: ‘it’ll either work, or it won’t!’ He is battling animali in his vineyards – notice the height of the fences behind David – but can’t deter the greedy birds. He has rebuilt an old Azienda house, and added another, alongside, and isn’t ready to stop yet. They are furnished – doors, frames, floorboards – entirely with wood from his forests. 

It was quite a drive from Val di Susa to the B & B La Ciuenda in Perosa Argentina, well up the main valley west of Pinerolo, where we met its owner at 19.15. He recommended Topogriglio for a simple supper; excellent, imaginative food made by an alternative youngish proprietor, a capable wife and a couple of small children in attendance. We walked through heavy rain to enjoy his craft beers, superior burgers and chips.

Tuesday 3 May : Pinerolese DOC 

Daniele Coutandin (a grower belonging very much to the movement known as Viticoltura eroica – for reasons that will be come obvious) collected us from the B & B at 09.00 with english-speaking Elaina to take us to his remote and high vineyard in his 4 x 4. A fascinating and breath-taking visit!

Note the minimono rail installed to ease the struggle transporting picked grapes up perilous slopes

This was followed by a cross valley drive to his borgato (hamlet) which he is slowly rebuilding. Here we tasted his wines, and watched him skilfully disgorge of his traditional method sparkler made from Bivana grapes. We also met his mother with whom David had corresponded (courtesy of Google translate on her part) and whose spinach tart, warm from the oven, was very welcome.

We travelled next to La Rivà di Luca Trombotto near Pinerolo, and drove in his van high up to tiny vineyards at 640m with views of mountains and the plains to Cuneo and Turino…

At the summit a shrine bore representations of St Michele, and photos of his recently departed family members: father in law, mother and an aunt. The ramp (below) is still used!

We tasted at his cantina, outside in the garden as a precaution. Covid has seriously altered Luca’s plans and delayed his projects.. His kind lunch of bread cheese and prosciutto kept us going…

On to Le Marie near Barge where Valerio met us and gave us his and the winery’s long life story including getting rid of the cows in 1996. His daughter Simona and son joined in the tasting, but said very little. The weather was cold and stoves were still in use. Below are some of their very artistic labels, and Valerio Raviolo himself

The final visit of the day was to L’Autin, a very large stone masonry business, where Mauro has created a winery in their cellar. His daughter and her fiancé Stefano who hosted us, are both engineering graduates and are joining the family firm, with a very keen interest in the cellar!

From there we drove south in the early evening to stay right in the centre of Saluzzo at the very central Albergo Persico (above a successful ristorante on the tiny vicolo Mercati) just off the Corso Mazzini. We had pulled into the car park in the Piazza Camillo Conte to get our bearings, using the only empty parking space – which turned out to be closest to the Albergo. More luck than judgement!

We walked to a ristorante on the edge of the old city for supper – Mure Vecchie:  the service was slow but the food was good. Its proprietors are moving soon to open an agriturismo in Valle Po. These were tiring days, and we had little energy left to sustain long waits at table. 

Wednesday 4 May : Colline Saluzzese DOC

To a bar for breakfast, and then an easy 15 minute journey to picturesque Castellar where a scarecrow festival was in progress. A beautiful clear spring day. 

We had a 10 minute wait from 09.00 for Marco Ocelli to arrive at Produttori Pelarverga, set in a tiny yard just off the main street and alongside the Municipale. There are four members of the soci: Marco and his papa, and two other growers.

Groups of junior school children visiting the festival ate their breakfast in the yard as we tasted. 

The wines are characterised by low sugar and therefore lower alcohol and a late harvest c 15 – 19 Oct – achieved with coats and jackets on. We tasted Petalo – rosato; Pelaverga – presented to Pope Guilio II in 1500 by Marchesi di Saluzzo – made traditionally. Very pale colour, with dry tannins and medium acidity. Also some Barbera; and Chatus in purezza

On we drove to Maero Emidio also near Castellar for 11.00. He struck me as a frustrated man whose business sense required him to adjust his dream (a large winery) to match commercial realities. His agriturismo is a staple outlet but selling to the wider local community is hard; many are drawn to the more famous Langhe wines. The immediate obedience of his two small white dogs tells us that behind all the huffing and puffing there is a witty, wry and intelligent person. 

We drove on towards Busca and found a basic trattoria in Costiglioli shortly before our next visit. David had eggs as a starter, followed by a delicious asparagus risotto, and a tagliatelle sausicce for me. 

At 14.30 we had an appointment at Az Ag Fornero, set among fruit orchards in every direction where a fair, red-headed Andrea met us.

