As flight BA1982 from Heathrow started descending, over bumpily for my liking, to Guglielmo Marconi Airport (Bologna) at the end of last month, the captain announced on his tannoy ´…in a few minutes we will be landing at Bologna. The temperature is 21 degrees and it´s raining. Please put on your seatbelts for landing…cross check´. What he did not share with us is that there had in fact been sustained heavy rainfall for the previous two or three weeks plus, going all the way back, on and off, to May this year. There was flooding in low-lying communities near rivers, streams and creeks along with urban flooding and also landslides in hilly areas. The local newspaper reported that some roads and rail networks would be impassable due to floodwaters and debris flows. Oh great!, just my luck as I am only here to visit some local wineries, help in the harvests and taste wines in Emilia-Romagna and further up north in Piedmont.
After a super couple of days in the city of Bologna, indoors, I headed south for an early breakfast meeting with Chiara Condello in Predappio. As we arrived at her family´s wine estate, Condé, it actually stopped raining. Possibly, a great sign of things to come. This would normally be a time in the vineyard calendar for all hands on deck at grape harvesting. However, when you have this amount of water on the ground and drops resting on the grapes, it is time to wait for the sun to come out, and the 40cms of ground soil to start sponging up some excess, with some light breeze to dry off the moisture. That morning we sorted out some rotten grapes from healthier Sangiovese bunches and then headed down to her cellar to taste what is now becoming a rather well sort after and quite superb wine. The red wines here are made from Sangiovese del Cannello Piccolo Predappio, the difference from this Sangiovese to let´s say Sangiovese Grosso (Tuscany), is that the berries and bunches in Romagna are much much smaller ones. The village of Predappio has a unique spungone soil mixed with limestone and clay that also happens to be rich in marine fossils giving the wine an almost smokey, spicey, cherry blossom character. Chiara´s first vintage was in 2015 and she makes two wines from her 4 hectares under vine. Romagna Sangiovese Predappio and Romagna Sangiovese Predappio Riserva ´Le Lucciole´. Her wines are fermented in open-top fermenters with an extended maceration, sometimes whole cluster, and then aged in large neutral vats showing off a natural purity in the wine that any Sangiovese drinker, like me, will just adore.
We tasted from the tank Chiara´s 2021 Sangiovese Romagna Predappio. Sweet cherry nose with rose petal. Ripe wild berry palate with herbal notes. Cacao & tobaccoish finish with lovely & lively fine silky tannins. Followed by 2020 Sangiovese Romagna Predappio had a toasted almond aroma with some underbush. Dried cherry, prune and a slight licorice finish. Then 2019 Sangiovese Romagna Predappio raspberryish nose, dark cherry and black stone fruit. A rich dried herbal-saline finish. Scrummy!
Now, not wanting to bang on too much and bore you about the weather, I will just leave you with this on the subject, if you have a ruler to hand: 300mm of rainwater fell in 36 hours. Sometimes peaks of 28-29mm per hour. Before the rains came there had been a four month drought in the area, so the soil was unable to absorb this quantity of water, causing the rivers to swell. However, as in any dramatic situation, the Emilia-Romagna spirit has an extraordinary ability to respond well to all sorts of difficulties, including this one. Bravissimo!
One family winery I visited before leaving Predappio was Fattoria Nicolucci higher up in the Predappio Alta, where the rains fell, of course, but as their vineyards are on slopes at 500masl the crop damage was limited. Some of the older plants lost their footings and are being replaced by new stock, otherwise life in this ancient village of La Rocca di Predappio Alta seems to go on as normal. I was keen to try for the first time a Forli Rosso IGP called Nero di Predappio 2019 made predominently from Terrano (90%) and Sangiovese (10%). I am told that Terrano is a cousin red grape to Refosco from Friuli-V-Giulia. We tasted this deep dark wine with bags of black fruit, along side their other reds, notably Tre Roche 2020 made from a larger berry Sangiovese called Acino Grosso. All very good & traditional old school Emilia-Romagna.
The following day and thanks to good GPS and autopista A1, I was able to drive at hi-speed, avoiding the windmills, south in the Hertz gas-guzzler down to Campania. This journey further south was to both get away from the grey, wet weather in the north, but more importantly to taste one white wine, Fiano, and one Fiano only! The lovely Don Chisciotte produced by the Zampaglione family. Pierluigi, his wife Nerina and daughter I first met almost ten years ago now, 2013, in an old East End London brewery, Young´s I think?, at a wine fair that was promoted back then as RAW. Raw wine fair then went on to become a natural wine fair, held annually & successfully in London, Berlin, New York and I believe now in San Fransisco. At this inaugural event in London, there were tables laden with new vinous treats for us to try from Sicily, some guy called Frank Cornelissen, from Spain the now famous Terroir al Limit. Italian wines from the likes of Radikon, Foradori, Roagna and from France, Coulee de Serrant and Ch.La Puy. Today, all these names & wines are of course internationally very well known indeed. Back then, not at all known! However, the one that got away was Don Chiscotte. This Don was born in 2006, Alta Irpinia near Calitri, with just 2 hectares of vines, and I have been enjoying these wines at home and with friends since that new day dawned in Spitalfields a la 2013.
