Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardia is a region of rolling hills, medieval villages, majestic and vast stretches of vineyards earning it the moniker, the “Tuscany of the North.” Oltrepò means “beyond the Po,” a reference to the region’s location on the southern shore of the Po River in the province of Pavia. Oltrepò Pavese benefits from cool breeze from the north and a location on the 45th degree parallel, where some of the world’s great wines are produced. The appellations was granted DOCG status in 2007. Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir) is the key grape variety cultivated, and region is recognized for its outstanding Blanc de Noir sparkling wines.
Castello di Cigognola, a 12th century castle with landscaped gardens surrounded by vineyards, is one of the most stunning and historical properties in Oltrepò Pavese. Decorated by master architect, Renzo Mongiardino, Castello di Cigognola been designated an Italian National Trust World Heritage site.
Castello di Cigognola is owned by the renowned Moratti family. Gianmarco Moratti is a successful entrepreneur; his wife and Letizia Moratti, is a businesswoman who has served as the mayor of Milan. Their son, Gabriele Moratti oversees vineyard management with Gian Matteo Baldi, Castello di Cignonola’s CEO.
We visited with Gian Matteo Baldi to a record aSIPS podcastfor The Connected Table (stream it below) and taste three expressions of the Moratti metodo classico blanc de noir cuvées. We were impressed by how fresh and clean they tasted on our palates and the finesse of the bubbles. While we have had the chance to taste metodo classico sparkling wines from other well-known regions in northern Italy, notably Franciacorta and Trentodoc, we were struck by the exceptional character of these Oltrepò Pavese blanc de noir wines.
Here is what we tasted:
Moratti Blanc de Noir Pas Dosè. For no dosage sparkling wine lovers, this selection will delight. The wine remains 18 to 24 months on the lees and has a clean, crisp
Moratti Cuvée More Blanc de Noir is a blend of Pinot Noir with a touch of Pinot Meunier. The wine is aged 18 to 24 months on the lees, depending on the vintage
Moratti Cuvée Dell’Angelo 2012 was the only vintage sparkling wine in the trio we tasted. Grapes are sourced from select vineyard plots, and the wine remains 72 months on the lees. This is a gastronomic blanc de noir that we enjoyed with our salmon and roasted vegetables.
When heading to Tuscany to visit its wineries, most travelers head out of Florence and drive for a while to get to the most famous regions, like Montalcino and Montepulciano. But did you know that great wine, particularly Chianti, is made right outside the city in the surrounding hills?
Chianti Colli Fiorentini is one of a number of regions for chianti production and has been classified since the 1930s, making it one of the earliest to be officially recognized. It is also the only DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, Italy’s highest quality designation) classified region for Chianti production that can include “Firenze” (Italian for Florence) on the label. As such, the wines from Colli Fiorentini are very popular in Florence itself, and are a source of pride among locals.
Like in many areas of Tuscany, grapes have been grown in Colli Fiorentini for a long time, and wines from the region have a reputation for being approachable and drinkable fairly early after release. Now, thanks to a new generation of owners who are working to increase awareness and extend their reach in the marketplace, The wines for Chianti Colli Fiorentini are starting to gain a reputation outside the region, as well.
The Connected Table recently spent time in Colli Fiorentini visiting a number of producers, both large and small. We were thrilled by the wines we tried, and also by the people we met, who are warm and inviting to oeno-tourists. In fact, oeno-tourism is a big part of their livelihood, and almost all the wineries we visited were also “agriturismo” (Italian for Bed & Breakfast) properties, so overnight stays are also possible.
While some white wines are produced (mostly from Trebbiano and Malvasia), including a number of excellent Vin Santo wines (sweet dessert-style wines made from grapes that have been hung to dry and concentrate their sugars before being pressed), most wines are reds made from Sangiovese with other grapes like Canaiolo & Colorino blended in depending on winemaker preference.
The following is a list of wineries we visited and found made exceptional wines:
Malanchini. ( www.malenchini.it ) Owned by the Malanchini family since the 1830s and run by Diletta Malenchini. The family also operates an Agriturismo on property and hosts weddings in season. Wines to look for include Chianti and Chianti Riserva which is made from 100% Sangiovese.
La Querce. ( www.laquerce.com ). Located in Impruneta, La Querce’s wines are made by Marco Ferretti, who is also the current president of the Colli Fiorentini Consorzio of producers. Wines to try include Sorretolle, La Torretta Riserva, La Querce Toscana, and M.
Volognano. ( www.volognano.com ). A fully restored 11th century castle and adjoining medieval village is the backdrop for Volognano’s wines which are delightfully modern in style. Camilla Carrega, third generation of the current ownership runs the winery and extensive agriturismo. Wines to look for include their Toscana Bianco, a delicious blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia, Noi Chianti CF, Baccante, a Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, and their Vin Santo, Aetius.
Tenuta San Vito, ( www.san-vito.com ). Founded in 1960, Tenuta San Vito is 12 miles from Florence and comprises 300 acres with 70 of those dedicated to grapes. They also make some wonderful olive oils and run an agriturismo for overnight stays. Wines include Chianti CF and Chianti CF Riserva, San Vito also makes a delicious Vin Santo aged in Chestnut barrels.
