PIEMONTE 6 Ruche, Lessona, Boca, Ghemme, Timorasso, Gattinara
When many wine drinkers think of Piemonte, the wines they
think of are those from the Langhe region.
These are the famous Barolo and Barbaresco, followed by Roero wines, Barbera,
Dolcetto, Arneis, Moscato and maybe some other wines.
But Piemonte is a large wine area and there are some wonderful treasures which
are not so well known.
- One of the
delights of Italian wine is the phenomenal diversity and the discovery of
something new, unusual and, best of all, good.
Piemonte has many worthy wines and most wine geeks can recite the names of
various producers of Barolo and Barbaresco. Super serious fans will
know a couple of Ghemme and Gattinara wineries. Ultra serious
fanatics will know a Carema or Erbaluce vintner.
But hardly anybody knows the "famous" wine of Castagnole
This is a grape variety thought to have been brought to the Convento San
Rocco (now, merely a memory...it no longer exists) by monks. Local
legend says the vine came from France and, probably,
Burgundy. Today there are 16 producers of Ruchè.
Total acreage has increased significantly...as of last count, there are some
45 hectares of this grape in the Monferrato Astigiano area. The
variety, apparently, yields a smaller crop than Barbera and so growers,
preferring a more abundant crop, allowed Ruchè to go by the wayside.
Only in the late 1990s and early 2000s is this variety making a very modest
"comeback" (if you care to call it that).
The name of the grape may be a corruption of the French word
"Roche" or rock, or, perhaps "Rouchet." Another
theory is it refers to "roncet", a vine disease which Ruchè
is said to be resistant.
Another part of the local legend says the wine from this grape variety was
routinely served to visiting French "intruders" as it would get
them drunk in a hurry. There was virtually no commercial production of
this wine until fairly recently.
I think we first tasted this variety made by the Scarpa winery. Their
motto is "If the shoe fits, wear it." It was not my size,
however. Later we tasted a wine made for local (and loco) vintner,
Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon infamy. Nice try. A producer
called Sant' Agata is well-regarded and their wine is a nice example.
This past year, we accompanied a Bay Area importer to taste the Ruchè from
someone he'd bought the wine a decade ago. Swing and a miss.
Some friends who make good, classic Barolo introduced me to their friend
Marco Crivelli. "He makes really good Ruchè," they
said. "You should taste it." And so I did. And
they were right...damned good. I called our importer friend and said
"You need to forget buying wine from that producer you dragged me
to. You need to contact Mister Ruchè, Marco Crivelli."
Crivelli kindly sent some bottles to the west coast and Mister Importer said
And now we have some top Ruchè to offer a few adventuresome wine drinkers
here in Burlingame.
Crivelli and his son Jonathan (how's that for an Italian name!)
cultivate about 8 hectares of vines. Some 4.5 hectares are Ruchè and
the rest include Barbera, Grignolino and a tiny patch of Syrah (Crivelli
tasted some Swiss Syrahs...these, unbeknownst to most wine drinkers, are
some of the best in the world. But they cost a small fortune and only
Swiss bank owners can afford to drink them).
The Ruchè wine is a medium-bodied red. In terms of Piemontese wines,
it's fuller bodied than Grignolino, less intense than top vintage of
Dolcetto, less acidic than Barbera, close to the intensity of another odd
Piemontese grape, Pelaverga. It tends to display notes of cherry and
raspberry of moderate intensity. Adding interest to this is the
underlying floral tone of the wine...the tannin level is modest and so
drinking this in its youth probably shows it off best.
Crivelli's background is that of a chemist and yet, interestingly, he
cultivates organically. "We do use SO2
in the wine, but that's it." he says. For a number of years he
worked in government offices in Asti before trading his business suits for
The Crivelli Ruchè is made in a straightforward fashion. It's all
about the quality of the grapes as the wine is vinified traditionally and
bottled fairly young...typically in the middle to late summer to retain the
fruity aspect of the wine.
Currently in stock: CRIVELLI 2007 RUCHÈ
DI CASTAGNOLE MONFERRATO $21.99
Marco Crivelli and his son Jonathan.
After visiting Crivelli, we ventured a few kilometers away
to the town of Montemagno
and the restaurant
Well worth the trip!
CLICK HERE TO SEE
village of Cella Monte is far off the beaten path for most consumers of
Piemontese wines, but we've been beating a path there for many years.
