The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Friday, November 06, 2015

Alberici: agriculture, family life, food and culture, all in a day!

Then the road to Reggio Emilia.

Boretto is like no other wine area that I visit. Where Alto Piemonte peters out on western bank of the Sesia River is maybe similar, but really that is rice country, flat and alluvial and only planted intermittently to grapes. Reggio Emilia is very much a wine region. Lambrusco still has a significant presence in its flat, low-elevation fields.

I finally get to the house and winery of the Alberici family. Arianna meets me straight away, full of reproachment for missing lunch (a story for another blog post) that was an epic feast prepared by her mother and shared by her extended family. I do feel bad. Missing it was a conscious decision, probably the wrong one, but there you go, I’m far-from-perfect. Still, Arianna seems happy to see me. We share espresso and I still get to eat a piece of the pear tart (fruit they grew) made by her mother. It’s mid-afternoon, so we hustle out to the vineyard in the front yard, past happy/active bees, to meet Amilcare Alberici and Mara, a trusted grape picker and locally famous cook. She looks like a painting of an Italian country woman from 1900. We pick rows of Lambrusco Salomino, slow work. The previous weekend hail damaged the vines we are working, making formerly-healthy bunches uneven, busted and dried. Strangely, it pelted only a few rows. Most of the vineyard is in great shape after a particularly warm, dry summer. At 6pm we stop picking grapes and go for an amble around the field. Lambrusco Maestri is also planted in some sections, and the odd unintentional Moscato vine. I see this kind of nursery mistake/unwanted vine in almost every field I tour. In the case of Moscato, there’s really no harm: they are delicious table grapes!

After our circumnavigation of the field, we taste wine in the kitchen. There is a story to every label. Arianna is an artist and has been diligently reworking their bottles. Some of them are cute: disarmingly personal. The amabile label features illustrations of her small girl and her father among vines. Amilcare doesn’t think it looks like him! I’ll admit the representation is close… but a little more Asian in appearance than Amilcare, who is tanned and strong, clearly a working man, also distinctly Italian.

Through the afternoon a mass of Albericis has been slowly re-assembling. The father of Arianna’s 9-month-old child appears, and plays with his daughter in a nearby room. While we were picking, the wife of Arianna’s brother, and the sister of the wife of her brother also appeared. They take many pictures, and talk with me in lovely proper English. Finally Arianna’s brother shows up, to collect his pregnant wife. In spite of the epic lunch, food is creeping across the table. A plate of salami, followed by a plate of Parignano-Reggiano chunks (we are in the region) and then, at last, a spinach-and-Reggiano pastry called Erbazzone. With apologies to my Greek-American friends, it’s like a better version of Spanikopita.

Time for a tour. Arianna’s brother’s-wife’s-sister (name escapes me: sorry!) works for the local tourism board. She sneaks us after-hours into an impressive old residence of the Gonzaga family, onetime rulers of this region. It’s massive and dark inside. A few workers are enjoying a drink in a room at the other end of the structure. We hear their laughter. We whisper. Then she finds the light-switch. Elaborate stone-work, larger-than-life statues, and a massive glass ceiling slowly materialize, and gain focus in the rising warm, soft glow.

The clock tower and main square of this small town are particularly impressive. Both women are proud of their home, and wish tourists left the obvious destinations of Parma and Bologna to see Gualtieri. We wander, telling stories and jokes. They are light-hearted and quick-witted. Arianna peers into shop windows, her relative complains at the low pay she receives teaching English at the local public school (her day job.) It’s a too-familiar story.

We stroll down many charming streets lined by ancient stone buildings, libraries, so many churches. Eventually we walk along the Po River. It is flowing with purpose after significant recent rains. Tree trucks have surrounded a helpless small boat moored near a beer hall on the river’s bank. The pedestrian paths along the river are inviting, wide and well-lit: dotted with accommodations, restaurants and bars. It’s a cool night and the public spaces are kinda empty. Joggers and dog walkers pass us by.

The wines:

2014 La Fogarina (yellow label.) 90% Fogarina, 10% Ancellota. 10.5% abv. 2,000 bottles made.
Dry. Hand-harvested into buckets, then into pallet-sized plastic bins. More tartaric acid than 2013. Also ½ degree higher in alcohol. Clean. Good. “Fogarina preserves the other grapes,” according to Amilcare.

2014 La Fogarina (artist label.) 10% Fogarina 75% Lambrusco Salomino 15% Ancellota. Made as a commemoration 50 years after the death of Antonio Ligabue, a locally-famous artist from Gualtieri who enjoyed carousing and drinking Fogarina in the taverns of this area. The label has a drawing from Ligabue of a gazelle. The wine is a little easier on the palate (less tannic) than the yellow label Fogarina.

2014 Il Casalone Lambrusco dell’Emilia IGP.  75% Salomino, 15% Ancellota, 10% others. New label, featuring “Donna Vigna.” 11% abv. This wine was great with all the foods of the region. I gave it ½ star in my notebook.

2014 Ca’ Rosa Lambrusco dell’ Emilia Rosso IGP. 11.5% abv. Lambrusco di Sorbara. The grape is lighter-skinned, as is this wine. Arianna described it as the brother of Casalone, but for aperitivo (Casalone is for food.) The wine is easier. The label has a glass of wine blossoming from the river Po.

2014 Musetta Amabile Fontana dell’Emilia 7.5% abv. 100% Fontana, which is not a member of the Lambrusco family. Label shows Amilcare with Aurora, Arianna’s daughter, whose nickname is “Musetta.” No reference intended to the character from La Boheme.   The wine is good, balanced, pleasing to me. I gave it ½ star. The grape variety Fontana is disappearing. It is grown (a little) near Parma (for example, at Alberici) and Ferrara. 

2014 Chardonnay (sparkling)
It is grown on the other side of the highway from Alberici. The label has a cup as part of their house, with bubbles coming out (Casalone bianco.) The wine has a little smoke/reduction aroma. Quite dry.


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