Piedmontese winemaker Massimo Marengo seems to have chosen his ancestors with exceptional care. Over more than a century, his forebears clawed a winery and adjacent labyrinthine cellars out of the calcareous marl soil of Castagnole Monferrato, not far from Asti. Hard by the winery are Marengo’s five hectares (twelve acres) of vineyards which, at the time of my visit, were shrouded in an adhesive fog. Marengo grows and vinifies three grapes native to Piedmont: the well-known
Barbera (which has of late been colonizing American wine store shelves), the enigmatic
Grignolino, and the delightful
Ruchè, whose small and yet growing production centers around Castagnole Monferrato and six adjacent communes. I absorbed Marengo’s passion from his rapid-fire Italian as young Allesandra Marengo strained to convert that fervor into English. The winery produces 600,000 bottles a year, with Ruchè accounting for about 35,000 bottles.
Primary and above all, Marengo stresses, the cycle of production, from winter pruning to final bottling, is natural. Stepping carefully through the underground system of passages and nooks, I felt this natural aspect as dust and mold invaded my nasal passages and settled into my hair. I was not surprised to learn that, for his fermentation, Marengo takes advantage of the wild yeasts that prosper here below ground. The other local producers I interviewed use commercial cultivated yeast. Harvest on the steep-sloped vineyards is strictly manual: first the Grignolino, then, by September 20th, the Ruchè, and finally the more prolific Barbera.
The Massimo Marengo Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato I tasted is a deep ruby with violet tinges and a range of fruity and floral scents, violets and black plums. This is a full-bodied, tannic wine, very dry, not too astringent, with a pleasant, slightly bitter finish. Marengo also produces two Ruchès aged each several years in stainless steel and in bottle: the Ruchè Etichetta Nera (black label) and the Ruchè Etichetta Bianca (white label). These wines are the product of hand-selected grapes from the best vintages. Since the focus of my tour was on Ruchè, I did not taste the Grignolino d’Asti, nor did I sample the trio of Barbera d’Asti wines: the red label, the white label, and the Barbera d’Asti Irti Colli (steep hills).
After the winery visit, Massimo whisked me off to the
La Miraja restaurant where, with half a dozen spirited Ruchè producers, we enjoyed what seemed like an endless array of small plate courses. A Ruchè grappa capped off the evening.
Massimo Marengo website
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James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
Massimo and Allesandra Marengo
Bottles age well deep in the Marengo cellar
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