Theirs is a fruit farm with a real and informed interest in wine which forms only a small part of their livelihood. He seemed serious, a little nervous, diligent, if not expert. The family take great pride in the orchard neighbourhood through which we drove to regain the main road.

It was then an hour’s drive to Chieri, this time east of Turin, to the Park Hotel on Viale F. Fasano.

The non-motorway route was busy, slow and tedious and as I remained too jumpy to feel confident driving, David continued at the wheel. We had been struggling for days with the implications of a barrage of messages on the dashboard – ESC ! – all about road holding technology.

It has undermined my already fragile confidence – or rather, seriously increased my angst. Huge lorries on narrow roads don’t help! We stopped for petrol from a small business offering service.

I’m not sure the contribution of our kindly if unsophisticated garage hand made my nerves much better; the petrol pump seemed temperamental and he thought the tyre pressures were too high!

We arrived at another two star hotel, another chinese family, in Chieri shortly before 19.00 – for the first time! The Park hotel is clean and unremarkable except for the impact of covid (its ristorante is permanently closed and its exterior is very tired) and its difficult entrance at a set of traffic lights. After doing prep for Thursday, we headed to a local ristorante for good food if tired wines. 

The map below shows the distribution of our stays, beginning with the yellow flag on Susa (in the NW, to the west of Bussoleno at ten minutes to o’clock) and then anti-clockwise to Perosa Argentina, NW of Pinerolo; on to Saluzzo, due west of Savigliano, and now NE to Chieri, just E of Turin. (The final two are Cinzano and finally Canavese, yet to come!)

Note the grey line wiggling from NW to SW which marks the border with France

Manchester City was busy snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the semi-final of the Champions’ League, so I went to bed feeling defeated by the multiple demands of such a busy day with more stimuli and challenges than I could process. Neither of us got to sleep quickly. 

Thursday 5 May : Colline Torinese and Friesa di Chieri

 It was a cold and windy day in which the long awaited and much-needed rain arrived with a vengeance. We drove to the University site of Cantine Sperimentali di Bonafuse and parked too soon – then walked in heavy rain to a 9.00 appointment with Camilla (Ph D student and i/c the scientific analysis) and Gaetano (i/c the work in the Cantina and Cellar). They showed us around the laboratory built to serve the Winter Olympics in 2012 at the behest of Turin’s mayor, along with Prof Gerbi (a living legend in the Italian wine world, retiring to a desk there in the autumn). 

Freisa is under serious scrutiny.  They work on the clones, planted in a vineyard whose contents is recorded in an Excel spreadsheet.

We tasted samples from other local producers about which our hosts were politely critical:

Guiseppe Masera : Marina introduced her family’s territory and history. Fourth generation (three sets of two brothers) and she is the first woman whose vines are one km away and two hectares in total. it is a mixed small holding with other crops, managed very traditionally, all by hand. Rubato Guido had sent a bottle for us to taste. Gaetano introduced it. Camilla looked irritated. The institute’s own wines came last.

Rosato 2021  – combination of Barbera (only 5%) and Bonnarda (95%) : difficult in the vineyard: vigorous green growth; needs pruning for air circulation especially in rain. Peronospera prone.

We ate in a very successful and contemporary (offshoot of a more famous) restaurant set on a light industrial estate on the edge of a shopping mall recommended by Matteo Rossotto, below)

At 15.00 we were expected at Cantina Balbiano at Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Andezeno 

This is a fabulous traditional country house converted by a second generation into their cantina, moving out of the cramped centre of the village 40 years ago. Beautiful buildings maintaining original styles and functions. Here we learned that Chieri is the cradle of Freisa grapes; which it seems is robust and resilient in the vineyard but a nightmare in the cellar.

Luca Balbiano showed us around the traditional tunnels and cellars of the house which contain a tool, textiles and toy museum. The fine tasting room has a huge photo of La vigna della Regina, within Torino city, replanted by them after 50 years of neglect after having been bombed by the Allies in 1944. They are anxious about the imminent end of their existing lease, understandably. They have invested heavily – both emotionally and financially – in the project. 

Finally we arrived a little late to meet Matteo at Stefano Rossotto at Via Colla 17 in Cinzano, who had organised our day. Set at 500m the heavy cloud and frequent rain of the day hindered views. They create compost from their prunings to preserve the local flora and fauna in their vineyards.