It's where you'll find Elena & Giovanni Rava (and their daughter) in a
quiet little village north of Asti and Alessandria.
The designation "La Casaccia" is given to the
most run-down house in the town and apparently, at one time, the house at
number 10 Via Dante Barbano was it. Not anymore.
The Rava family has a ten hectare estate with 7.5 of those under
Since the year 2000 they've cultivated these employing organic farming
techniques. "I'm doing this because it's the right thing to
do," Rava explains. "It's not to charge higher prices and
make money, but it is more work in the vineyards and it's more
Eight different wines are produced here, including a dry sparkling wine.
We're fans of a couple of their red wines.
Old bottles of wine made by the Rava's aunt &
- We have a 2007 Barbera del Monferrato, a wonderful example
of straightforward winemaking. While we like some of the French
oak-aged Barbera wines which can fetch ambitiously high prices, we also
find a place on the table for this simpler style. It emphasizes the
red berry fruit notes which are typical of Barbera, along with the tangy,
zesty acidity that makes this such a versatile wine. Consider this
in place of a snappy Chianti.
La Casaccia's Barbera can be served with antipasti or any sort of
tomato-sauced pasta. It's also a delight with crab cioppino or
shellfish adorned with a tomato sauce. We suggest serving this wine
at cool cellar temperature.
Rava produces a classic example of Grignolino, too. This is a
grape which produces a wine of less color than Pinot Noir (and Nebbiolo)
and it's bracingly acidic, more like a white wine than a red.
It's delightful paired with simple starters (or as a picnic
wine). The crisp acidity works beautifully with the fattiness of
Prosciutto or salame. This is also best served lightly chilled or at cool
Currently in stock: 2007 LA CASACCIA BARBERA DEL
2005 LA CASACCIA GRIGNOLINO DEL MONFERRATO CASALESE $15.99
Grilled eggplant with tomato sauce...not complicated and it works beautifully
with La Casaccia's Grignolino or Barbera!
- VIGNETI MASSA
If you're driving from Genoa to Milano, you may pass by Tortona. If
you're visiting Barolo producers and are heading east to Verona or Venice,
you'll come to Asti, Alessandria and then Tortona. As a major wine
region, however, it's not an area explored by many.
However, there are now about 20 producers of the very particular white
grape, Timorasso, which had fallen out of favor after the scourge of
phylloxera. This caused a bunch of viticultural "Barberians"
to replace Timorasso with the more reliable (in terms of a bountiful
crop) red grape, Barbera. Timorasso has been so obscure for so long,
you won't find mention of it in many books on grape varieties or tomes such
as Burton Anderson's "Vino" book of the 1970s.
Can you blame them, after all? It seems Timorasso is a bit of a
pain-in-the-ass. Not all the buds produce fruit and so it can 'set' a
rather meager crop. And yet this variety was cultivated from this
eastern Piemontese outpost south to Genoa on the Ligurian coast.
The legend of this wine, though, is that wine grower Walter Massa, who's
something like a 5th generation vintner, had cultivated Barbera and the
white Cortese grape, for the most part. I've read stories of his
introduction to the Timorasso grape through a local distiller who had made
some grappa from the skins of this curious variety.
But when I visited, Walter told me he had some Timorasso vines on the
family property and it was inter-mixed with other white grapes. At
some point, he kept the fruit apart and liked the resulting wine.
And so his work with Timorasso changed the Tortonesi
viticultural landscape, as Massa began working in the 1980s to resuscitate
this variety of grape.
It seems Timorasso, though, was a major white grape not only towards the end
of the 1800s, but back in the late 1400s and early 1500s...I read some
account claiming Leonardo da Vinci gifting Isabella of Aragon at her wedding
with Montebore cheese and Timorasso wine! Hard to believe a
fellow of Tuscan origins would offer Piemontese treats, but maybe on his way
to Milano, Leo stopped for provisions?
The Timorasso vineyards are said to be easily recognized...an oblong bunch
of Timorasso fruit will have very uneven-sized berries...some rather large
and others quite tiny. The berries are thick-skinned, apparently.
Most of the Massa vineyards are in this little 'bowl' near the town of
Some contend the Timorasso grape should be Piemonte's "great white
wine." And, perhaps one day it will be recognized for its
grandeur. Today, though, only a few enlightened souls know this wine
and it's Walter Massa who's the "Papa of Timorasso."
