Piemonte, October 2019

Visiting Araldica, Il Cascinone, Poderi Colla and La Battistina

Italy is somewhere that has always intrigued me, I will be honest that my idea of Italy is Tuscany, the history, the hills, sitting on a beautiful veranda with a glass of chilled white wine and the vista bathed in sunshine! So now let me tell you about my first ever trip to Italy.

The idea of going to Italy for 3 days on a wine trip was amazing, landing in Genoa and then heading up into the hills to try some terrific wines, what is not to look forward to? We flew into Genoa with the sun shining down, what should have been my biggest clue on what the weather was going to be like was all the clouds I could see, rather than me thinking, doesn’t it look beautiful the way the hills are being eaten up by the clouds.

We all climbed into the vehicular delight that is a minibus (in total there was about 10 of us heading out for this adventure). We then set off on our drive up into the North of Genoa into the Piemonte region and headed to our base for the 3 days, Il Cascinone. Il Cascinone is a vineyard which was acquired by Piemonte producer Araldica back in 1999, in the Monferrato hills. This exceptional estate has undergone extensive restoration and replanting, around 70ha of the total 120ha in full production. The warmer, southwest-facing slopes are used to grow Barbera, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and the northeast slopes are more ideal for aromatic varieties such as Brachetto and Moscato, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

My visions of rolling hillsides and sun baked vistas was shattered

As we drove into the estate, Craig, the gentleman that had arranged the trip, kept telling us how beautiful the views were as we were right on top of a beautiful valley. We had to take his word for it, as it was raining cats and dogs and you couldn’t see more than 2 metres in front of you due to the fog. My visions of rolling hillsides and sun baked vistas was shattered and I now understand what the weather is like in this area in October.

That evening we went out for an amazing meal in Nizza Monferrato. Beautiful food and more importantly we got a chance to try some wine! The 2 that really stood out for me that evening were the Avamposti Pinot Nero ‘Ventura’ 2016 a Pinot Noir from Il Cascinone’s northeastern cooler slopes. 13.5% ABV, vegan and 100% Pinot Nero, this wine is raspberries, cherries, blackberries and a hint of spice, soft and lovely balanced tannins, perfect with the Piemontese agnolotti al plin dish we had. The second wine was Rive Barbera d’Asti Superiore, 15% ABV, Vegan and 100% Barbera from the oldest vineyards of the Il Cascinone estate. Hand-picked grapes, this wine is a deep ruby colour, black cherries, prunes, chocolate, spice, and toast oak and aged for 18 months in 2/3 new oak and 1/3 1 year old French oak barriques. Rich, voluptuous but with balanced acidy and tannins – stunning with the meat course, but just as lovely by itself. A brilliant end to the first day.

Day Two:
Poderi Colla

Morning of the second day we had a massive treat and we went to Poderi Colla, about 1 hour away from where we were staying, near Alba, the valleys were beautiful (still raining and misty) but as they explained that when the hail hits, it can destroy a vineyard, but it can be very localised, so whilst it can destroy vines on one side of a valley, it doesn’t touch the other side – it must be heart breaking when that happens.

Poderi Colla was established in 1993 by Tino Colla (brother of the legendry Beppe Colla) and his niece Federica. The earliest documents attesting to the presence of the Colla family as wine-growers and makers dating back to the early 18th Century. Poderi Colla is very much a family business and continue the Colla family’s three centuries of winemaking heritage. Tino and Federica believe in a non-interventionist approach to winemaking, to give each wine its own unique take on its site, vintage and environment. With the keywords of the Colla family’s production philosophy being naturality and originality, integrity, and purity.
Poderi Colla includes four estates with a total of 28ha of vineyards, Cascine Drago Estate, Tenuta Roncaglia Estate, Dardi Le Rose Estate and Bricco Bompe Estate, covering nearly the entire spectrum of Alba styles.

The wine that stood out for me from the wine tasting we did with Poderi Colla was the Colla Langhe Riesling 2018, 12% ABV, vegan, 100% Riesling from a small plot of 30-year-old vines from the Cascine Drago Estate. With notes of lime, citrus, delicate floral and honey. The mineral and green apple notes add a complex but not overpowering element, will age brilliantly for 10 to 15 years and just improve with patience. This wine is where I really started to begin my love for Rieslings.

Another favourite was Barbera D’Alba Costa Bruna 2017, 14.5% ABV, vegan and 100% Barbera, this wine has aromas of red fruit but when you start to drink it the plum and black cherries start to come through, this is a big hug in a glass. It isn’t as refined as some other Barberas but what you do get is a lovely rustic edge which just makes you sink back into your chair and relax, great with parmesan as it really brings out the dark fruit flavours. Finally the Dolcetto d’Alba ‘Pian Balbo’ 2017, 12.5% ABV, vegan and 100% Dolcetto, when you smell this wine you get plum, cherries, violets, dried herbs and a sweet spice. Beautiful light red which has a lovely youthful note to it which gives a depth and personality of its own. Brilliant with pasta and a ragu.