After a short run around the working cantina on the edge of Cinzano (where we met shy Stefano briefly) we tasted in the newly acquired large house across the valley in which they intend to create an agriturismo and which is functioning already as a ristorante – weekends only – with a long term plan in place to refurb and use for it for guests. The building offers a fine historic aging cellar where his sparkling wine now resides. The two brothers benefit from a government scheme providing beneficial interest rates for people under 40, attempting to start a business.

The tasting lasted hours and was capped by a delicious three course supper prepared specially for us by their chef. After hearing Matteo’s moving philosophy around the simple life and self-sufficiency, we were led to the local agriturismo I Conti della Servi on the tiny Via Regione Aprà, where we tumbled down the descending gravel path in pitch darkness and pouring rain, arriving very tired shortly before 23.00.

The room was cold until we sorted out the thermostat. We had been cold all day and we got into bed and fell asleep quickly. Our host served us breakfast at 07.30, and off we set…again..

Friday 6 May:  Canavese, Caluso and Carema : another cold wet day but the wind had dropped

We drove north east up a glacial valley between vast moraines as the heavy rain continued to reach Piverone for 09.00 at the sociale Cantina della Serra. (Here we met Maria, working on behalf of the consorzio in a second career of PR and publicity. Warm, intelligent and friendly, she has a little way to go before she understands the practical needs of her guests; we hadn’t even understood that she was spending the day with us, or indeed, who she was and where she fitted)

Geological explanation from the wine maker Vittorio Garda and a fascinating presentation of climate and soil analysis. Pergola training is very persistent – and chestnut wood still preferred though any wood support is terribly expensive now at around a 100,000 euros per hectare.

We were to meet Vittorio again so we left quickly and headed in the driving rain to Santa Clelia near Mazzè for 11.15 where we were greeted by a very welcome stufa ! I was only just warm enough with my leather jacket and woolly jumper. It is at the end of an unmade road on the edge of the woods in which a scuola inferiore (6 – 8 year olds) was doing something akin to Forest School. Sergio –  a large and friendly, kindly man had spotted our shortage of time and organised a simple lunch. Much appreciated! 

We started with two Erbaluce – YPA –  2021 13% and Essenthia – non filtrato – 2021 13%  to accompany the antipasti and moved to sparkling Erbaluce with the Erbaluce and Toma cheese risotto. (Marie turned out to have had an exciting life as the PA of high-up Avocato in Turin, most of which I didn’t understand.)

Despite the stufa, I was cold again. The reds began with Palère, a blend of Barbara, Freisa and Uva rare.. then followed by Rox, aged for three years in 500 l barrels and seriously tough. Finally Dus the delicious passito, eaten with blue cheese and traditional piemontese biscotti.

Le Masche  Levone – Canavese 

After a google disaster of our own making (wrong Cantina Masche…) we extended our journey of 45 minutes from the east of Turin to the west to an hour and 45 minutes by travelling back towards Cinzano. Signs for Don Bosco confirmed our mistake. It was hard to understand why Marie hadn’t tried harder to stop us! She was very keen for us to meet these rising and bright young stars so we turned around…

When we finally arrived our very capable young hostess began a rapid fire account of the cellaring, grape varieties, and the story of the azienda, before Lorenzo Simone arrived.  Lots of witches on the labels – Le Masche records the witch hunts of 1474 when four women were convicted by the Inquisitor of witch craft, and two were burned at the stake, another imprisoned and the fate of the fourth is unknown. Their names now grace four of their wines. 

Pinot Nero ( metodo classico) 1474 – date of the trial of the witches –  Pas dosé; Rosato Antonia Canavese Rosso:  Barbera and Chatus: Margarota: Barbera; Bonaveria – delicious; Nebbiolo:  Roccia – only inox, and Gaiarda –  avolgenteripe tannins. We also tasted a vermouth-like short made with 14 local herbs and spices.

We finally arrived in Canavese at 17.45 to visit Orsolani, only 45 minutes late! Somehow we’d made time!

Here we meet elderly father Gianfrancesco and sixtyish year old son Gianluigi Orsolani in the back room of the unpretentious office; watched a 10 minute presentation La Grande Marcia (available on Utube with subtitles as The Great Journey) and began the well practised tasting. Both were charming old hands; assured, confident and good-natured and clearly successful.

We finally arrived at Tenuta Rolletto for supper with Antonino Luculano, the president of the Consorzii di Caluso, Carema and Canavese, whose azienda is huge and no doubt built with popular culture in mind by an arrivee from Sicilia with ambition, drive and good luck.