In its youth, this white wine is rather minerally...think of some Loire
Valley whites or Chablis. It's a bit on the crisp side of the spectrum
and its acidity is credited with giving Timorasso its longevity.
Members of the Timorasso "cult" will tell you this wine ages
magnificently and evolves into a magical white wine. In its youth, we
look for hints of white flower scents, a suggestion of honey and a
moderately minerally, stony character. As it develops, a more
pronounced honeyed quality emerges, with ripe pear characteristics and the
minerally backbone remains.
So...as mentioned, there are now nearly two dozen proponents of
And Massa is the reference point.
We have his 2009 in stock. Its label denotes Derthona, a Latin name
Walter is probably more enthused about his Barbera wines. These are
typical, classic Barbera wines. He opened a range of vintages
spanning the past decade...I can say these age beautifully and the wine
blossoms quite handsomely at ten years of age!
In fact, we opened a bottle of Massa's 2000 vintage of Monleale
Barbera...it was a nice old bottle of Piemontese red wine, but it had
aromatics more reminiscent of well-aged Barolo! The tarry elements
made us think of some older bottles of Nebbiolo...remarkable!
Croatina is bottled as a varietal wine and there's a tiny production of
Currently in stock: 2009 MASSA "Derthona" Timorasso
This is the only "signage" in town for the Massa winery!
You might 'miss' it when you're in the car.
days the rice from a nearby town is more famous around the world than this
Lessona is not especially famous these days, but that may change once more
people taste some of the wines from this Piemonte appellation.
It's located about 20 kilometers northwest of the town of Arborio, a place
famous for its risicoltura than for viticoltura.
- The Sperino family owned this little azienda once upon a time and
with no heirs, the property came into the possession of the De Marchi
family. Though the names Sperino and De Marchi had been associated in
Piemonte with doctors and medicine, today the De Marchi name is associated
with wine. But the fame has been garnered not in Piemonte, but in
- You might recognize the name De Marchi, since Paolo De Marchi is an
outspoken proponent of Chianti Classico and the owner of the prestigious
estate called Isole e Olena. But Paolo has Piemontese blood in his
veins, along with Sangiovese and he has assumed ownership of the Sperino
estate in the town of Biella.
Luca DeMarchi runs the vineyards and cellar at the Sperino estate.
Over the past decade, he's been breathing life into this old estate and
bringing a tiny bit of attention to "the other Piemonte."
- The Lessona appellation was granted DOC status in 1977, but you rarely see
wine of this region. Nebbiolo, known in the Vercelli hills as "Spanna,"
accounts for at least 75% of Lessona wine, blended with, typically,
Vespolina and Bonarda. Today these wine are well in the shadow of the
Nebbiolo wines of the Langhe region, but they are worth exploring.
Very low tech...this bag is placed in a tank and they inflate it with
The weight presses the juice from the skins in a very gentle and
We have a pretty little well-priced red from this estate that's called,
simply, Uvaggio (the Italian word for a blended red wine, one of the most
famous these days, it seems, being Brunello di Montalcino). The denominazione
is "Coste della Sesia" and Sperino's is 65% Nebbiolo, 20%
Vespolina and15% Croatina. The grapes are grown in the Lessona and
Bramaterra regions, which both have their own DOC.
Descending into the lower level cellar at Proprieta Sperino.
- There are numerous ancient bottles stashed in the cellar from
the late 1800s.
Luca says they've opened one or two and found the wine to actually be
alive (still). They credit the large quantity of mold with shielding
the cork from air and preserving the wine.
There's a library that's equally well-preserved.
A book on American vines and the phylloxera problem...along with a
"bulletin" concerning local viticulture.
The 2004 Uvaggio wine had a fairly long period of skin contact, so if
you're in tune with Barolo or Barbaresco, this will taste pretty good.
If you're a fan of White Zinfandel or Muscat wines, we suspect this may
prove too challenging for your delicate palate.
The 2004 has developed beautifully. We tasted a bottle in February of
2010 and found the wine to be progressing exceptionally. It's matured
in cooperage of various dimensions for more than a year and this wine shows
some nice, woodsy notes.
The 2006 is remarkably good. We found the Nebbiolo component to be
very expressive and the wine is certainly worthy of comparison to good
Barbaresco or Barolo wines. Perhaps it will blossom a bit earlier
than top 2006 Barolo wines, but it's certainly a showy bottle, even in its
Currently in stock: 2006 SPERINO
A Sperino DeMarchi Lunch.
