Take a map of Italy’s twenty regions, fill in the regions where wine is produced, and you get a map with no blank spaces at all. In the northwestern corner of the country, the fine wines of Piemonte lead the pack. The region’s sole rival in this regard is Tuscany…maybe. Piemonte is a large region, Italy’s second largest after Sicily, with an intricate and varied configuration of wine types and appellations. The Nebbiolo-based wines Barolo and Barbaresco have a formidable reputation, and you can certainly let the sparkling Asti Spumante tickle your nose, but the rolling hills of Monferrato northeast of Asti are proud of their own local treasures: wines like
Grignolino. The Tenuta Montemagno lies in the heart of this country.
The estate is large, with central buildings that appear even on Napoleonic-era maps. At the center of the estate is the elegant hotel where I had a comfortable room during my tour of the area (occupying the Chardonnay room). Adjacent to the hotel is a capacious tasting room, a state of the art winery, and aging cellars. Radiating out from this center are rolling hills, straddling four villages and two Piemontese provinces, encompassing fifteen hectares (thirty-seven acres) of vineyards of which three hectares are devoted to Ruchè. The area was once an ancient seabed. Generations of shellfish lived and died here. You can read this geological history in the red and white soil, in the clay streaked with calcium-rich chalk—iffy soil for most agricultural crops, but superb soil for winegrapes.
In these vineyards, harvest is 100% manual, using small grape collection boxes to minimize damage. Yield is kept low—a maximum of seven tons per hectoliter—facilitated by careful green pruning over the course of the growing season. The best grapes are visually selected and triple checked. For the Ruchè, the focus of my tour, fermentation requires a patient five weeks, with no mechanical movement of the fermenting juice. The grape seeds drop to the bottom of the fermenter while the skins ride on the surface. This is accomplished in a sealed tank, allowing carbon dioxide to build due to yeast action, creating natural pressure in the tank—these non-mechanical processes act as a natural remuage, a gentle agitation designed to bring out the phenolic qualities of the wine. The Ruchè is not aged. The Tenuta Montemagno 2014 Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG is a pale ruby with orange highlights, rose, violet, red berries, balsamic, and eucalyptus on the nose with flavors of red fruit, cinnamon and pepper, sweet tannins, not too alcoholic.
In addition to the Ruchè, the Tenuta Montemagno produces several reds and whites under the Monferrato DOC appellation, a Grignolino d’Asti DOC wine (Grignolino seems a brother grape to Ruchè), a Barbera d’Asti DOCG, a Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG, a sweet Malvasia di Casorzo DOC, a Passito di Malvasia di Casorzo (made from dried grapes), a sparkling Malvasia di Casorzo DOC, and a Metodo Classico sparkling wine produced from both white and red grapes. I enjoyed the Metodo Classico at dinner my final evening in Monferrato. The initial attack is sweet, and then the bubbles shunt aside the sweetness so the senses can enjoy the acidity and a palate-cleansing minerality. I need to thank those ancient shellfish for that.
Tenuta Montemagno website
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James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
Tenuta Montemagno Azienda Agricola
Bottling line at the Tenuta Montemagno Azienda Agricola
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