 Antonino is a ‘prenditore’ with fingers in many pies; not only in Italy but in Brazil and Oregon in the USA.  The Tenuta badly needs a contemporary make-over, but is perhaps still in recovery after covid. The place was empty despite being Friday evening; the four of us the only ones eating in a big ristorante space built above the cantina, with a very large bar next to the car park. Clearly an events destination: preparations were in hand for a weekend party to celebrate the first communion of two local boys.

I was exhausted from the journeys and tastings of the day, and uncomfortable with his patronage and self absorption. It was a long evening. I went to bed trying to plan our evasion of supper tomorrow. And at least this room was warm..

Saturday 7 May : Carema DOC

Breakfast with Patrizia, Antonino and Barbara, his secretary. His wife Francesca returns from Padova today.  Patrizia, the Romanian housekeeper was the most informative of all our new friends and sorted out a few of our misconceptions.  

We had a quiet drive north to Luigi Ferrando to meet Roberto and Maria near Ivrea at 09.00.  More (on this occasion, lovely) Erbaluce simply called Ferrando, formerly Terrazza, and a barrique type formerly Cariola (the name of a cart/wheelbarrow, but because it’s also the name of a place in Piemonte, it cannot appear on the bottle. Bonkers) Needless to say, I preferred the former. The metodo classico is Pas Dosè – a wonderful deep golden colour – not maturation, simply the grape.

His red wines are Carema 2018 at 13.5% (both white label and black label) both Nebbiolo 100%. His is the longest established winery of the region. En route we had terrific views of the Serra di Ivrea – a vast terminal moraine; long, low, a perfect ridge running for dozens of kilometres.

We drove north, again on a quiet road, to Carema village, to a small square by the church where we were met by Federico of Muraje, on the eastern side of the valley, whose steep sides and huge rocks signalled the start of the route to Valle D’Aosta.

Federico took us up to one of his ‘heroica’ vineyards; not only perilously steep but criss-crossed with elaborate and high pergola systems on which erbaluce has been traditionally grown. The bunches hang down, below the canopy of vine leaves which protect them from the intense, almost vertical sunrays, once the sun reaches over the steep mountain sides. Traditionally the subsistence crops were grown between the wide rows, and the soils of the terraces were carried in huge baskets from the valley floor (alluvial, though sandy) to furnish the rocky terraces. 

From there we went to his little cantina, and met Debora, herself a wine researcher at Turin University. They live in Turin, but have invested in this demanding project and travel back and forth. Land is cheap and property too – so much has been abandoned in the last 50 years. The sample from the little concrete tank was superb – unspittable! 

Maria drove her Alpha Romeo up the increasingly narrow road, unable to countenance the route Federico had advised (though no attempt was made to check it out) until ours became impassible. Terrifyingly the only choice was 10 point turn with a steep drop beckoning. It was a very sticky ten minutes and we all cheered when we eventually made it down the original route. 

There is quite a community of passionate young people working in Carema, and its reputation grows. We moved on to meet Gianmarco Viano of Monte Maletto in the square of the little paese just south of Carema proper, and followed him to Ristorante Da Marina with its carotta of wonderful antipasti vegetables and a fantastic if very filling soup of herbs, bread and lots of cheese.

These were chosen for us by his friend Vittorio Garda (eneologist from yesterday’s Cantina della Serra) who joined us for lunch, before taking us to his home and cantina, Sorpasso. 

Another fantastic site, above the valley, a torrente splashing past the remarkable amphitheatre, encircling huge boulders long since incorporated into the landscape after thousands of years. And behind the house was a Japanese style garden of some complexity

We were briefly joined by nearly two year old Umberto and his mother Martina who was deemed to be responsible for an eccentric bottle shape for one of his wines. The photos don’t do justice to the beauty or the difficulty of the site

We returned to Carema village to meet Matteo, the new and young director of the Carema Cantina Sociale, who showed us some of the vineyards directly behind the Cantina just before rain arrived, and joined us in the Cantina (once the pump had been turned off from the overflowing tank) with the very good-natured Cantiniere for a tasting. Then the rain started… 

Maria understood we wanted some space that evening and did what she could to ward off another long monologue from our host. We were saved by his wife returning that evening to Turin and his driving to join her. Instead he arranged a ‘piccolo giro’ around the vineyard for Saturday morning, and much more useful, a phone call between Gianpiero Gerbi – his consultant – and David at 20.00… yes – it was Saturday night! 

Afterwards David and I enjoyed a simple supper in the ristorante, alongside the group of cyclists, and prepared for the next leg of our visit: to the wineries around Gattinare and Ghemme, where we will spend five nights the same hotel and perhaps unpack! But not before our tour of the tenuta’s vineyards next morning with Antonino, before he left for church. 

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