Monsecco

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Many years ago, in the late 1970s, I remember drinking bottles of Monsecco Gattinara from the 1960s and early 1970s (most particularly the 1971 and 1974) with extreme glee. Powerful yet graceful wines that shone a bright light on another corner of the world of Nebbiolo, a fitting companion to the Barolos from Brovia, the Barbarescos from De Forville and the Caremas from Ferrando. Then, all of a sudden the wines of Monsecco disappeared from view. The Monsecco estate was history! So, I was pleased when I spoke with Giorgio Zanetta, whose family has a long history of producing wine in the Alto Piemonte, to hear that it was the family’s objective to revive the royal name of Monsecco.

For many decades, Lorenzo Zanetta, grandfather to Giorgio, had worked as a negociant in the wine trade, specializing in producing wines from the neighboring zones of “Coste delle Sesia” and “Colline Novaresi” in the area known as the Alto Piemonte. His sons, Sergio (father to Giorgio) and Valter, decided, in 1993, to revive the name and image of Monsecco, dedicating themselves to the task of producing the finest versions of the local wines using only local grape varieties. To that end and over time, they purchased five hectares of vineyards and currently rent an additional three hectares where only Nebbiolo, Vespolina, Uva Rara and Croatina are planted. From these assorted sites, they craft in the most traditional manner a series of wines culminating in their formidable standard-bearer: the grand Gattinara.

There is almost a religious reverence in the Alto Piemonte for Monte Rosa, the mountain that hovers over the region, the grand eminence that protects and nurtures the region. It is visible from all points whether one is in Gattinara or Sizzano or Ghemme, an eternally white-topped mountain whose melting snows form the Sesia river that splits Gattinara from Ghemme. The soils of these hills are marked by the mineral salts and the glacial moraine from millennia of geological movement. Further, sitting in the foothills of this part of the Alps and neighboring the great lakes of Orta and Maggiore, the vines are exposed to large variations in temperature, warm days married to cool nights: an ideal ambience for the noble Nebbiolo and the other local varieties, all of which benefit from the long growing season to reach proper ripeness while maintaining a lively acidity.

Monsecco-Massotondo Massotondo Colline Novaresi Uva Rara: This wine showcases the Uva Rara grape, known in other regions of Italy as Bonarda, and typically found as a small percentage of Alto Piemontese blended wines. The grapes are hand harvested in September, undergo a short maceration of six days, and ferment in temperature controlled stainless steel. As with the estate’s 100% Vespolina, a short maceration and aging regimen in stainless steel make for a wine that is fresh and zesty. With its bright, forward red fruit and hints of rose petal, the wine’s fine tannins are in harmony with its lighter frame, and overall elegance.
Monsecco-Borgoalto Borgoalto Colline Novaresi Croatina: Croatina completes the Monsecco single variety collection. A grape that brings darker, purple fruit to the blends it graces, this is the most lush, soft and forward-fruited of the three. Hand harvested in September, with a short maceration of six days, a six month long fermentation in tank, and spring bottling, this wine is ready to drink now, and should ideally be served with a light chill.
Monsecco-Barbatasso-Vespolina

Barbatasso Colline Novaresi Vespolina: The juice undergoes a 4-5 day cuvaison followed by six months of aging, and is bottled in spring.

Monsecco-Pratogrande-Nebbiolo Pratogrande Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo: Here, the grand Nebbiolo takes center stage, a wine made exclusively from this noble grape and harvested from vineyards outside of the Gattinara and Ghemme delimited zones but still in hillside sites on the slopes above and around the towns on the eastern shore of the Sesia river. Manual harvest occurs normally during the second half of October. The Zanetta family gives this wine a shorter maceration than it applies to the Gattinara but then the wine is aged in large (15 hectoliter) “botte” for two years before bottling and then left to age an additional year before being released to the market. It is a fine and elegant wine with subtle tannins, bright cherry flavors and a persistent finish that again emphasizes the complex mineral composition of the underlying soils.
Monsecco-Sizzano Sizzano: From 40 year old vines grown in mineral rich soils, this wine is a blend of 60% Nebbiolo and 40% Vespolina and Uva Rara. A six month long fermentation in open topped, temperature controlled tanks follows at ten day maceration to extract the glorious black cherry, rose, and violet aromas of these varieties. The wine spends 18 months in a combination of old botte and second year French barriques. As with all Nebbiolo-based wines from great terroir, the combination of good acidity and firm, sweet tannins, make this ideal candidate for cellaring for up to 20 years.
Monsecco-Ghemme Ghemme: An extraordinarily age-worthy wine that will mature nicely over 20 years or more in the cellar, in its youth this medium to full bodied wine shows a lovely mélange of red and dark berry fruits, with hints of tobacco and spice and a very long finish. 85% Nebbiolo with 15% Vespolina and Uva Rara of an average age of 30 years, the wine macerates for 12 days before fermentation in stainless steel. The wine is then transferred to a combination of old Slovenian botte, and second year French barrique for an additional 3 years, and to put the finishing touches on its élèvage: a year in bottle before release. A wine such as this is a testament to the glory and longevity of mountain Nebbiolo. Decant for best results!
Monsecco-Gattinara Gattinara: After a manual harvest, the grapes undergo an extensive cuvaison and then are racked into a combination of large “botte” and second year French barrique for at least three years of aging prior to being bottled.

Updates from Alto Piemonte

We will continue posting Neal’s dispatches from his producer visits.  Over the next few days he will be in Italy and Switzerland.  Here is the first update from Italy. “A quick “wrap” of yesterday’s activity in the Alto Piemonte, 10/21/13 … Monsecco: Greeted by Giorgio and Fabio, as usual. This duo presents a charming and […]

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What We Have Been Drinking …

A brief note about some of the wines we have consumed over the past few days … Coteaux Champenois Blanc (Coulon) 2008: the “deposit” or “veil” that was present when we first released this wine seems to have disappeared; the wine is scintillatingly replete with the terroir of Champagne – stony to its core with […]

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EXPANDING OUR ITALIAN PORTFOLIO: ALTO PIEMONTE AND CALABRIA:A QUARTET OF GROWERS

For years we have longed to expand our footprint in Italy,  most specifically in Piedmont but also with an eye to southern Italy which heretofore was completely absent from our coverage.  With much good fortune, beginning with a casual encounter last December in Rome and continuing through an intense four day exploration we conducted in […]

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