Francesca shows off her Risotto di Salsiccia.
It was perfect with the Uvaggio 2006!!!
- The Sella
family has quite a history in "the other Piemonte."
They've been in the fabric business for a few hundred years and for the
past hundred, or so, they've owned a bank (good thing, too, because you
need money to produce wine).
However, they say they've been in the wine business since 1671 (a
marvelous vintage we're told, with Robert Parker giving it a high score in
Comino Sella acquired the first land in 1671 in Lessona.
The family purchased some property in Bramaterra around the 1880s. Today
they have approximately 12 hectares of vineyards and produce close to 90,000
bottles of wine annually.
We've tasted the range of wines of Sella and they are routinely of good quality.
Currently in the shop is a youthful white wine made from the Erbaluce
grape. It's an old Roman grape variety, according to the history books,
with its first notation back around 1606, or so, give or take a
The grape is noted for its crisp acidity, so you'll find a number of sparkling
wines from Erbaluce along with sweet wines.
Sella makes a delightful, crisp, chalky dry white with no oak...it's the sort of
wine you serve to start a meal...pair it with some mildly sweet
Prosciutto...some salami, perhaps? Or give it a go with some Crab Cakes...
Currently in stock: 2010 SELLA
ERBALUCE "Coste della Sesia" $21.99
- The region
where the wine called "Boca" is made had just about died
off. At one point it was the source of a wine of high repute, but
over the last half of the 20th Century, the wines and wineries of Boca
The region is located nearly two hours' drive from Alba in the
Langhe. From Milano, you'll need an hour and a quarter to get
there. From the somewhat better known appellation of Ghemme, Boca is
about 20 minutes' drive north. If you're in Torino, you'll
need an hour and quarter. Basically, then, it is officially in the
middle of "No Where!"
The story of Le Piane begins with a fellow who's in the wine business in
His name is Christoph Kunzli. Having known Italian winemaker
celebrity Paolo DeMarchi of Isole e Olena in Chianti, Kunzli was
introduced to the Boca region as DeMarchi was renovating an estate in the
Lessona region, another place time had passed by.
Kunzli met the venerable Antonio Cerri, the last of the Mohicans in
Boca. Having been smitten by the landscape and countryside, Kunzli's
enthusiasm for the region impressed the 80-something year old Cerri (who
was contemplating retiring when he reached a state of senior
citizenship). Eventually Herr Kunzli, with some investors, was
able to purchase Cerri's small estate and cellar.
Over the past few years, additional patches of land have been purchased
and today the property comprises some 6.5 hectares of estate vineyards and
a half of a hectare of leased vineyard land. Nebbiolo, of course,
rules the roost. But some auxiliary grape varieties are found in
this area, notably Vespolina and Croatina.
The entire Boca appellation dwindled down to 8.5 hectares in 2001...there
is but a handful of producers making Boca these days, with Le Piane being
in the Top Five.
We tasted through the small line-up and each wines was very good, but the
most unusual, from our perspective was a wine called "Le Piane"
and it's a Colli Novaresi red wine which we understand is predominantly
made of the Croatina grape. The vineyards are old and, according to
Kunzli, planted as a field blend. They estimate this site is 80%
Croatina, but have found Nebbiolo and Vespolina, amongst others, mixed in.
The wine spends time in large wood tanks and puncheons, so there's a
suggestion of oak, but it's more of a whisper than a shout. Le Piane
is a medium-bodied red, so pairing it with roasted chicken, pork or red
meats is ideal. The 2007 is showing handsomely now and you can hang
onto it for another 5-10 years.
Currently in stock: 2007 LE PIANE "Le Piane"
COLLINE NOVARESI SALE $39.99
ANTICHI VIGNETI di CANTALUPO
Arlunno family has been cultivating vineyards in the Ghemme area for many
generations, though this "antichi" winery is not terribly
old. It was built in 1977s, designed by the Arlunno brother who's an architect.
Alberto Arlunno is the main man, assisted by famous consulting winemaker
They have about 33 hectares of vineyards and are a major name for the
somewhat famous wine called Ghemme. The town of Ghemme is known as a
city of wine, but also a city of honey.
It's rather in the northern part of Piemonte, quite a ways from the famous
Barolo and Barbaresco wines of the Langhe region.
