Do you know why I chose to write only on my wine blog? Because the blog is, by definition, an online diary and for this reason the narration cannot be delegated to third parties. That is why my blog's times are my own and why there is no regular frequency of articles. In fact, I confess that I am rather behind: there are several things I have yet to tell you about! About this experience in Upper Piedmont, however, I want to talk to you now because Castellengo is truly a magical place. In November 2021 I went to a delightful Go Wine Tasting dedicated to the Nebbiolo wine from Alto Piemonte and there I fell in love with a few wineries, including Castellengo. So I was delighted to visit Alessandro Ciccioni - who runs the company together with his wife Magda - last Thursday.
Castellengo, in Alto Piemonte, is a tiny hamlet of just over 80 stable inhabitants in the municipality of Cossato in the province of Biella. I would call its location strategic: Milan and Turin are about an hour away and the A4 motorway exit is very convenient. Moreover, its proximity to Monte Rosa and the Baragge Nature Reserve make it the perfect place for tourists who love both the peace of the hills and the hustle and bustle of the city. Castellengo is a complex of various activities: the Centovigne wine cellar is located just below the Charming 'La Carosera' B&B where I stayed overnight. In particular I would like to point out the 'Pigeonhole' room because with its four-poster bed is simply wonderful.
If, on the other hand, you wish to stay as a royal, even in the Castellengo Castle rooms are available. However, I am saving the visit to the castle for the next time I visit Alessandro! This was a bit of a touch and go, and so it will be until 21 March 2022, the day I hand in my dissertation. So everyone bear with me! 😇
I was particularly lucky, however: the dusk of a sunny day is the most evocative moment to take some memorable photos, which I hope will make you want to experience the same in Alto Piemonte. Inside the walls, together with the castle, there are a series of structures that were once service buildings, now independent businesses. We start at La Carosera, the B&B, immediately to the right of the historic Moor's Gate. On the first mezzanine floor the rooms, on the two floors below the cellar Centovigne. La Carosera owes its name to its being the historic shelter for the carriages of the nobles who came to the castle. Centovigne, on the other hand, is inspired by the many small plots of land that characterise the property.
The first floor of the cellar is precisely where the carriages used to be housed and this is probably the reason for the magnificence with which guests are welcomed. Since 1600 Castellengo was the residence of Count Pietro Francesco Frichignono who throughout his life was responsible for the legal management of the affairs of the Savoy, Habsburg and other ruling families of Europe. That is why the castle had to literally live up to its guests' expectations from the moment they entered.
I have seen many carriage houses in Piedmont and this is certainly one of the most beautiful. The stainless steel tanks between the pale stone columns seem to whisper elegance to the fermenting musts. Elegance is certainly the sensory characteristic that unites all the wines of the Centovigne winery drawn up by the two characteristic vines of Upper Piedmont: nebbiolo and erbaluce.
Below the floor of the stainless steel tanks is the 18th-century wine cellar with concrete and oak barrels. Wine has been made here since the count's time and the first writings attesting to the size of the cellar date back to 1682. In 1748, in the Cabreo - a court document - the extent of the vineyards and the winegrowing systems used can be read.
In the late 1800s the Sella family acquired the Castellengo property in Upper Piedmont and released a historic vintage in 1904 that will make the rounds of collectors in honour of the heir's birth. This bottle unfortunately I have not had the privilege of tasting, although I hardly think it would be any different from vinegar in 2022. Nevertheless, it is an honour to even touch it because of the history it carries.
From the cellar we moved to the small building opposite which now houses the shop and tasting area. Like every nook and cranny I saw, it is well furnished and organised thanks to an excellent taste capable of harmoniously mixing different styles.
Alto Piemonte nebbiolo wines signed Castellengo
I love comparing the same wine from different vintages. I can feel the nuances of everything: from the weather to the vintage, from the cellar practices refinement. And, in fact, that is exactly what happened, starting with thevisual inspection of the two glasses in comparison. The 2011 has a very concentrated and deep ruby red colour while the 2012 is a transparent ruby red. This makes us make an initial consideration about the vintage: 2011 was probably warmer than 2012. On the nose, what we observed is confirmed and perhaps also indicates that while in 2012 the harvest time was perfectly timed, in 2011 it slipped by about a couple of days. A characteristic that I smelled in the aromas of very ripe cherries, jammy strawberries and dried plums. Finally, the wood, with its more vanilla note in the 2011, tells us how at least one new cask was certainly introduced into the cellar, the character of which mellowed in the following vintage. For me, the use of new wood in a vintage that was perhaps a little warm also made the 2011 a great wine, covering with pleasant spicy notes that note of fruit that was a little 'past its prime'. Both vintages in the mouth reunite with those savoury notes conferred by the sandy soils with fossil remains, a great structure and well-blended tannins. The 2012 is a magical vintage, simply perfect in all aspects. If both are elegant Alto Piemonte Nebbiolo wines, 2012 is - as Mario Soldati would say - 'poetry of the earth'.
