A Winery Near Saluzzo?! Cascina Melognis

What?! A winery near Saluzzo, at the foot of Monviso in the middle of fruit orchards? I had to go see for myself.

Italian Labor Day, rainy grey skies, winery appointment at 6 pm. It was late, dark and quite frankly Claudio and I were pretty comfy wrapped up in blankets on our couch. Did we really want to put our shoes on and head out into the rain for yet another wine tasting? I wrote a text to the winemaker, Michele and asked if another day would be better but when he answered with, “the wood burning stove is on and we just took the kids to their granny’s” I couldn’t say no, and I am sure glad we didn’t!

Of course we got lost especially because it was raining so hard that we couldn’t even see and to make things worse the GPS couldn’t find this remote address. Finally we saw Michele, a tall curly grey haired man waiving at us in the pouring rain. He took us into his cozy farmhouse and spoke English while pouring us a Rosè without further ado. The name of this winery is a bit confusing, officially Azienda Agricola Carta Vanina Maria (what a mouthful!) and the wine label being called Cascina Melognis.

The Rosè was crisp, pleasant and clean. Perhaps it would be better on a warm day near the sea! However, the interesting story of this wine is that it is made up of native grape varietals that I had never heard of before! 50% Neretta, 20% Barbera, 10% Freisa, and the remaining 20% of mysterious varieties like Pelaverga, Chatus, and boh!???? The grape varietals are not all distinctly planted and categorized in the vineyard but are mixed, just as they were over 60 years ago.

Because this tiny town called Revello (pop. less than 5,000) is 30% rainier than in Langhe, planting the famed Nebbiolo grape was impossible. So they planted Barbera along with a high quality Pinot Noir Bourgogne clone (all before Sideways!) to get the best quality wines in this unique area. In fact, we moved on to tasting their 100% Barbera Colline Saluzzese Rosso Ardy, which was so much more delicate and subtle compared to the colorful and fruit-forward Langhe Barberas that I have tried. It was also incredibly nice that his cute wife Vanina brought out local cheeses and homemade bread.

I felt at ease with this couple, talking about our local town, mutual friends, and winemaking decisions. Initially people thought that Michele was mad for trying to make wine here in Revello but he proved them wrong! As we tasted his amazing 30%/70% Pinot Noir/Barbera blend called Novamen, he told us that he first got interested in winemaking when he did his civil service in Canale wine country. It was not until then that he was exposed to proper winemaking techniques and wanted to give it a try on their own mini family vineyard back home in Revello. His father was stubborn, just like many elderly Piemontese are, and hesitated to let Michele apply his newly acquired knowledge. It was only in the 90’s that Michele had to teach his father “new” practices like pruning the vines down to about 8 buds, and keeping the wines in a warmer environment to get a second fermentation. Once his father reluctantly tried these new “crazy” wines, he couldn’t go back. Michele joked that now it is his father that wants to cut down to 6 buds like he is some kind of “Voerzio” or something. (Voerzio is one of the most modern winemakers in Piemonte).

Then out came his wife’s warm savoury vegetable tart just to make the experience even better. Michele would like to move his production from 7,000 bottles to 10,000 next year and that’s it. He ages his reds in used barrique barrels for a smoother untainted feel but also because he only has room in his garage for these! 

I feel lucky to have been able to taste these rare wines and share stories with Michele. The Pinot Noir Novamen was outstanding and was a fun new discovery. If you ever visit the area, you can stop by their winery after visiting charming Saluzzo, or you can find them in the best restaurants in our area. This was truly a splendid surprise!

Cascina Melognis – Azienda Agricola Vanina Maria Carta
Via San Pietro 10
Revello, CN
0175 – 257395

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Filed under cascina melognis, italian pinot noir, revello winery, saluzzo

We Were Supposed To Go To Vinum When…

Before checking out Alba’s wine festival Vinum, we had to meet with an “unorthodox” owner of a construction company to get ideas, talk about our house, and business. Our architect wanted us to meet the owner, Marco, so we could see the amazing work he is doing and we were stupefied! Often now we hear about food and wine producers that have to make a choice between making money and sacrificing quality, or going back to traditional craftsmanship and being ethically conscious. Well, what I learned is that this is carried on to all kinds of sectors, even in construction. Marco had to make some serious lifestyle decisions. Should I keep working my ass off building for money or should I set myself apart and slow down, go back to civilization’s roots, and start living a better quality of life in every way? He chose the latter.

