The Wineries of Northern Italy: Piedmont and the Langhe

Summer moves steadily along.  It’s mid-August already, and the weather is turning cooler.  We moved back into our house just over a week ago, and we’re still digging out from under boxes of possessions that we haven’t seen since the fire.  It’s a bit overwhelming, but we’re making progress.  The silver lining to it all is that our 1920s south Minneapolis house is all new.  We have a little more closet space and a bigger bathroom.  The kitchen, though, is what we’re most excited about!  It’s spacious and open with lots of counter space and a fabulous gas range.  Soon we’ll get back to cooking and we’ll post a few photos on Due Spaghetti.  In the meanwhile, let’s finish our tour of northern Italy’s wineries.

We started in Trentino-Alto Adige along the Strada del Vino, and then worked our way through Veneto and La Valpolicella before traveling west to Piedmont and the Langhe.  Our first stop was in a tiny village high in the hills called Castiglione Tinella, home to the Paolo Saracco Vineyards.  Stefano met Paolo this past winter when he was in Minneapolis recently to present his wines, and was impressed not only with his Moscato d’Asti, his trademark wine, but also with the Pinot Nero he produces.

Paolo Saracco Vineyards owns a hotel called Albergo Castiglione, just minutes away from the winery.  The hotel pool is located near the Saracco vineyards, on a hilltop overlooking the vines below.  We stayed at the hotel and while nonna Maria and the boys enjoyed the pool, Stefano and Cara toured the winery.

The entire experience was delightful; the village was charming, the hotel staff were attentive to our needs and recommended two very good local spots to eat, and the winery itself and the wines we tasted were splendid.

Seemingly the setting could not become more idyllic,  until we traveled 40 kilometers southwest to the Azienda Agricola Cogno, storied Barolo producers, and found ourselves immersed in some of the region’s most beautiful scenery.  The winery was founded by Elvio Cogno in his hometown of Novello, where his family had been producing wine for several generations prior.  Under his daughter Nadia and her husband Valter Fissore’s attention, the winery produces highly acclaimed Barolo as well as a Barbaresco, a Dolcetto d’Alba and two Langhe.  The Elvio Cogno representative for the American market, Daniele, was in Minneapolis last winter and came to the Butcher Block to present his wines to Stefano and Filippo.

We arrived at the winery complex in mid-afternoon, under a scorching sun.  The winery is housed in a perfectly restored 18th century manor.  The family lives in on part of the facility, adjacent to the actual winery.  A spectacular outdoor kitchen sits alongside an infinity pool that looks over the rows of vineyards that run up and down the hills of the Langhe.  Once again, Sean and Luca put their swimsuits back on and spent a few hours in the pool under nonna’s supervision while Stefano and Cara toured the winery and tasted the outstanding Barolo and other Elvio Cogno wines.

Stefano and Valter Fissore of Azienda Agricola Elvio Cogno

It was a fitting end to our tour of northern Italy’s wineries.  With an extra several bottles in tow, we packed up Marco’s Toyota RAV 4 and headed to the sea and the Cinque Terre.

The Wineries of Northern Italy – Tretino-Alto Adige and Alois Lageder

After a week of fun in Rome, we borrowed Stefano’s brother Marco’s Toyota RAV4 and headed north, for a spectacular, 6-day tour of northern Italy.  Our itinerary included tours of 4 wineries, each distinct and unique from one another, but all 4 producers of some of Italy’s best wine, and excellent examples of Italian hospitality.

Our first stop was in Trentino-Alto Adige.  Located in the Dolomite mountains on the border with Austria, this region, also known as Trentino South Tyrol, is heavily influences by its Austrian-Hungarian roots.  We stayed in a tiny city called Cortaccia, located along a road called La strada del vino, or the road of wine.  Even though we were still in Italy, this area was culturally much more German than Italian; many people we encountered were bilingual, but at our hotel we had to resort to English on several occasions because the German-speaking staff did not speak Italian.

Cortaccia sulla strada del vino is located just south of Bolzano, in the Dolomite mountains in an area known as South Tyrol.

The German influence is evident in the architecture of Cortaccia.

Nonetheless,we were welcomed and well-treated at the Turmhotel Schwarz-Adler.  The morning view from the balcony off of our room was lovely, and the boys enjoyed the swimming pool with its view of the mountains in the distance.

The view from the balcony of our room at Turmhotel Schwarz Adler

Just down the winding mountain road from Cortaccia is a sleepy little town called Magrè.  One would never suspect that it is home to the Alois Lageder winery, a sophisticated wine production facility designed in accordance with sustainable and ecological building practices.

We arrived in Magrè and even though the village it tiny, had to ask a local where the winery was.  Nothing about the town suggests that it is home to such a modern production facility.  However, Paolo our host walked us through the archway into the Löwengang estate, and we discovered a beautiful wine-producing complex.  The office space has a remarkable ceiling system that allows sunlight and cool mountain air to penetrate the space.  Commissioned artwork fills the walls and the open spaces, the most notable a permanent exhibit of three large, square glass containers containing the soils and plants of the three primary microclimates that produce the grapes used to make Lageder wines.

Entering the Lageder wine production facility with our host, Paolo.

The roof of the Lageder office space lets in sunlight and the cool mountain breeze.

A living art exhibit captures the soils and plants from the three main microclimates.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Lageder winery is how the vinification facility was designed to leverage the force of gravity in the handling of the grapes, must and wine, to render the winemaking process as efficient, gentle and ecological as possible.  This was done through a 17-meter tall vinification tower located at the heart of our winemaking facilities.  Grapes are deposited into the top of the tower, and are cellared in free fall, with gravity pulling the must down into tanks below without the use of pumps or other mechanical transport systems.

Lageder vinification tower. Photo from http://www.aloislageder.eu/en/cellar

Two labels make up the portfolio of Lageder wines.  The Alois Lageder label includes wines made partly from grapes grown in Lageder biodynamically farmed vineyards, but predominantly from grapes purchased from local growers.  The Tenutæ Lageder wines are made entirely from grapes that are grown in the Lageder estate vineyards, which are all biodynamically farmed.  Lageder produces an unusually high number of wines, mostly whites such as Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, but their Pinot Nero is notable, as well.

At the end of our tour, Paolo guided us through a tasting of nearly 20 of those wines and came home with a 2009 LEHEN Sauvignon, a 2011 BETA DELTA Chardonnay – Pinot Grigio, a 2008 KRAFUSS Pinot Noir, and a 2000 COR RÖMIGBERG Cabernet Sauvignon that Paolo pulled out the Lageder cellar for us.

Magrè is home one of the 3-4 oldest vines in the world, dating back to the 1600s.

Read more about Due Spaghetti’s trip to Italy in our previous posts: Date Night in Rome, and Il Cinquino di Zio Marco and Ciao, Roma!, and  check out our Due Spaghetti Facebook page for more trip photos.