I have drunk, enjoyed, and tasted 2010, 2011 and 2012 vintages. This week we drank Don Chiscotte Fiano from 2015, 2018 & 2020 vintages.
When white wine tastes as good as this, what is there not to like. Just try not to become addicted to it, as there is simply not enough to go around. I should not be sharing this info with you really. It’s a bit like recommending a restaurant to somebody and then not being able to get a table for lunch.
The 2020 Don Chiscotte was youthfully coy in the glass, tempting the imagination with a subtle yet complex blend of wildflowers, stone dust, curry leaves and crushed green apples. The wine smooths over the palate in textural waves, leaving us with mineral-drenched orchard fruits and exotic spices held together with a healthy dose of acidity and hints of apricot to finish. For the natural wine freaks out there, the wine is NOT filtered and has around 24mg/L sulphite and sometimes less.
After a great lunch and catch up, it was back in the gas-guzzler to head north, aiming for Milan and then up to Gattinara, 100% Nebbiolo world. The following midday appointment was not to be missed at Travaglini the largest producer of Gattinara DOCG with 55 hectares of Nebbiolo under vine on their volcanic terroir. They have four different ´´crus´´ and their big stuff worth the mention here was Il Sogno. The Nebbiolo grapes are left for 100 days on straw mats after the harvest. 30 days vinification follows and then 38 months in Slavonian oak, then in bottle for 8 months resting and released with DOCG status. We tried 2019 Il Sogno Travaglini and it had a bright red-garnet colour. Abundance of balsamic and dark fruit hints. Soft cherry and plum, lively tannins and a good finish.
Saying goodbye to the lovely ladies at Tavaglini was difficult, but we had to set off to the next appointment, unaware that our afternoon’s tasting would be held in an underground bunker, serviced by a huge industrial lift. Ground floor and minus one (the cellar) where the only two buttons available to push in the elevator, up and down only!. Paride Iaretti greeted us a little suprise yet warmly, showed us around his garagiste Paride Iaretti & C. winery and literally did not stop talking both enthusiastically and philosophically to us for the next 2 to 3 hours, always with tasting glasses in hand. We began with his Pietro 2018, dry and austere followed by a slightly softer classic Alto Piemonte Riserva 2019 (3 years in barrel). 2020 Vigna Valferana showed more iron and volcanic body that may one day soften out a bit, good luck with that! 2021 Costa della Sesia was a little more grander than his previous Nebbiolos. And because we had been shut down in the bunker for around 45 minutes as our host, Paride, had left us in the cellar with little or no way of escaping. Should he have forgotten that we where still underground while he went up to ground level to deal with some office business, we would have been toast. And thank goodness he did return to take us up, but it could have made a slightly dark thriller story of the two visiting wine tasters who perished in Gattinara one September afternoon, quite simply due to lack of light and oxygen. We said our farewells to Paride and left, a little carfuffled, and now very much looking forward to a well earned dinner at Cucine Nervi in the heart of town.
Eight O´clock sharp, refreshed, and greeted by the Maitre D´ with a chilled glass of Nervi pink fizz and some nibbles. The restaurant is modern style with a completely open kitchen (three kitchens infact with the three chefs on their individual counter). There is a choice to sit at the long wooden counter/bar infront of the chefs or take a traditional table, back from the hard work. I chose the wooden bar! It is made from a 4.000 year old tree shipped over fom New Zealand especially. It´s probably around 20 metres long and 2 metres wide. As they could not fit the whole tree into the shipping container they had to lob off an end, just to get it in. That piece now forms the L shape at the end of the bar. This place is really very chic indeed, it is not showy and the chefs go about their trade just for you, and you know that, as it is all going on right infront of you, and my goodness they are not only highly skilled at their task, they are also some of the most creative chefs I have ever met. What a lot of fun!
The seven course menu was the one to go for (there is a four courser aswell). The Conterno wine list had everything on it from both his Piedmontese wineries and with all the vintages available of course, going back to 1960´s with Monfortino. I found all the prices a tad too high considering we are eating in his place so I asked for the International wine list. A bit odd this one, as it had all the right names and places from everywhere but, and alas, all the weak vintages. It was too difficult to choose. A Miani 2018 Refosco dal Penducolo Rosso just about did the trick, from the non Conterno wine list. Deep ruby red with ripe sour-cherry fruit, leathery and a hint of tobacco. Opulent and almost flowery. Priced sensibly on the list at 70euros.
Being frightful wine bores, we had anticipated a vinous glitch somewhere (restaurants in wineries rarely get it right with their own wine list, and that is to be said for all over the world) so we had carried two of our own, BYO, wines to enjoy aswell. A bottle of Stephane Bernaudeau´s 2020 ´Les Nourrissons´ Vin de Table went very well with everything. And after the Refosco a Rousset Peyraguey Cuvee L´Aisthesis 2010 seriously rounded off one of the most delicious restaurant visits of my little olde life to date. So much so, that as we where only across the way the following midday at the Cantina Nervi, I booked a table for a late lunch at 14hs! What better way to really get to the bottom of an eatery like this, and have dinner and lunch in the same restaurant, within 24hrs and really understand and enjoy the difference!