Alexander has Biellese pallet like there was no tomorrow, and this is how I discovered one of those cured meats destined to rise to the top of my list of favourites. The name comes from the scoop shape of the pig's shoulder blade and the Coggiola one is a Slow Food Presidium. Originally created as a cured meat for the middle class (the leg was reserved for the nobility and clergy), it was so good that it was also sought after at the banquets of the high aristocracy as early as 1400. Traditionally it is eaten cooked, but in our case we ate it raw and I think it tastes even better that way!
My relationship with white wines with a few years on their shoulders is becoming more and more intimate, also due to my recent collaboration with the Consortium for the Protection of Gavi. After all, I am convinced that Piedmont is home to three of the five native Italian white grape varieties with the most extraordinary ageing potential: gavi, timorasso and erbaluce. And it is precisely erbaluce that has always been cultivated here and used to make an interesting wine that cannot be called erbaluce because of that of Caluso. After all, the soils are very different and if I have to make a comparison, Alessandro's erbaluce and others tasted at Go Wine are generally less herbaceous and less vertical than Erbaluce di Caluso DOP.
Alto Piemonte white wines: Miranda 2012
Intense straw yellow with golden hues, consistent. On the nose after a few minutes is exceptional with notes of honey and white chocolate, candied pear and a finish of wild flowers and dill seeds. In the mouth it is very soft, structured and well balanced, long finish.
Alto Piemonte: award-winning quality wines
This award for the roast red wines says it all in my opinion... and the impeccable graphics of the twentieth century should inspire contemporary graphic designers: I see one certificate sadder than the other lately! And by the way, I want to be a judge for an eventual red roast wine competition (from all over Italy, not just Upper Piedmont), I anticipate that I will assess with a plus all the wineries that, together with the wine samples, will also bring roast pans to evaluate the pairing! 😄😄😄
After the tasting, we took a walk to theOsteria della Villawhere chef Annamaria combines traditional Biella dishes with top-quality raw materials. The restaurant is housed in a historic 19th-century residence where a good conservative restoration has been carried out. The mise en place is simple, as you would expect in an osteria, and with beautiful dishes. The tables are spaced out, thanks to a succession of small rooms that provide intimacy and privacy.
Ah, bread: the cross and delight of all restaurants! This tasted so good, one piece led to another, and so - for a change - I ate too much of it!
That I consider rosé wines a trend has come out in various newspapers, both print and online such as ioDonna o Repubblica.co.uk. Well this one from Castellengo has a style I particularly like because it is very balanced and very easy to match. A perfect aperitif wine, but also as an accompaniment to a fish dinner for those who, like my husband, do not like white wines.
The mixed platter of typical starters I loved it, from the presentation on the riser (maybe I should say 'riser') to the variety of preparations. I loved the rolls and the fried sweet semolina, but the meat with green sauce was also special!
A truly intriguing dish thesmoked eel with cabbage duet and sour cream bavarois. Chef Annamaria does quite well with marinades: already delicious with the welcome salmon, with the eel she really excels. The sour cream balanced the natural fattiness of the eel and the cabbage contrasted well with the sweet tendency of the eel with its delicately bitter notes.
Vitello tonnato is a traditional dish that I think everyone knows, as it is throughout northern Italy (and consequently also in Argentina) a typical festive appetiser, particularly at Christmas. My grandmother Mira, a native of Romagna, used to prepare 'delle sbadilate'. I like it a lot and I found this one to be well made: the meat tender and thick enough and the sauce delicate.
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My eyes light up when it comes to raw meat, proving that I have no hope of becoming a vegetarian! This knife-edged Piedmontese beef with long radicchio from verona and bagna cauda was mystical! Both because the meat was cut to perfection, and because the bagna cauda - an exquisite traditional sauce made with garlic and anchovies - with its savouriness was perfect to enhance the flavour of the beef tartare.
I am not a risotto lover and I admit that the maltagliati with orange duck ragu that I often make at home had me much more intrigued. La panissa alla vercellese with Acquerello carnaroli rice is, however, as typical as you can get in this area and so... panissa it is! Well it was masterfully made and absolutely delicious! The traditional recipe calls for salamino della Duja under fat and Saluggia beans, lard, onions and pork rinds. This Alessandro told us it was lightened....
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I found the Braised Piedmontese Ox with Nebbiolo di Castellengo very tasty, but above all delicious with the variation of polenta proposed both sweet and savoury. Although the best thing about it was definitely the cooking sauce which, by the way, went very well with this vintage that I had already tasted at Go Wine!
A really good breakfast thanks to the apple juice, of which I am a glutton, and the Biella canestrelli, of which I was unaware. More like wafers (not the commercial ones) than the more famous Ligurian canestrelli, they are absolutely divine. Imagine my delight when I discovered that they are on sale on Amazon (here is the link to the artisanal Biellese canestrelli from Coggiola!). The cappuccino also looked great and the cereals very crispy!
Many thanks for the exquisite hospitality and pleasant company!