San Michele a Torri. ( www.fattoriasanmichele.it ). One of the more established producers in Colli Fiorentini, San Michele has 400 acres with 60 under vine. They also produce olive oils and Cinta Senese DOP salumi from their heritage breed pigs. They make a number of wines and their Chianti CF and CF Riservas are top notch.
Quei 2. (www.quei2.com). Certainly the smallest producer on this list, and maybe the smallest we’ve ever seen. Quei 2 makes only 6000 bottle per year from grapes grown in 50 year old vineyards, but the owners, both former engineers with a passion for making wine, are investing both time and resources to secure their future. Wines include Le Casine Bianco, Rex Rubrum Chianti CF, and 208 Rosso, a Sangiovese/Merlot/Canaiolo blend.
La Colombaia Villa di Bagnolo. ( www.villadibagnolo.it ). A beautifully restored Villa and property owned by the Beltrami family since the 1970s, La Colombaia makes a variety of wines including Chianti and Vin Santo. The property is also available for private events. Their Terre delle Fornaci was a favorite.
Fattoria di Bagnolo. ( www.bartolinibardelli.it ) Located directly across the vineyard from La Colombaia, this winery is one of three multi-use properties in Tuscany owned by the Marchesi Bartolini Bardelli family and is their premium wine estate. Marco Bartolini led the winemaking for the last 30 years, and recently passed oversight to his sister. Their Chianti CF wines are made from traditional Tuscan varieties like Sangiovese and Colorino, They also make a Super Tuscan called Caprorosso, which is very good.
Castelvecchio. (www.castelvecchio.it). Founded in 1962 by the Rocchi family, Castelvecchio is run by brother and sister Filippo and Stefania Rocchi and produces about 100,000 bottles annually from its 75 acres of vineyards planted to traditional Tuscan and French grape varieties. Favorites included Il Castelvecchio Chianti CF, Vigna La Quercia Chianti CF riserva, and Numero Otto, a red made from 100% Canaiolo.
Tenuta Il Corno. ( www.tenutailcorno.com) A sprawling estate built in the 12th century and once the summer residence of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Il Corno has been owned by the Frova family since 1911. Maria Giulia Frova runs the wine program and is nicknamed the “Queen of Colorino” due her affinity for, and expertise in coaxing Colorino to life in the bottle. “Corno Divino” is a wonderful restaurant on property, and accommodations are also available.
Fattoria de Fiano. (www.ugobing.it). Winemaker Ugo Bing’s family has been growing grapes on their property since the 1940s and make some deliciously interesting wines form their panoramic hill-top vineyards, including some from grapes not widely planted in the region like Petit Manseng and Abrostino (only planted by about five producers). Wines include Chianti CF, Fianesco (their Super Tuscan), Pugni d’Abrusco (a red blend of Pugnitello and Agrostino) and Vin Santo.
Le Torri. ( www.letorri.net ). Milan native Beatrice Mozzi runs this agriturismo and winery for her family, and winemakers Giovanni Sordi & Alessandro Maffi make some beautiful wines, including Chianti CF and CF Riserva. Other projects include a delightful Brut Rose sparkling wine (great to sip by the property’s pool while staying the weekend), Soleluna Chardonnay, and Magliano Super Tuscan.
Fattorie Giannozzi. ( www.fattoriegiannozzi..com). An historic winery owned by the Giannozzi family since the early 1700s. Gianozzi was one of the first chianti producers to export to the U.S. (in the 1930s) and are well established in the U.S. market. Brothers Luca and Simone Giannozzi run the wine, olive oil, and agriturismo.
Gualandi. (www.guidogualandi.com). By far the most unique of Tuscany’s wineries. Guido Gualandi’s passion for making wine extends from his passion for history and most importantly, historical winemaking methods and ancient grapes. An archeologist & teaching professor specializing in Mesopotamia, Guido actually researches how winemaking was done in ancient times and re-creates the process to make his wines. He eschews modern winemaking techniques and seeks out and revives forgotten grape varieties. His website states “archeologial wines” are the focus, but we like to call his phenominal wines “Super-Etruscans.” Wines include Montebetti Chianti CF, Gualandvs, and a beautiful Vin Santo.
Valvirginio. (www.collifiorentini.it). Valvirginio is produced by the local cooperative winery Cantine Sociale Colli Fiorentini which is owned by about 850 small grape growers in the area. The Cantine also operates a half dozen Valvirginio retail stores around Tuscany to sell its products which include wine, olive oil, and honey. Collorosso is their Chianti Colli Fiorentini wine.
Castello di Poppiano (www.guicciardnini1199.it ) The Guicciardini family has been making wine at Castello di Poppiano since 1199A.D. Conte (Count) Ferdinando Guicciardini runs the show and also owns two other wineries in Tuscany which he constantly shuffles back and forth between while overseeing production. Castello di Poppiano is Chianti Colli Fiorentini’s largest producer and Ferdinando was instrumental in gaining the region DOCG status in the 1980s. His wines are well distributed, and he can often be found at the estate, always willing to spend time with guests and tell the history of the beautiful castle he and his wife Annamaria calls home.