As we drove up this long winding dirt road, we finally reached “Mount Olympus”! I was struck by the villa’s beautiful natural colors and appreciated its subtlety. “Where is everyone?”, we thought. Oh down there. One of his 4 kids was clearing out a dirt path on a tractor, and up walks this scrawny, cheerful man in rubber boots. This was Marco the builder.

He gave us a tour which seemed like something out of Cribs, but listening to him talk passionately about all his choices was the most enchanting thing of all. Wheat was planted in the front yard instead of grass, his farmhouse is made of straw, he lets his hundreds of animals including rabbits, horses, and goats run free. 

It was time to take a tour of the house together with his sparky fun wife. They decided to use all types of wood, even old wood from pear trees for the hardwood floor. The paint colors on the wall were made of natural soils from the area, green copper and even hay! Much of what furnished the house was made from old scraps. One of the coolest things is that he made the sinks from crushed earthenware like terracotta, just like they did in Ancient Rome. In this way, he is simply turning the most basic natural materials into stratospheric masterpieces without using chemicals and cement. 

Touring around this huge house worked up our appetites, and kindly they asked us to stay for lunch. Of course this natural type of lifestyle was carried over into eating with the whole family and eating genuine products made by them. The simplest ingredients became a king’s feast, just like their natural materials became a luxurious villa. I looked at my watch. I should be wine tasting and networking right now in Alba but why would I ever want to leave this. After all, I had their organic, personal production of amazing Barbera to sip and enjoy exclusively. They only have 1 acre of vineyards! I stopped to enjoy the moment and although we were too late for Vinum, I felt lucky to have met people who inspired us to live the “dolcevita” and respect the environment in everything we do.

I can always find a wine festival to attend, but it is not every day that you are welcomed into such a beautiful home to drink genuine wine, eat homemade bread, salami and talk about philosophy. This was the truly unique experience I was looking for!

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Filed under italian villas, la pranda, piemonte villa

Day Trip Itinerary In Langhe

It’s always intriguing to pick out one select winery from the vast array here in Piemonte. The thought has even crossed my mind to take my giant Duemila Vini wine book and discover each winery listed, page by page, kind of like they did with the recipes in Julia & Julia.  But after reading Snooth’s article on Piemonte’s wineries and a following string of coincidences relating to Marcarini Winery, we chose that!

Tucked in the corner of a scenic lookout in the center of La Morra lies the gate to the historic family run winery Marcarini. Not only was the gate initially impressive but so was its outstanding view! As we walked in the gates, Elena greeted us with a smile and brought us right into the 18th century cellar where the the medium sized Slovenian barrels were about 40 years old! The family takes a lot a pride in their “traditional” wine-making methods which they feel extract the true expressions of the terroir.

One of the coolest parts of our visit was tasting our first glass of a really unique Dolcetto Boschi Dei Berri. It is made from Pre-Phylloxera vines, meaning that they withstood the test of time (and disease) and still have their original rootstocks! Elena told us that they believe old Dolcetto from the 19th century was most likely quite similar to this style. It was nothing like the purple, fruity Dolcetto di Dogliani but was fuchsia, full of red berry flavors, warm and structured. Although it was not immediately an easy drinker, it is said to continue evolving for even another 6-7 years! When I initially smelled this wine I imagined wild strawberries, raspberries and then dried flowers. The most surprising thing was how astringent and dry it left the roofs of our mouths. But this peculiarity is what enchanted me about this dolcetto!

Another great thing about this winery is that they let you compare two Barolos from two different crus which are only about 500 meters apart. It is only through comparing side by side that you can truly understand the differences that each cru beholds. The Brunate and La Serra barolos were completely different both in smell and taste! Although I preferred the fruitier and softer aromas from La Serra, Brunate surprisingly won the “taste test” with its elegant, rich and “masculine” qualities.

What started off as a dark cloudy day, turned into a beautiful sunny suprise. Since we took our time in the tasting room, we had to frantically knock on a half open door at the “macelleria”! You see, it was already 1:00 pm and in Italy that means, way past closing time. But just like traditional “Piemontesi” we had to accompany our Marcarini bottle of Barbera Ciabot Camerano with some salami and cheese Luckily, the butcher answered and cut us off a salami hanging on the wall. With our picnic essentials in hand, we stopped at the perfect spot where we ate right alongside the vineyards and just as important, took a little nap in the sun!

Next stop was nearby Grinzane Cavour. It’s a beautifully pristine castle which holds the world famous truffle auction once a year. Inside there is a well-stocked enoteca, restaurant and museum too.

