The expressionism of the Colline Biellesi

In the history of the art happens to meet the Manet’s operas and understand the benefits from the reality show: be part of it and not give a merely glance of a beautiful moment like a hint of a marvelous fragrance in a garden. An entirely world of colors, hills, lakes and woods is enveloped in a system of links, like as a clever refuse of order that can be materialized with a brush stroke. The same emotional “world” may be appear with a glass of wine. During an exclusive wine tasting session organized by the Colline Biellesi Association that took place at Villa Era from Novemeber 17th through the 19th, journalists and buyers from all over the world, had the chance to experience how time passes by. They discovered the Bramaterra, Coste Sesia and Lessona denominations potentials and its prosperous future.  

These little rising wines denominations are produced today in 1500 hectares of soils rich of history. The Nebbiolo grapes in this land, based on morainic and volcanic soils is very much lively and can give emotions after a long aging process that has been occurring for more than one hundred years. Furthermore it was a prestigious chance to deep dive into the Andrea Franchetti’s experience (the “father” of Etna and one of the most important flagship of Nerello mascalese) who explained the reasons why Lessona and Etna share several similarities even if the pH of the soils is totally different: between 3.6 and4,8 (for Colline biellesi area) versus 6,5 for Etna. The magic bridge that creates a link among them is the presence of a Volcano as well as a powerful light able to penetrated and spread along the vine leaves and produce lovely ripe fruits. All the ingredients of those denominations are well integrated and enhance the all area wishes: be known and appreciated on the international market for its univocal features.
Today the Colline Biellesi Association counts fourteen wine producers placed in just a few kilometers radius, very close to the Gattinara, Ghemme and Boca’s hills.
During the Romans period, the Nebbiolo grapes here was known as Spanna di Vigliano probably due to the Pliny’s definitions given in 196 BC as “spanis”. This historical attitude to produce wines in Biella’s shire is presented today by Kerin O’Keefe, Italian editor of Wine Enthusiast, at the beginning of one the most emotional masterclass I ever attended in my life. In those astonishing glasses we felt the results of a Vespolina, Croatina, Uva rara and Nebbiolo blends authors of Biella’s wines produced even before the iconicals Barolo and Barbaresco.
This wine tasting session has marked inevitably the story of the denomination, due to this awesome opportunity (for just 20 lucky’s wine tasters) to feel the vibrations and the raw skeleton of the wines produced by Tenuta Sella, Villa Era and both Castles of Montecavallo and Castellengo dated 1842, 1896, 1897, 1931, 1934, 1960, 1965 and 1970! A subtle but solid “fil rouge” links all them. The oldest wines are more sweets as a consequence (probably) of a style choice in that period which has confirmed eventually the ability to keep the wines alive for many and many years.

The wines have a golden color, scents of caramel and peach in syrup that remind a Cognac or a Madera (at the nose) with an energy and elegant souplesse at the mouth together with the aromas of dried fruits completely  in harmony with tannins and acidity. All are still alive. The most representative specimens of the Nebbiolo’s potential aging comes out with marvelous surprise tasting the 1934 and 1960: the hints of red berries are melted with those of blood orange all emphasized in a mouth vivid, lively with no sign of age, nice freshness and last but not the least a great drinkability. The allure in the room is impressive and it is still very vivid in my mind.

It’s the rebirth of this forgiven area that has been influenced by the textile industry after the economic boom followed the Second World War which has caused the abandonment of the vineyards that today surrounds the forests. The ancient roots have been kept alive mainly by Tenute Sella and Don Paolo Antoniotti along with the help of Villa Era, Castello di Montecavallo, Massimo Clerico and other younger wine producers. They all contributed at the Lessona and Bramaterra reborn. In term of surface we have a small scale with so many differences, like a little Côte-d'Or kissed by a fresh air coming from the mountains, alternated by the warm from the plains. The Lessona’s soil is peculiar for its sand, rich of marine deposits and layers of chalky stone which bring acidity, intensity and, more important, longevity. If happen to have a look at the ancient map, Lessona’s surfaces used to be more than 300 hectares: very little, compared to Bramaterra that counts around 2000 hectares distributed in many comunes: Masserano, Brusnengo, Curino, Roasio, Villa del Bosco, Sostegno e Lozzolo. Walking through the vineyards you understand the rarity of this part of North Piedmont area; you jump into a rare minerals that furnish the red-brown soil, sometimes sandy otherwise rocky. The wines produced here are also the results of the “tuffaceous porphyry” rich of boron and silicon originated by the super volcano present here before the origin of the Alps.

In this type of soil, the weather change throughout the day, such as rain storm or drought won’t create, in my opinion, any critical issues thanks to the presence of rocks, the monsoon wind and soils’s pH, such a lovely and brand-new recipe is able to give emotions at the first sight that could be the best, after almost ten years and become a nice protagonist in the future international wines auctions.