Finally, the clouds cleared
enough for me to get a picture
of the vines at Il Cascinone.

Day Three: Plan was to Gavi to visit La Battistina

By the time the morning of the 3 day came around I was very glad I had gone to bed a little earlier then everyone else as a few people who had started on the Grappa and were a little late for breakfast!

So the plan for the last morning was to head off to Gavi to visit La Battistina – however, there was one minor issue, the road we needed to take had washed away due to all the rain – so that wasn’t going to happen. Instead we managed to get some of the wines brought to us so we could do a lovely tasting at Il Cascinone and also include some wines from Araldica and Adria as well as La Battistina.

Finally, the clouds cleared enough for me to get a picture of the vines at Il Cascinone.

We started the tasting with wines from Araldica, this is one of Piemonte’s most forward-thinking co-operatives, it is situated in Castel Boglione, in the heart of Barbera d’Asti territory. They work with 230 grower members which allows them to source quality grapes from around 690ha of vineyards. Many of the members joined back in the 1950’s and have long and valued relationship with the winery. They produce wine from Piemonte’s main DOC/DOCG regions – mainly Barbera, Gavi and Moscato, but it also includes Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero Arneis. Founded in 1954 by Livio Manera, the father of the current Managing Director and winemaker Claudio Manera, Araldica has developed over the last 60+ years to become a major winemaking force in Piemonte. We also tried wines from Adria Vini, established in 2003, Adria Vini is a winemaking venture jointly owned by Boutinot (an English importer) and Araldica. This venture was aimed at production of well-priced still and sparkling wines from local grape varieties. A range of private growers and co-operatives allows them to source the grapes that they think best suits this aim. Mainly sourcing from Veneto, Friuli, Lombardy, Sicily, Puglia, Abruzzo and Sardinia.

Some of the wines that stood out for me, Araldica Asti Dolce NV, 7% ABV, Vegan and 100% Moscato Bianco. The grapes are hand harvested and the fermentation is deliberately stopped by chilling and filtration to retain the luscious natural sweetness of the wine. Peaches with a hint of honeysuckle, drink this chilled on a warm day as an aperitif or after dinner as an alternative to a dessert wine. Alasia Barolo 2017, 14% ABV, Vegan and 100% Nebbiolo. Hand harvested, de-stemmed and then crushed in small fermenters for 12 days with daily pumping over. This wine has 3 years maturation in 50hl Slavonian oak casks and gently fined, as such it is always worth decanting this wine before drinking. Dark plum, leather, violets with woodsmoke and spice. This is a great example of a Barolo, ripe tannings, rich, powerful and complex. Great with roast red meats and finally Da Vero Biologico Catarratto IGT Terre Siciliane (Organic), 13% ABV, Vegan and 100% Catarratto. Whilst this isn’t from Piemonte, this is from Adria Vini and Sicily. The vines are grown in high altitude vineyards with chalky soil. Bright, with lemon, grapefruit citrus flavours with a delicate fennel note, fresh with crispy acidity. Amazing with risotto and seafood.

Finally, we got to try the wines from Gavi. La Battistina estate consists of 26ha of mature vineyard. The property was acquired by Araldica in 2002, establishing their reputation as a Gavi specialist. The unique combination of limestone and clay soil with the vines of average age of 35 year old.

La Battistina Gavi 2018, 12.5% ABV, Vegan with 100% Cortese. Zesty nose of apple, limes, and white flowers. Lemon and green apple with minerality, wonderfully crispy. A brilliant example of a Gavi. We then got to try Nuovo Quadro Gavi del Comune di Gavi 2018, 12.5% ABV, Vegan with 100% Cortese. From a single estate at the foot of Battistina Hills, this Gavi di Gavi, is hand-harvested, gently crushed and after fermentation, kept on its lees for a min of 6 months. Stunning is all I can say, hints of pears, limes and minerals (from the chalky soils), beautiful and elegant. And my other hit from Gavi was Santa Seraffa Gavi del Comune di Gavi 2018, 12.5% ABV, Vegan with 100% Cortese. This Gavi is a little bit sharper than the Nuovo and more mineral (a bit more clay in the soil for these vines) but slightly more floral aromas and green apple, but complex with a beautiful weight and finish, surprisingly for a wine from where it is, this works brilliantly with seafood – a great combination.

So, after a very tough couple of days (you don’t believe me do you!!) we had to pack up and get back in the minibus to head back to the airport (after getting lost a couple of times on the way back), we made it back to Genoa. I am very much looking forward to going back again at some point and actually making it to Gavi, but as a first trip to Italy it was amazing and the people were so lovely, but let’s be honest I’m still holding out for Tuscany.

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