If you don’t have a lot of time and want to just relax and not spend a lot of money, I suggest a similar day itinerary!

Azienda Agricola Marcarini

Piazza Martiri, 2 

LA MORRA (CN)Italia 
Tel +39 0173 50222 Fax +39 0173 509035 
marcarini@marcarini.it


Picnic Spot
Via San Pietro 4

12060 Barolo Cuneo

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Filed under Day trip piemonte, Grinzane Cavour castle, Marcarini

Blast From The Past: NOV.5 12:30 First Market and Internet Experience

I just got back from this huge outdoor market with the Secretary. We walked arm and arm like old friends walking through the center of Saluzzo. It is amazing how much random stuff they sell at these types of Farmer’s Markets and I even found this weird pluggy thing that I needed there!

However, my main goal was finding internet access. I mean…it’s been 2 weeks without it and this is just not cool. Finally we found it at the public library and the chain store Mailboxes Etc. The only problem is, is that they are both closed on weekends.

Saluzzo Library

But feeling quite satisfied with our discovery, we continued on at the market buying cheese, and vegetables and then the Secretary accompanied me to the post office where I could send off mini snack packs of Nutella that I found to my boyfriend back home. I couldn’t really understand but I think the Secretary was trying to tell me that I couldn’t send chocolate in the mail, but we all pretended not to see!

It’s hard not being able to speak at all but I am finally starting to catch a few things that the Secretary is starting to tell me. We went back to her apartment and she gave me a huge bag of apples and kiwis. That is strange, I wonder why?

So for lunch I had some tomatoes and mozzarella and I think I will go for a walk around town and buy another phone card.

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Bordeaux Blend, Amarone, and Barolo OH MY!

Last night Claudio and I were lucky enough to be invited to an industry event V’incontro at Agenzia di Pollenzo where we could finally taste local but world famous wines like Gaja and Marchesi Di Gresy … for free! This was an unmissable opportunity because even though I live in Piemonte, I still don’t have the pocketbook to taste wines like these. In fact, this was going to be my first “Gaja” experience! What I didn’t expect was to have so many other “firsts”! 



There was such a vast selection of esteemed and quality wineries that it is hard to sum up all together. So I am going to share with you the wines that really dazzled me. The ones that prevail in your memories, and the ones that really stood out.

#1 Bertani

Believe it or not, I had never tried Amarone from Valpolicella (repeat… low budget = no Gaja and no Amarone!) and I think I chose the right one to start with. First, I loved the sales rep Fabio’s accent and warm approach, and secondly I loved the rich deep flavors of the 2009 and even better 2004 Amarone Classico. After honing my palate to tannic Nebbiolo in Piemonte, it seems strange to drink such an opulent rich powerhouse red and not feel that bite in your throat! This almost syrupy wine reminded me of figs, prunes and spices and went down quite easily! Anyway, this amazing bottle goes for about 60 € so it’s a good thing I tasted it there along with an array of delicious cheeses.

#2 Gaja 


Finally it was time for the mythic Gaja experience. The pourer seemed a bit annoyed by this time and wasn’t too helpful in giving us lots of information. The first red was from Gaja’s Tuscany estate which was a Bordeaux Blend called Magari. This wine totally took me back to Napa with its rich smooth fruity flavors and as I reminisced about this, the pourer said that although he could see my point he made sure to emphasize that this was different because this was the working of Gaja! Ok… whatever. Then…the moment of truth… Gaja’s Dagromis Barolo 2007. Coming from quite youthful vineyards in both La Morra and Serralunga, this wine was well…great but wouldn’t say “awesome”. I think they kept the good stuff elsewhere…one day…

#3 Scavino

Our Turnover crew was all hovering over the Scavino table so we rushed over to join them. Of all the many wines I tasted last night … this was the trophy winner! Elisa, the server and daughter of Enrico Scavino, really impressed me because of how down-to-earth and dynamic she was. She kept pulling out the Barolo map to show us the million cru areas and better explain so many of their fabulous wines! The first barolo Monvigliero comes from the feminine side of langhe in Verduno close to our property. Without a doubt I smelled and tasted smooth notes of balsamic and eucolyptus. This was incredible and definitely more my style! Then we tasted the 2008 Cannubi cru which is in the Barolo zone and still on the feminine side. The feminity of dark chocolate, cocoa powder gave this wine incredible sensuality. We tried both the awesome 2008 Bric del Fiasc which reminded me of milk chocolate, blackberries and earthy forest floors and the 2003 vintage which was even more incredible. It kept changing with every whiff and sniff! Ripe blackberries, and dried rose petals and tar. By far my favorite was the 2006 Riserva Rocche dell’ Annunziata (97 pts. Parker) which tasted like all the flavors of those before blended richly and elegantly together all in perfect harmony.

