Forteto della Luja - Paradise in the Piemontese Wine Country, Italy
There are lots of reasons to come to visit Piemonte, in the Northwestern corner of Italy.
The predominant one is of course wine. The calcified earth of the Langhe and the Monferrato gives yield to what are considered the finest drops on the boot . Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto, Roero just top the endless list of varietals produced in the hundreds of wineries spread across the territory.
It's remarkably easy to find good wine here. But to find great wines from very small producers who, in lieu of courting international distributors, choose to spend their time tying back their own vines, removing insects by hand and checking the barrels obsessively, is always more challenging.
Take Forteto della Luja, for example. Our visit there was unforgettable.
The Forteto is several things. It is a home, a vineyard, a large garden. It is also a World Wildlife Federation Oasis. The wines made here are organic. The fields and vineyards and buildings are of indescribable beauty. The location of the Forteto makes all fo this possible: it sits directly on the vortex which divides the Monferrato region from the Langhe region. From this mountain top position outside of the picturesque village of Loazzolo, one can see Alessandria and Nizza Monferrato to the northeast, Canelli straight ahead, and Barbaresco to the northwest. To the south, the Appenini guard the door to the Mediterranean, and if the weather is clear, the view all around is that of the Alps. All of Northen Italy lay at the door of Forteto della Luja.
But no matter how beautiful a spot is, it does not live unless there is a soul. And the soul of Forteto della Luja is the Scaglione Family. With a property which has been in the family since 1826 Giancarlo, Silvia and Gianni Scaglione are passionate about their home and their legacy.
One arrives at the Forteto not quite knowing what to expect. Down the gravel road, one comes to the first buidling, which is a bit hidden and topped with photovoltaic solar panels. Around the curve, you arrive at the main house.
We were greeted by Gianni Scaglione, and we felt so warmly welcomed. He showed us the views and the steep, mountainous vineyards from every perspective, and explained the ecosystem, the importance of the sea winds and the moisture for the grapes, the significance of having vineyards surrounded by woods for organic farmers (birds live in the woods, and birds eat the insects), and explained the microclimate up here in the mountains around Loazzolo.
Because the hills are so steep, it is impossible for a tractor to climb during the vendemmia. So Gianni has another solution for this problem. His name is Amadeus. He is a Haflinger, which is a breed from Austria, and he can climb vertical surfaces and carry the grapes up to the top of the hill.
The photovoltaic panels on the first building, we learned, are to power one of two presses. The first press in an old manual one, over a hundred years old. It is only powered by human muscle. The other, a modern press, is powered by the panels. Between the panels, the organic farming methods, and Amadeus, the Forteto is completely self sufficient for its wine production.
I told you this place was Paradise. Maybe now you are starting to believe me.
In the wine cellar, Gianni explains the production methods:
Moscato Passito is a wine pressed from dried Moscato Grapes. The fermentation process takes up to two years. The result is an exquisite passito for which Loazzolo holds the DOC. By the way Loazzolo is the smallest village in Italy to have a DOC. And it is for this Moscato Passito. This is a very rich, smooth sweet wine, with an alchohol percentage of between 11.5 and 12.
Moscato Passito is the perfect partner to middle-aged goat cheese, preferrably from the Roccaverano region.
Loazzolo is part of the Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG growing region. the DOCG, however, is only for the sparkling version of Brachetto, which has only been produced since after the second World War. Before that time, the area only produced Brachetto Passito, and this is the only Brachetto which the Forteto makes. It is pressed from dried Brachetto grapes in a similar process to the Moscato Passito. The result is a completely different sweet wine than the Moscato Passito, more amber in color and extremely fruity.
Brachetto Passito is the perfect partner to drier dessert cakes, such as chestnut or hazelnut cake.
Barbera d'Asti DOC
Forteto della Luja's version of this clean classic is one of our favorite Barberas that we have found to date. It is a straight forward wine, and can be drunk with every course, from antipasto through to the end of the meal. It was this wine which first got our attention and brought us to the Forteto in the first place. The wine is aged in steel and passes briefly through oak casks before being bottled and sold in the fall of the following season.
Monferrato Rosso DOC
This is the Forteto's blend of Barbera and Pino Noir. Gianni explained to us the reason they make this blend. The two grapes are complimentary. The Barbera, relatively high in acid and low in tanin, recieves the Pinot Noir's low acidity and high tannin content well. The rich color of the Barbera compensates for the Pino Noir's less full color. The wine is aged for two years in oak and for six months in the bottle. The blend is wine which is best enjoyed with a hearty meat-based main course and is, of course, one of my preferred wines (I have to say I do tend to enjoy blends a bit more than Micha who is a bit more of a purist).
And, from the Le Grive pressed grapes, they also produce an extremely smooth and round Grappa.
Written and contributed by Diana Strinati Baur