Lunch was a light four course affair, same sort set up as the previous night. Outstanding! A slightly chilled and decanted bottle of 2015 Macon-Chaintre Maison Valette went well with everything and then, a pre-Conterno Nervi 2008 Molsino, set us up before heading out for the afternoons fun and more Nebbiolo-hunting.
Cucine Nervi is the brainchild restaurant attached to Cantina Nervi, of Roberto Conterno, of Barolo’s King Giacomo Conterno fame. Nervi is still the oldest winery in Gattinara and Conterno fully took over the helm in 2018. Nervi was indeed the oldest local Gattinarian winery that really started bottling wine as far back as 1906, by the then owner Luigi Nervi. Over a century and several owners later, Roberto C had the confidence to produce two single vineyard wines in his inaugural 2018 vintage, Vigne Molsino and Valferana. We where invited to visit the Cantina Nervi the following midday, before lunchtime, for a detailed show around the cellars and of course to taste the two latest Nervi vintages including a new Nervi Rose! full of peach skins and lemon just to freshen the palate.
2020 Nervi Gattinara DOCG Conterno
A lot of very young drinkable Nebbiolo here backed up with lively acidity, drops of kirsch and some herbal complexity. Stunning wine, and if there is any left out there by 2026 we are in for a treat.
2019 Nervi Molsino DOCG Conterno
A dark brooding, red licorice, smokey leatherness wafting up and out of Sensory! glass. Very closed but with tremendous persistence and let´s go back to it in 2029, and I am not kidding!
I did ask if we could taste the Nervi-Conterno Jefferson 1787 Zero Dosage Metodo fizz, alas, the half of a pallet ageing in their cellars, destined for some fancy gaff could not stretch to our needs. Oh la la!
Elisa took very good care of us in this minimalist Cantina and showed us eveything! including a trip to the roof to really get to grips with where the vines are grown in the three Gattinara hills yonder.
Before packing up and heading back to BOL, we drove out of town, 30 minutes west, to Massserano, a super sleepy hamlet with a family winery called Colombera & Garella. There where five crus to taste: Vispavola, Melascone, Lessona, Cavazucchi and Bramaterra.
The last appointment of this Gattinara trip was to visit one Marco Petterino, if we could find him. There was not much to go by or about him, or where the winery/cantina was. And on top of all that most of the locals when asked who & where he was, seemed to shrivel up like terrified Nebbiolii. ´´Oh, he is so difficult´´ they would say. ´´Very complicated man´´. With no email, no website, no nothing. A look see in the local telephone directory offered up a telephone number (landline) and it was duly called. Signor Petterino answered the call and we where amicably invited to visit at 18hs. We found a large old wooden door, in a back street of Gattinara with a door bell that produced the sound of a claxon (an old fashion air raid alarm). He came to the door and we where invited into his inner world of Gattinarian Nebbiollo. Almost a Wagnarian experience. We descended into the ´´cave´´ like going into the dark depths of Valhalla. Very little light and just the presence of five or six large old tonneaux. The air was thick with healthy microbes and a cool temperature that had not changed for maybe one hundred years. It felt like putting ones´s head in a bucket of Colston Basset´s Unpasteurized Stilton. My eyes where popping out on their stalks, hard to breath and yet we where down there to taste vini Petterino. And taste we did, and we knew it was somethig rather special. The wine, the place and the man reminded me some of the late Henri Bonneau. Not just in character, or work their in the cellar but as in style of the wine (Cuvee Celestins etc) and this one from Alto Piemonte. Marco Petterino only makes two wines, a Riserva and a non-riserva from the various vintages. But all very Gianfranco Soldera, H.Bonneau even Henri Jayer style if one is allowed too. Whatever wax you may think that I am lyricalising here, I would almost put Marco Petterino right up there in the same league as those cultish wine fellows. Enough said!
Petterino and his brother take care of 2 hectares of Nebbiolo dotted around the village of Gattinara and in some of the best plots just across the river. Around 1.000 cases of wine are produced in a good year and the juice comes from Permolone, Castelle and Guardie the three top Crus of the DOCG.
In Stock with us today:
06 bottles – 2009 Petterino Gattinara Riserva DOCG Piedmont @ GBP35 per bottle
12 bottles – 2013 Petterino Gattinara DOCG Piedmont @ GBP33 per bottle
12 bottles – 2015 Peterino Gattinara Riserva DOCG Piedmont @ GBP35 per bottle
Priced per bottle ex London City Bond ex taxes/shipping, as usual. (Oct.2023)
The royal ´we´ in this blog refers to Eduardo P Carlé (The finest Argy palate in Bologna) and William P Hancock (An avid wine drinker, chauffeur and serial tree-hugger).