Listen to The Connected Table LIVE with Guido Gualandi, Gualandi
Listen to The Connected Table LIVE with Camilla Carrega, Volognano
City of stars
Just one thing everybody wants
There in the bars
And through the smokescreen of the crowded restaurants
– Lyrics from “La La Land”
My last big trip to La La Land involved supplying George Duboeuf Poully-Fuisse to P Diddy’s Fourth of July White Party in Beverly Hills in 2009. White wine for a white party hosted by a hip hop/rap music mogul. It was hotter than Hades, and there was no shade for the wine bars or gift bags. P Diddy may be a music impressario, but his stiletto-shod, mini-dress clad event production team didn’t have a tent or proper refrigeration for the wines which suffered in the heat. I worked like a crazy person to salvage the wine and to nab this “money shot” for Duboeuf. “Diddy” refused to be photographed holding any alcohol other than his Ciroc Vodka. Still, this photo made them happy,
City of (Restaurant) Stars
Even though Los Angeles is filled with talented chefs and restaurateurs, it’s a New Yorker, Bobby Flay, who’s the first chef to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We haven’t visited Los Angeles for awhile (since the crazy Diddy-do), so it was nice to run into Piero Selvaggio at VINO 2017 and invite him on the show. Piero is a polished Gucci loafer in a sea of sand-crusted flip flops. I like to say Los Angeles is Silicone Valley, where fat is OK for the lips but not for the hips. But back to Piero….
Restaurateur Piero Selvaggio is trim, tan and permanently youthful looking. He has that healthy La La Land glow which New York restaurateurs never seem to have. Maybe it’s the sun and surf; maybe it’s not dealing with the headaches of onerous New York landlords. Or maybe it’s his Sicilian heritage and being brought up on a Mediterranean diet. Piero is one of those amazing restaurateurs who’ve endured economic ups and downs, changes in trends and tastes and even an earthquake which destroyed his award winning wine cellar. And he still looks like a star!
Piero opened his Santa Monica restaurant, Valentino, after graduating in college in 1972. I was still in high school; “Italian food” meant Pasquale’s Pizza parlor and Chef Boyardee in Chattanooga. That was 45 years ago!
I can’t imagine how many Valentine’s Day marriage proposals, wedding anniversaries, or movie deals have been celebrated at Valentino over 45 years. Valentino has won just about every award that matters, especially in wine and service. It is a star among restaurants in the City of Stars.
When we scheduled Piero for our February 15th show he said to me in an email, “We are…the old warriors of the Industry…” No, Piero, we are the enduring ones whose lights are constant and never dim, and who always remain fabulous!
A Corner of Italy- Nobile Di Montepulciano’s Avignonesi
That same summer of Diddy took me (with David) to Tuscany and the Veneto for the Trip of a Lifetime: two weeks touring four wine regions, all for work on a project called Italian Wine Masters which we launched in the USA.
During that trip I discovered and fell in love with Nobile di Montepulciano wines. I remember our visit to Avignonesi and its owner, a gracious woman who hosted us, Virginie Saverys. I ran into Virginie last Fall at the StarChefs International Chefs Congress, and we caught up after so many years.
A lawyer by profession who was born in Ghent, Belgium, Virginie invested in Avignonesi in 20017 and acquired the winery in full in 2009 after retiring from practicing law. Virginie is a strong believer in organic products and homeopathic medicine and has worked to convert the winery to sustainable farming methods. Today, Avignonesi comprised of eight vineyards within the Montepulciano region.
Here’s our show with Virginie Saverys and Piero Selvaggio:
Central Italy’s Marche region, with its rolling hills that spill into the Adriatic Sea, is an agricultural breadbasket for food and wine. Here, olives, mushrooms, truffles, fresh fruits and vegetables and, of course, grapes to make wine are a few examples of the region’s bounty.
Cupramontana in the center of the Marche is considered the world capital of the white grape varietal, Verdicchio. The word “Verdicchio” is derived from verde, or green, which refers to the yellowish-green skin of the grape. The grape produces crisp, dry wines with naturally high acidity. Aromas consist of delicate citrus fruits and almonds. The Verdicchio varietal is used to make both still and sparkling wines, and the Marche makes some of Italy’s finest.
Cupramontan it also where Colonnara Winery, founded in 1959 by a group of 19 farmers, produces a range of elegant still and sparkling wines. Export Manager for Colonnara Winery, discusses what makes the Marche unique to growing the Verdicchio grape as well as other varietals and the winery’s role in region on this edition of The Connected Table SIPS!
We had the chance to dine with Emiliano Bernardi on November 29, 2016 at a dinner hosted by Theresa Rodgers at Horseneck Wines, a popular wine shop in Greenwich, CT. Held at elegant L’Escale restaurant, our favorite pairing was the Colonnara 2015 Cuprese Verdicchio with Squid Ink Linguini “De La Mer.” We asked for seconds of both the pasta and the wine!