Last night I fell in love with Paolo Scavino and his whole range of Barolo! Now I can’t wait to visit the winery and one day eat dinner at the Guido Restaurant in the Agenzia di Pollenzo. What a great way to start the week! Cin Cin

Guido
Via Fossano, 19  
12042 Pollenzo Cuneo
0172 458422

www.guidoristorante.it


Azienda Vitivinicoli Paolo Scavino
Via Alba-Barolo 59
12060 Castiglione Falletto (CN)
info@paoloscavino.com

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Filed under amarone classico 2004, bertani, gaja, guido restaurant, pollenzo, scavino

Coffee and Gelato in Torino

This Friday we picked our friends up from the airport and couldn’t wait to show them around Torino. It was probably less impressive for them since they live in such elegant cities like Paris and Luxemburg but its sophisticated architecture and edible delights are still pretty majestic!

Normally Claudio and I go to the Quadrilatero area in Torino for its nightlife and epic aperitivos! Well I guess it wasn’t such a good idea to go there during the day because we couldn’t find any cute cafès with sunny outdoor seating. We settled for “bar” type microwaved pasta and veggies with very convenient prices and found the strength to move on with our day. As soon as we got to Piazza Vittorio Veneto we found tons of perfect lunch spots! Too bad…next time lunch in the square!

We were all pretty beat, so we definitely needed a pick-me-up. One of Torino’s most famous historical gems is Caffè Mulassano. I had walked by it so many times but never paid attention to it. While looking it up, I found out that this tiny “bar” is more than 100 years old and was a popular meeting place for the Savoia Royalty. Another fun fact is that the “tramezzino” sandwich was invented here! It may seem like a stuffy old-fashioned caffè but you can go at any time of the day for a coffee and take a step back in time! When I saw the dripping water, ornate decorations and colorful marble, I felt like I was in some old ancient Roman spa. A fun place to check out.

We mostly just walked around, admired the architecture and of course got a Grom ice cream where it originally started. Again, Torino is known for its gelato, chocolate and coffee so there are plenty more places to discover!

I love Torino and can’t wait to try another one of its historical caffès!

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Filed under Caffè Mulassano, grom, Quadrilatero, torino, Torino cafe

A New Discovery! "Nascetta"

Here I am reading the never-ending Wine Bible and trying to cram all this info about new global varieties. ( Currently I am on New Zealand ). The funny thing is I discovered a new variety without even leaving my region last weekend. After our Barolo Chinato tasting in the tiny town of Barolo, we stopped in the Cavatappi Museum right before closing time. I was immediately drawn to  Cascina Adelaide’s bottle of “white” amidst all the important “reds” in Barolo land.

When I looked at the label, I was surprised to see a native grape variety that I had never heard of right in my backyard (oh wait… maybe I had after reading “Il Dimenticato” or rather “The Forgotten One”). I wasn’t going to be reading about Nascetta in my wine bible as it is a newly rediscovered wine!

Apparently Cogno and Rivetto wineries have been making great efforts to bring this once popular white grape variety back into the light. Evidently this grape can even be traced back to the mid 1800’s. I had no idea what to expect when I bought this.

Last Saturday night, I cooked up a shrimp and zucchini pasta and thought it would be the perfect pairing with this new finding. Indeed it was brilliant! The aromas and flavors were hard for me to mentally categorize because they were all over the place! I smelled aromatic herbs, then limes and other citrus fruits, then a bit of clean vegetal hints like bell pepper, amazing floral scents and finally laces of peach! This was crazy and it was snapping and popping in my mouth like lemon-lime pop rocks. When paired with buttery olives it was tamed down to perfection, but was also a great match for the seafood.

This white kind of reminded me of descriptions of zesty clean New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs that I was just reading about in my book. At that time I was dreaming about tasting these snappy Sauv Blancs  but I am perfectly happy exploring this new variety for right now. I feel honored to have such easy access to a grape which virtually only comes from one commune Novello in Piemonte! The search is on for more “nascetta”!

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Filed under barolo wines, cascina adelaide, nascetta grape varietal