Yes -- the wine's first date. I'd like to introduce a new way to take wine tasting notes - and also a great winery I recently visited.
Cascina Chicco is a winery to take your friends and family to if you want to impress them. Newly reconstructed, its cellars are fantastically designed; the cantina has a spectacular view over the Roero; and its wines are excellent – plus a good price for great quality.
Late this past summer, my brother and his girlfriend came all the way from across the pond to visit – and I wanted to show them a winery.
Canale, a town in the Roero known for peaches and wine
As always, I was limited by transportation, or the lack thereof. Most wineries are in the midst of vineyards in the countryside, not exactly easily accessible by foot or train. Plus, my options kept closing down on me because harvest had just begun. We would have happily helped to pick grapes in the vineyards, but apparently you need all sorts of liability forms (I wonder how Sting went about it?). Cascina Chicco, though, can be reached by a bus from Turin; it’s located not far from the town of Canale in the Roero.
We grabbed peach gelato upon arriving, because gelato; and because the peaches of Canale are legendary. Then, to pass time before our winery appointment, we ventured up towards the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Mombirone (taking the Viale del Pesco and then Via del Boschetto, you can find signs leading right up to it – thanks for the tip, Wine Pass!). We passed through vineyards, and 10 minutes later were rewarded with a beautiful view of the Roero. I also discovered the beginnings of a vineyard hiking trail … definitely to be explored later.
Canale and the Sanctuary of the Madonna di Mombirone.
We might have tasted a grape on our way up...
Cascina Chicco has recently remodeled parts of its winery, and it is truly impressive. It’s new, but not of the shiny-modern variety. They used old materials to create their new cantina, enlisting the construction workers to build with the bricks and stone of the farmhouse they tore down. The cellars open into wide rooms and descend into the hill in cool, dimly lit passageways. Barriques and bottles are found everywhere, and I remember the underground section of the winery as a spider-webbed network of corridors and cavernous rooms. Had our guide Claudia left us down there, we would have made it out two days and, ahem, several wine bottles later.
Some of the highlights of the trip underground were the wheel room and the old infernot.
The wheel room was a big, circular cavern with an arched ceiling and paintings of the winery’s Faccenda family on the walls. Claudia explained how they went from butchers to peach farmers and then to wine makers. And the infernot of a wine cellar in Piemonte refers to corridors and rooms carved out of the earth for storing wine at a constant, cool temperature. They are always dark and full of mold, which, as Claudia explained, helps maintain humidity for barrels. A dry barrel full of wine will confer too strong a wood flavor to the finished product. The mold on the walls had been developing since 1970 – so not everything has been remodeled.
The brand new Wine-on-a-First-Date Tasting Method®
Then we ascended from the cool, silent cellars into the tasting room. Claudia let us try all the wines, from Barbera d’Alba Granera Alta to the sweet passito Arcass. I’m not the best wine tasting note-taker, because I get distracted by what the producer is saying and by smelling and tasting – and by the time you throw in some fun tasting companions, I’ve lost my pen. This time, however, I was inspired by my fellow tasters’ comments that anthropomorphized the wines into people on their first dates.
Why the first date? Imagine going on a first date with somebody. Your date makes a first impression on you, like the first sip of wine does to your palate. Then, over the course of the meal, with sips of wine and bits of conversation, you understand the wine better and perhaps change your opinion about your date, or confirm what you already thought you knew to begin with.
Roero Arneis 2013 Anterisio – Very refreshing, even the older one from 2002. Easy to pair with a variety of food. A relaxed first date that seems to get along with just about anybody, and leaves all types happy.
Bric Loira 2011 – Beautiful, deep color – exciting and new. This will merit a second or third date, or even a long-term relationship. Claudia said, “Sometimes it’s not easy to keep this one in the cellar, but if we don't end up selling it all, it becomes a new wine as it ages.” Your relationship with this one will only grow deeper.
Roero Valmaggiore (a great cru of the Roero, btw) 2010 Riserva – Minerality plus fruitness are its best features; hint of raspberry and cherry. But this one is not quite ready for her date, and still acting nervous. Give her more time to get dressed.
Barolo Rocche di Castelletto 2010 – Incredible potential, but the tannins climb in the mouth. A wee bit anxious and closed, so not quite ready for her first date yet. But she is definitely worth waiting for.
It might seem like I’m trivializing the tastings, but this kind of comparison sticks in my mind more than scattered tasting notes that, ten days later, look exactly like all the other tasting notes I've done. Sometimes – too often – I get a sense of the structure and what I’m tasting vs what I should or would like to be tasting, but can’t form a complete opinion about it. Likening the wines to first dates draws a vivid picture in my mind and, looking back, I can imagine and remember just how the wines were. Plus it's fun!
I love Piemonte’s food and wine, the city of Turin, and my proximity to the Alps! My goal and challenge is to see as much of the region as possible using public transportation, but if you have a car I’d appreciate the ride. My intro to wine was at the Univ. of Gastronomic Sciences, and I love visiting family wineries, plus discovering Piemonte's craft beer scene. I’m hard-pressed to choose a favorite wine, but Nebbiolo never disappoints (from Barbaresco to Ghemme). As for beer, the Birrificio San Michele makes an incredible beechwood smoked brew.