In addition, this little portion of Piedmont has also a well and delicious gastronomic offer at Il Patio restaurant where Sergio Vines Chef mixes  his dynamic and creative culinary flair  with a special consideration of  the origin and tradition of this land. You can easily connect with the land and the season while tasting his quailed with plums and chestnut puree or a false black truffles with Grana cheese, miso and watercress sprouts.
Now it’s time to sum up and discuss about wines and those I loved the most during enological journey.

The actual owner lives in Villa Ca’ Bianca leading around 4,5 hectars of both old and new vineyards of Erbaluce, Barbera, Cabernet and Nebbiolo. The vines are exposed in south and 300 a.s.l in morenic soils.  After one year of ageing in steel barrels the wine has a lovely red ruby color with some violet reflections. The elegant nose reveals an intense and floral bouquet marked by roses, and fresh cherry. At the tongue is very expressive thanks the elegant and remarkable texture well balanced among tannins and pulp.

Castello di Montecavallo - Nebbiolo 2011
Builtded by Filiberto Avogadro around 1830 in neogotic style, the Castle is an example of vanguard for the period like its wines today. After three year spent in barrique the riped red fruits are totally melt in the body. The center of the mouth has a vivid astringency and a solid and dense structure. Very long and fresh, it will be interesting taste it in the future. 

Centovigne - Coste della Sesia DOC 2012
It all starts in 1682, according to as written in an ancients documents, when the Castle was owner of many presses, barrels and vats as well as diplomas concerning the awards obtained between 1933 and 1938 by the Spanna, the native wine of the area. Today Daniele lead the company with passion making wines faithful at his taste and territory, in a word, a project. In this case the lovely blend of 80% Nebbiolo, 20% between Croatina, Vespolina and rare grapes, born in the complex soil composed of sea sands, gravels, marls and kaolinic clays. The wine returns with scents of blue berries and vegetal hints moving on at the palate with a nice style: fleshy and accessible with a polished taste valued by the aroma of ripe berries and tabacco in the aftertaste.

Villa Era - Coste della Sesia DOC - 2015
Surrounded by the steep hills rich of sandy clay, gravel and marl with marine fossils the Villa is one of the oldest wine producers of the area; its quality has been even reported by the journalist Veronelli in 1973. Today after a important restoring work the production is based basically on Nebbiolo without missing the native grapes such as Croatina, Vespolina and Barbera. They used to called here the wine Rondo but since 2011 its proper name is back at Villa Era. The 85% of Nebbiolo and the 5% of Creatina make this glass brilliant, colored by a red ruby with shades of purples. At the nose the scents of blueberry and peony matched with a powerful and intense sip, full bodied forming an elegant carpet of tannins covered by a fresh acid veil able to keep long the taste.

Pietro Cassina - ‘Ca dai Tass - Coste della Sesia Rosso DOC 2011
It’s a family-run winery owner of six hectares handed by Pietro with tradition. The heat and the dynamism you feel when you approach at the Lessona DOC 2011 Tanzo and ‘Ca dai Tass are the results of Pietro’s passion and vision. His character is melted in the amazing soils colored by orange and brown horizons composed of sand and clay with a pH pretty acid (4,5-5,4). The wine is floral and spiced with a recalls of earthy notes, violet and white pepper. At the palate the tannins struggling with the power of the ripe fruits marking the tongue with vibrant acidity and a lovely and fragrant pulp's extension.

La Badina - Lessona DOC Riserva 2010
It’s one of the youngest winery, founded in 1999 by the Di Betta Family with the acquisition of an 17th century ancient farmhouse. The grapes born in an amazing and almost organic amphitheater (just 1,2 hectares) protected by the wind in Lessona. The complexity of this wine is comprehensible in three “moment” at the tongue: at the entrance, the round and velvety pulp turn in a tannic and astringent “style” like chewy and, last, it ends with a powerful, fresh and mentholated wake. A very emotional and young Lessona. 

It’s the winery that probably have contributed the most at the salvation and rebirth of the area. Since the end of the 1600s the Sella Family has never stopped the production of wine; Giuseppe Venanzio, the daily owner, helped by Marco Rizzetti have worked hard to get both the Lessona DOC status (1976) and Bramaterra DOC status (1979) increasing the quality time after time, hand in hand with its other activity: textile manufacturing. 
This astonishing blend is composed of 70% Nebbiolo 70%, 20% Croatina and 10% Vespolina; the plants have been planted in 1933 in the estate’s highest hill marked by a most peculiar soil: a block of red porphyry and clay deposits crushed by the passing of time and the reaction of atmospheric agents. The wine after being refined for 24 months in 25 hl Slavonian oak barrels and 12 months smells of well ripe blue berries, tea leaves and smoky notes. At the palate manages to be vertical, spicy, structured with a tremendous freshness. An astonishing new style to fall in love with: long, with nerve acidity and firm tannins.


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