Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Great drives in Italy and great wines from Burgundy

31 Ottobre
Last week, prior to bottling our 2 newest children, Syrah and Montepulciano, I took off to parts north to see some beautiful Fall colors and taste one of my favorite wine types in the world-Pinot Noir from Burgundy.
My friend from KC, Bill and I drove first to Lake Como to stay with the lovely Alessandra at her vacation rentals: above
Varenna on the eastern shore of the lake.  We stayed a couple of days and explored the wines of Arpepe, near Sondrio who have a really tough job growing Nebbiolo on steeply terraced slopes where no tractor can arrive.  Everything is done by hand, at least I have my tractor to spray, mow and till.
Bill and Ale at Arpepe

Ale and the 5th generation co-owner Isabella

Not for those with vertigo, this style of grape growing

The lightly colored Nebbiolo must, just a few days after harvest
Ok, get out your Italy map and follow along:  this shows the ferry crossing from Varenna to Menaggio

Next head to Locarno where you will take the incredibly narrow, scenic highway to Domodossola.  This feat of engineering was placed well up the hillside to give you and your passengers a precipitous drop if you happen to stray from the mostly asphalted road surface. Bill thought it was perhaps the steepest drop from a road he had ever seen.  Half way along you run into Camedo where unfortunate folks such as ourselves will be forced to the bar by the train station for a coffee whilst we waited for the narrow road through town to be asphalted.  One hour delay, but below is the view back east-not bad!  Also, if you forgot to fill up your tank before leaving in the morning, Camedo is your first chance along this road to do so.

Seemingly out of place, this church in Re rises well above the town where it has been welcoming pilgrims ever since a miracle occurred some centuries ago.  The old chapel has been expanded to include this newer massive structure.

Domodossola finally comes and goes and you start one of the most scenic, curvy roads in the world which takes you above Domodossola to the Simplon pass and into Switzerland.  In wintertime, you can put your car on a train which takes you through a tunnel to the other side. 

The full color change in the trees was a highlight.  The part through Switzerland until the lake is pretty with all the terraced vinyards evident on the hillsides to the north, but we were in a hurry for an important wine tasting in Burgundy, so didn't dawdle.
After our delays, we arrived at Marchand Tawse winery in the midst of Nuits St. George.  Its masterful winemaker Pascal makes small quanitities of beautiful organic Pinot Noir wines from plain Borgogne up to Grand Crus.  We were treated as VIP's thanks to Ale's ties with Pascal and Thomas took us into the cellar for probably the most memorable barrel tasting I have ever experienced.  I couldn't find any weaknesses in the entire gamut of their wines although the Grand Crus were obviously the top of the tasting.  I felt guilty tasting a wine with only 1 barrel of production for the year, but understand it well enough as that was our availability for our Petit Verdot, Cab. Franc and Cab. Sauvignon from 2010.

Modeling in the cellar

Bill and Thomas and Ale's hand
I am happy!

Cantina Maume is the next stop, a bit more rustic, but interesting nonetheless with the son of the original owner now partnering with Pascal to make even better wines, I am sure.

An old version of Francesca, the pump we use in our winery

Bill knows this winery well and says the wines are known as "beasts", taking many years to reach their ideal "drinkability"
This is not the best example, but pretty nonetheless, leafroll virus is ubiquitous throughout the burgundy vines and the winemakers just shrug it off, saying some years it presents itself more forcefully and others not.  In California, this vineyard would be dead in a matter of years.  Either our version is less lethal or the climate moderates its effects.  I had 50 plants of C.F. affected last year and it is hardly noticeable this year and instead there are several Syrah vines seemingly affected.

Final stop at the passionate winemaker Pierre at Domaine de Villaine, a mythical wine and since Bill was on his search for this holy grail, we gave it a shot.  The old equipment above is no longer used but is, as we say in Italy, simpatico

No red wine left Bill, just Aligote and Chardonnay.  This is a real biodynamic wine.  The winemaker has a deal with the wild boars to leave his vines alone and if they do happen to enter and eat some grapes, he knows it is time to pick.  Lots of other stories from him, but kudos to someone who practices what he preaches...and sells all his wine!

Another winery with a Willi's poster!

The search culminated with a "find" of the last available 2010 red hidden away in a dusty nook and Bill sniffed it out.  He found another in Beaune in a wine store, but 6 other wine stores had none.  Way to go Bill!
If you head to Burgundy, be sure to eat lunch at Restaurant Simon, see my tripadvisor review and explore up and down the valley, all the areas have their own charms and the wines change dramatically as well. 

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