Wines of Alto Piedmont

Italy SalmonLast week I painted the picture of part of Alto Piedmont’s wine history centred on the ancient vineyard areas of Lessona and Bramaterra. This week it is now turn to elaborate on the winemaking and taste of the wine.

After harvesting by hand the precious grapes are taken to the nearby wineries in small boxes. Each batch is carefully noted as each vineyard’s booty must be vinified separately in stainless steel or large format oak. In the past (and some still do) concrete vats were used lined with epoxy-resin or ceramic tiles enabling them impervious. Maceration and Fermentation, on the skins, can take between 20 and 40 days depending on how the winemaker wishes to create his wine.

After which the fermented wine is transferred to oak barrels. Differing sizes are chosen to mature the wine for up to three years, part of that could be in stainless steel. So who exactly are these winemakers in this remote district? With just eight hectares (more being planted) you might be surprised to encounter? There are just seven of them. Spread out where their Villa Wineries are historically situated in this remote vista. Restoration is taking place with some properties as new equipment is being replaced in the cellars and vinification suites. This is enabling these historic wines to be made in a more efficient hygienic manner than in the past The seven wineries we visited and tasted with were Tenute Sella, Proprieta Sperino, Massimi Clerico, La Badina and Castella di Montecavallo. Newer wineries have been created include Pierto Cassita and La Provostura.

In neighbouring Bramaterra we visited Noah winery again making precious little wine from grapes in beautiful hillside vineyards.

So how do we describe how these wines taste?

First the main grape Nebbiolo when turned into wine has a unique taste due to the grapes lightish skin, often long growing season, acid soils all within a temperate climate. Add careful attention to winemaking at every stage, gentle pressing and extensive use of oak and there you have it. A red wine with a light almost see-through colour, highish alcohol (around 13.5%) yielding a taste with nuances of violets, red fruit, silky tannins coupled with a trademark beautiful balance. This is the same grape used to make Borolo but there the resemblance ends as the sheerness and elegance of these wines are fast becoming very sought after by the wine hunter. They are simply unique with an approachable taste when young but relaxing into an amazingly silky note as they develop. This is an overview of the style of Lessona and Bramaterra but each winery will tweak the wines a tad to suit their style or vintage variation.

My tasting notes were very elaborate as I slurped my way through some older vintages in bottle and magnum. They are classic food wines, Game being an extraordinary match.

Italy Enoteca

They available in small quantities in the UK their prices reflect the boutique style they obviously show. Those of you who might be interested in these rare gems will search the net for suppliers. Liberty Wines (London) are agents for Proprieta Sperino, Astrum Cellars offer Tenute Sella, Expect to pay upwards of £30 per bottle for current vintages, more of course if there are any older ones lurking behind a barrel! Rare and sophisticated, hand-crafted to ensure the vintage is correct and the wine will mature into something of beauty.

This generous wine visit was a real eye opener for me, one I will treasure. My hope is that when you are able you might wish to purchase one of these amazing wines or better still search them out when next in Milano or Alto Piemont, I hear the skiing is excellent.

Very many thanks to my host Paul Balke and the great winemakers of Lessona and Bramaterra for their generosity and time.