Ghemme must be at least 75% Nebbiolo, which is known in the region as
"Spanna." One can blend Vespolina and/or Uva Rara into the
Ghemme wines, but the Arlunno family prefers to have a 100% Nebbiolo
The 1999 vintage, currently in stock, is an excellent example of this rather
traditionally-styled Nebbiolo. We find some of the floral notes of
Nebbiolo in this wine, with a hint of a resiny tone. It was matured
for about 20 months in large wood casks. You'll find a modest tannic
"bite" to the wine on the palate. However, serving it with some
savory stewed or braised meat really softens the wine and gives it a
wonderful appeal. Big wine glasses really allow the wine to blossom in
Currently in stock: 1999 Ghemme Sold Out (hoping
they'll find a new importer)
- Here we have
been, several years without Ghemme wines in the shop and suddenly we have
two different producers available.
This is because I'd just as soon not have wine of a particular appellation
if the wines are not of interesting quality or interesting quality and fair
Ioppa is a new producer for us. And Giampiero & Giorgio Ioppa's
wine is quite different from the Ghemme listed above.
The Ioppa brothers.
They have about 12 hectares, but not all is planted with Nebbiolo. Some
30% is Vespolina and 10% Uva Rara.
Their Ghemme is blended with 20% Vespolina and it's matured for 8 months in
French oak after spending a year in more traditional cooperage. The
wine shows a more cedary, woodsy character than the Cantalupo Ghemme, for
example. We have the excellent 2001 vintage in the shop
presently. It's a lovely red for grilled or roasted red
meats. Drinkable now, we expect this to continue to grow and soften in
bottle for another 5-10+ years.
Currently in stock: 2001 Ioppa Ghemme $34.99
- This little winery has been growing grapes since the 1920s and in the
1950s they started making and bottling a bit of wine. Prior to that,
the property was devoted to both grapes and grain.
These days they produce about 20-thousand bottles of wine annually, split
amongst several grape varieties.
They cultivate Erbaluce for white wine and then a few reds, with Nebbiolo
being the most 'important' grape.
They also cultivate Barbera, Vespolina and Uva Rara.
We have some of their Uva Rara (it's so rare, you won't find this in very
many shops...), a grape that is typically blended with Croatina and
Barbera in the Oltrepo Pavese or it plays second fiddle to Nebbiolo in
Sizzano, Fara and Boca wines. Only in the Colline Novaresi does one
find it bottled on its own. And then, to keep you totally
confused, Vespolina is sometimes called Uva Rara and Uva Rara is sometimes
thought to be Bonarda.
Is that crystal clear?
Welcome to Italy!
What's it like? It's a non-oaked red wine...fermented in stainless,
allowed to rest in stainless and then bottled towards the summer
following the fermentation. They capture a nice red fruit quality in
this wine and there's a faintly floral note here, too. It's
medium-bodied and mildly acidic. A tomato-sauced pasta works well
with this, but then so does a nice pizza...nothing too heavy, so the wine
matches the texture and intensity of the food.
It's not a wine for cellaring, so you'd want to drink this over the next
year, or so.
I recall a wine of Brigatti's from my youth called MötZiflon that's
a Nebbiolo-based blend. It was one of those wines you could share
with friends and have them think you're one sophisticated wine geek to be
aware of something so obscure!
The MötZiflon is still available, though...it's a blend of Nebbiolo with
a touch of Vespolina and a drop of Uva Rara.
We tasted it side-by-side with Brigatti's other buon "Möt,"
Mötfrei which is made entirely of Nebbiolo with no blending...
scoop on this: Möt means hill in the local dialetto.
Ziflon means "singing birds" or "bird song." But
Mötfrei, which a wordsmith such as myself would expect to be almost
German-speak with "frei" as "free, means Porcini hill to
the Novaresi. So much for my word-smithing!
The 2009 Mötfrei is a lovely rendition of Nebbiolo, too. That means
it's not inky black in color, showing gobs of fruit and it's not a flashy,
oaky red wine. Hardly. It's classically Nebbiolo, which
means good acidity, moderate tannins (less than youthful Barolo or
Barbaresco per esempio). The nose, if you appreciate Nebbiolo
(and other wines of elegance and finesse), is magnificent. It's
showing a red fruit tone that's tamped down with a faintly earthy
And this pairs handsomely with some braised or stewed meats enhanced by
Currently in stock: BRIGATTI 2011 UVA RARA $18.99
BRIGATTI 2009 MOTFREI NEBBIOLO $24.99
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