At 8 AM on Thursday, we boarded the Sprinter and headed towards Monferrato to visit the Gamba Cooperage. Gamba is a 7th and 8th generation family owned and operated business that has been producing wine barrels for over two centuries. Their techniques combine cutting-edge technology with old-world craftsmanship. Almost all of the wood used in the barrels is French oak. It always hand-split and air-dried. It is widely agreed that the gentle effects of the seasons – sun, rain, snow, heat and cold are the best way to season the wood that will be used in wine barrel production. This slow, natural process helps to polymerize tannins and eliminate green phenolic components. Staves are hand-split so that the natural grain of the wood is not interrupted over the length of the stave. This results in a yield of only one cubic meter of stave per five cubic meters of wood. This is why barrels made from hand-split staves are so expensive. After trimming, a process by which the staves are planed wider in the middle and narrower at each end, the staves are heated over an open flame to soften them for bending. As the staves bend, the trimming draws them together and metal rings are applied by a hydraulic machine to hold the staves in place. Afterwards, the barrels are toasted. We could feel the heat coming out of the barrels as they rested after toasting. Preparation for the barrel heads is done by a computer- controlled milling machine. No nails are used to hold the heads in place. Once the heads are installed the barrel is planed on the outside and the final rings are installed. This is a somewhat watered-down version of all that happens. But the idea is, that making a fine wine barrel is a lengthy process that requires care and craftsmanship at every step.
Banfi uses Gamba barrels almost exclusively. In fact, Gamba produces the wooden portion of the hybrid stainless/wood fermentation tanks that are used in the production of Banfi’s Brunellos. (I will revisit this when we get Montalcino) Their list of clients around the world is impressive.
We also toured an on-site museum that detailed the history of the cooperage dating back to when all steps of the process were done by hand. The fabrication of barrels is and intensive process even with the technology that is employed today. So, it is truly amazing to see the craftsmanship that was required to accomplish this feat in the past. I noticed that all the lighting in the museum was LED. When I inquired about the choice of LED lighting, I learned that Gamba produces nearly 100% of the power it needs to run its facility from solar and waste from the barrel-making process. Very cool indeed.
Photo from Banfi Vigne Regali Websit
We left Gamba and headed to the Vigne Regali Winery in Strevi. Vigne Regali is the Piemonte branch of Banfi. Rosa Regali Brachetto, Principesa Gavi, and L’Ardi Dolcetto are some of the more familiar wines that are produced here. (Click here for the Legend of Principesa Gavi). This is a production facility with bottling lines, packing machines, and warehouses stacked high with cases of wine ready for transport. However, it is also home to Banfi metodo classico sparkling wines, the Banfi Brut from the Trento DOC and the Aurora Rose from the recently elevated Alta Langha DOCG. We toured the cellars where bottles of both are aged for a minimum of 24 months on the lees and hand riddled. Considering the fact that each of these sparkling wines are treated in much the same way as NV Champagne, they provide an amazing value.
The real surprise at Vigne Regali was “La Lus”, a red made from Albarosso, a cross of Nebbiolo and Barbera. The goal of the cross was to combine the structure of Nebbiolo with the fruit of Barbera. Upon tasting from both the barrel and bottle, this wine is a winner! “La Lus” is deeply colored with a fruit-forward style anchored on a frame of velvety tannins. Aromas of dark fruits, tobacco leaf, and chocolate follow through on the palette. There is a hint of French oak on the finish. The wine is approachable and delicious. Production is currently small at just over 1000 cases. I hope some will find its way to the US, and especially – Texas!! I will update the availablility of this wine when I get more information.
Prior to leaving Vigne Regali, we were treated to our last Piedmontese meal. It was not surprising to find carne cruda and “tuna-ed” veal roast on the table again. The selection of cheeses again was wonderful. If you are ever in Piemonte, order the cheese. You won’t be disappointed. We also had a selction of season vegetables prepared in a variety of ways. The meal was paired initially with the Aurora Rose and Principesa Gavi. (We revisited the Aurora Rose often at the Collupino Farmhouse). We segued into the “La Lus” and then a glass of Moscato d’Asti to finish.
Photo by Barry Himel
All in all, it was a great sendoff from Piemonte. We headed to the Sprinter for a nap on the way to Veneto.
Our accommodations in Verona were at the Corte Forte winery, which was backed by hills covered in vineyards. We took a couple of minutes to freshen up in our rooms and gathered in the garden for an al fresco aperitif with Bolla Prosecco while we waited for the Bolla team to arrive.
The dinner at Corte Forte was hosted by Bolla winemaker Christian Srcinzi and provided some of the first “ah ha” food moments of the trip. We were already excited that we would be sampling some Amarone. We had no way of knowing the great food that was on its way as well. Our service was provided by a mother-daughter team, with the mother apparently doing much of the cooking and the daughter heading up service. The highlights of the meal were a seasonal zucchini blossom stuffed with a ricotta cheese mixture and finished with a fresh tomato sauce, wow! The Bolla “Tufaie” Soave Classico Superiore from the previous course and the Bolla “Le Poiane” Ripasso that accompanied the zucchini course were excellent. Then, we then had another instant hit on my end of the table – a ravioli of sorts filled with ricotta and topped with black truffles. This dish was the BOMB!! The chef offered (Well…maybe we mentioned that we might want more.) The chef obliged and three of us shared two additional servings.
Photo by Barry Himel
Photo by Barry Himel
A duck course followed as we moved into the Amarones. The duck was stacked four inches high. After the pasta, we realized we should pace ourselves as we had learned our lesson at the Rosso home the previous night. After we devoured so much of the pasta course Mama Chef saw our plates and in broken English asked “You don’t like-uh the Duck-uh?” We did our best to explain and compliment the chef in an I don’t speak Italian/I don’t speak English exchange. I hope she understood.
We finished the evening with a retrospective of Bolla’s top Amarone. We had a ’96, 2000, 2007, and 2008. There was much debate at the table, first about whether you pour vintages left to right or right to left. I can’t remember what was decided, but it caused quite a ruckus with the servers. The second debate was regarding our favorite vintage. It seemed we were equally divided between the ’96 and 2000.
Quote of the night: “If everyone likes you, you are irrelevant” – Christian Scrinzi
I’m not sure how it got started, but someone at the other side of the table got the idea that everyone in our group resembled a movie star. Another debate ensued. Barry became Toby Maguire, a Bolla associate from Spain that sat next to us, Penelope Cruz, Lars was Charlie Sheen, Ben Roberts – Matt Damon, I was Chris Noth – Mr. Big from Sex in the City, Dominique was Katie Holmes, but became Dominatrix when she told us about the stiletto heels she wears at work, Melanie was Amy Schumer, Kim Beto was Clive Owen, Greg Tresner was Phillip Seymor Hoffman. This set the tone for the rest of the trip. We had officially bonded.
Meet the “Movie Stars”:
Early the next morning, we were awakened by a booming thunder and hail storm. I looked outside my window to see a rushing torrent coming down the street outside our building. It provided good conversation over breakfast and coffee prior to our leaving to Reggio Emilia to tour a dairy where local cheese is produced.