Monday, January 28, 2013

An Unknown Wine from Piedmonte

The other evening I was at a friends house as our daughters played together. I accepted a last minute dinner invitation. My friend is from Piedmonte, from a small village called Briona in Valtelinna the Valesia region of the Colline Novaresi. This is the friend who helped me get started making my own pizza (something I continue to attempt, never terribly well).

She made pasta for dinner, a type I'd never seen before, calamari-shaped. When I asked what it was called I believe she actually said "calamari." She tossed them in Sicilian pistachio pesto and topped them with a generous helping of aged Parigiano. This was a very delicious dish, by the way.

While she was cooking she opened a bottle of red wine. The label said Fara - I had never heard of this. My friend told me the story of the wine. Her mother's cousin inherited some money from a distant relative, enough to leave her job as an accountant and to pursue a new life as a wine maker. She bought some vineyard land in her village. This is her fourth or fifth vintage, and my friend said that the previous wines were not so great, but this one, the 2009 Cantina Castaldi Fara, is good.

What a nice story! Many of us have imagined a world in which we leave our daily grind and become wine makers. Of course that's a different kind of daily grind, but why ruin the romance of the idea...

Anyway, we poured the wine and it was quite good - brightly fruited, snappy and refreshing with acidity, not terribly complex but aromatic and very lovely, and showing the structure that I suppose comes with the territory in Piedmonte.

"What grape is she using here," I asked.

"Hmmm, I don't know," my friend said. "She grows Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Uva Rara, maybe also Vespolina, but I don't know what is in here. Maybe it's Nebbiolo."

We chatted about our kids, about their schools, about upcoming travel, about new apartments, and NYC in the winter time. I had my nose in the glass and was trying to figure out what the wine was, but I'm painfully ignorant when it comes to Italian wine. "I think it cannot be Nebbiolo - it's too approachable," I said. "Barbera, maybe with some Nebbiolo in there too?"

My friend just smiled, and told me something about Sicilian pistachios, or maybe it was about how hard it is to get a good contractor for renovating an apartment.
The point is, I realized, it didn't matter. Sure, I was curious, and I'd still like to know. But my friend loves wine because she grew up with it (and Barolo was only for the most special of occasions, she says), and because she likes the taste with her meals. Is it Nebbiolo in this bottle, Barbera, couldn't have mattered any less to her. What's important to her is the story of her grandfather's brother's daughter - her mother's cousin, and how she had this interesting life change. And my friend takes obvious pleasure in drinking this distant relative's wine. And she chose to share it with me, because she knows I love wine.

There are many ways to enjoy this very fine and fascinating thing that we all love. It's good to experience these different types of enjoyment, especially the ones we don't typically engage in. I cannot tell you the last time that I enjoyed a bottle of wine so much, having so little idea of what was inside.


Morgan Harris said...

According to, the cepage data for Fara is as follows:

30-50% Nebbiolo, 10-30% Vespolina, Max. 40% Uva Rara.

Also, which may explain the vintage, the wine has to be aged a minimum of 3 years with two in wood (new/old not specified).

It's technically a sub-DOC of the The Colline Novaresi, which also encompasses Ghemme, Sizzano and Boca.

But ultimately, you're right. Wine is really for pleasure and thought-production, so what exactly it's made of is subordinate to the joy it gives and curiosity it generates.

Thanks for the post!

Marc said...

Love that final paragraph -- well said!

Also wanted to say it's been great to see all the recent postings of late. You're going through a bit of a blogging renaissance Brook.

arnold waldstein said...

I really love this post.

As wine geeky as I am, I always remember the bottle as it commemorates the occasion and people the most.

But then again, there are times that the bottle itself, with all its details, is the occasion!

Thanks for posting this.

(BTW, we've never met but have a bunch of friends in common.)

Adrian Reynolds said...

You say your friend is from Piemonte but then you say a village in the Valtellina, which is part of the region of Lombardia.

Brooklynguy said...

Thanks for these comments. Adrian is correct - thank you for pointing that out. I meant to write Valesia, not Valtellina. I will make the correction.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Fara, Boca, Lessona, Ghemme – these wines come from the colline Novaresi – which, once upon a time was the dominant wine region of Piedmont. Great values, interesting wines, unassuming and there is a renaissance going on up in them thar hills.

Glad they found you

vecchioragazzo said...

is there anywhere in the NYC area where you can purchase this wine???

Brooklynguy said...

Nope - there is no US importer, as far as I know.

The clueless drinker of the post said...

July update: I hear Francesca Castaldi's wines are in the process of being imported to NY (and I write this while sipping with great pleasure her award winning vespolina)

Francesca Castaldi said...

Ciao, I'm Francesca, the wine maker :) I can tell you (almost) all the secretes about my Fara!
First of all the blend: 70% Nebbiolo, 30% Vespolina. It ages 24 months in old oak barrels.
The Nebbiolo grape from northern Piedmont is definitely different from the one grown in the south of the region. Our soil is more clay and we recieve cold air from the Monte Rosa, this give to our wines made from this beautiful grape their typical taste.
Fara, Sizzano, Ghemme and Boca are historic DOC wines from 1969. Colline Novaresi is another big denomination which includes different wines, all made from single variety of grapes (Erbaluce, Nebbiolo, Vespolina, Uva Rara, Barbera).
Since last year our wines are imported to California, Massachussets and Oregon and I hope that you will be able to find them soon in NYC too.
It's all true about my romantic change of life. But, I come from a Family that had always been involved in the wine business so I already knew before starting my new life that there were going to be also the pain and the stress linked to this job.
I'm always happy when I realize that I'm doing something that can put people togheter and make them feel good.
I hope that Your friend, who is my cousin as well, can find everytime that drinks my wine the warmth of her family and of her land.

Friend said...

Update: some of Francesca's wines - Fara and Vespolina (Nina) to start, then the nebbiolo (Bigin) - are now available at Garnet.