Piemonte the Beautiful
Azienda Agricola Icardi
Located in the Piemonte region of Italy, the Icardi farm is perched on the Alba hills in Castiglione Tinella between two famous viticultural appellations, the Langhe and Monferrato. Some of the Icardi family’s 75 hectares of vineyard surround the winery while other parcels stretch over the hills of Langhe and Monferrato. The vineyards are organically farmed except for 10 hectares that are farmed biodynamically, an even more rigorous method than organic. “Our focus is a healthy land, a land as healthy as one hundred years ago. The result is excellent wine,” says enologist Claudio Icardi, now at the helm of the business. His sister Maria Grazia is responsible for sales and marketing. The family has grown grapes in the area since 1914, but in the early 1960s, Claudio’s and Maria Grazia’s father Piereno Icardi chose to make his own wine instead of selling his fruit to others, a bold decision at the time. In a region where wine can be austere in style, Icardi has a reputation for making distinctively drinkable wines upon release that embody both an international style and old-world character.
The 2011 edition of Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso describes the winery as follows: “Year after year, the great array of wines from this estate grows richer in character and originality. The battery ranges across many designations, representing a good part of Piedmont winemaking. The size of the vineyard holding is remarkable with plots scattered across Piedmont. The decision to use fully biodynamic growing methods with wines from Cascina San Lazzaro adds another positive note to the generous professional commitment of Claudio Icardi.” The family is now in the process of converting all of its vineyards to biodynamic methods. When asked by Gambero Rosso in the 2013 edition about what problems he was encountering, Claudio Icardi responded “that it was not particularly difficult. All you need is passion and an ear attuned to what nature tells you.” Gambero Rosso goes on to say, “This philosophy is the driving force behind his wines that are always very rich in fruit, clean, and direct without any hint of aromas not derived directly from the grapes. The cellar follows the same natural approach applied to the land.”
Owned by the Faccenda family, Cascina Chicco is located in the Roero district, where the best sites are planted with Nebbiolo, the noble grape of Piemonte, which reaches its highest expression in the Barberesco and Barolo appellations. Although farmers have grown grapes in Roero since ancient times, the district was granted D.O.C. status as recently as 1990 and each year gains more respect for its wines. Like the Faccenda family, most producers are small and inclined toward modern winemaking methods, crafting fruity, approachable wines. Brothers Enrico and Marco, assisted by their wives and their father Federico, have added to their original 13-hectare vineyard on the historical ridges of Canale and now own vineyards in Vezza d’Alba, Castellinaldo, and Castagnito, mostly on the left bank of the Tanaro River. Most recently, the family purchased a vineyard in the Barolo appellation in the Langhe district. They make the typical wines of the region, the white Arneis, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Roero, Barbera d’Alba, Favorita, and Brachetto and have received Gambera Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchierri (Three Glasses) award for their Barbera d’Alba Bric Loira, Nebiolo d’Alba Mompissano, and the dessert wine Arcass Passito.
Italian Wines of the Month
Icardi – 2008 Barbera d’Asti “Tabarin”
Dating back to the 18th century, “Tabarin” is a place name for high quality vineyard sites within the Asti district. Made from 100% Barbera grown in the Asti district, the wine exhibits a fruit-forward style with new oak accents that give it a silky, lush mouth-feel along with a rounded palate while still retaining structure and acidity. Aged for three months in new French oak barriques and for five months in large Slovenian oak barrels, the wine offers aromas of black fruit, ripe blueberry and cherry with hints of cedar and a whiff of spice and cola, while the flavor is fleshy and supple with glorious fruit, depth, and length. The wine is extremely versatile and compliments a wide range of dishes from heavier beef and game to lighter pasta, pizza, grilled seafood, stews with tomato sauces, and even cold appetizers.
Icardi – 2011 Cortese “La Aurora”
This charming wine is 100% Cortese, the highly regarded grape from the Gavi appellation, where it is called by its place name. But since the vineyard is located in the Langhe hills outside of the Gavi area, the Icardi family has chosen the proprietary name “La Aurora,” which means the dawn. Aged in stainless steel tanks and in bottle for 12 months before release from the winery, the wine is light, dry, crisp, and filled with fresh tropical fruit aromas and flavors that dance on the palate. Serve chilled with fish, light pasta, antipasti, and salads and before a meal as an aperitif.
Cascina Chicco – 2011 Langhe Nebbiolo
One hundred percent Nebbiolo, this wine has been aged in large oak casks. It has a composed and elegant bouquet with a hint of violets, morels, and a particular sensation of spices as it evolves in the glass. The taste is delicate yet full bodied and aristocratic. Decant and serve at cool room temperature, and pair this fine wine with roasted meats, wild fowl, and seasoned cheeses.
Icardi 2006 – Suri` di Mu Barbera
Suri` di Mu means “mulberry tree hill” in Italian. The wine is 100% Barbera from vines that average 50 years-old. Aged for 18 months in oak barrels, the 2006 Suri` di Mu is a combination of earthy flavors, ripe fruit, and spice, and is beautifully balanced with acid and tannins. After five years in bottle, fruit flavors have mellowed a bit to allow earth and minerals to come forward. Decant and serve at cool room temperature.
Cascina Chicco – 2012 Arneis Antersio
This Arneis from the Antersio vineyard in the Canale district is deliciously crisp and fruity and shows intense aromas with hints of apricot and apple. The wine is balanced and full bodied and shows itself best with food like most Italian wines whether red or white. Pair this Arneis with first courses of prosciutto or main courses with poultry and certainly with pasta primavera and risotto. Serve chilled.
Icardi – 2006 Barbaresco Montubert
This beautiful Barbaresco Montubert is 100% Nebbiolo, made from grapes grown in the Barbaresco appellation. The vines range in age from 35 to 40 years. Aged for 30 months in French oak barrels, the wine shows elegant hints of blackberry and violets that carry over to the palate. Antonio Galloni gave the Montubert 90 points and described it as “an attractive, fruit-driven Barbaresco bursting with generous dark cherries, plums, spices and flowers. The wine possesses excellent length and soft, polished tannins that make it accessible with a minimum of cellaring.” Both Barbaresco and Barolo are extremely elegant wines with subtle flavor and lighter color. While you can serve them with red meat, you can also drink them with white meat or a vegetarian risotto.
Cascina Chicco – 2008 Barbera d’Alba, Bric Loira
From the Bric Loira vineyard, this delicious 100 percent Barbera d’Alba is a sumptuous wine with intense burgundy color and a multi layered bouquet that hints of red fruit and a final touch of vanilla and liquorice. This is a relatively new breed of Barbera, whose ultra premium potential winemakers have unlocked only in the last 15 years, restricting the yield of the vineyard to produce the finest fruit and then hand-crafting the wine and aging it in fine French oak barrels. Antonio Galloni gave the wine 92 points and describes it as follows: “The 2008 Barbera d’Alba Bricco Loira is a gorgeous, mineral-infused wine laced with dark fruit, licorice, spices and a hint of oak. This isn’t a blockbuster, but rather a wine that impresses for its gorgeous inner pe
Italian Region of the Month
Almost half of Piemonte, which means “foot of the mountain,” lies in the great arc of the Alps and the Apennines, from which the Po River flows east through its broad valley to the Adriatic. Bordering Switzerland and France, Piemonte and the smaller Valle d’Aosta region to the north were part of the French-speaking principality of Savoy between the 11th and 18th Centuries and played a key role in the Risorgimento, the movement that united Italy under a Savoy king in 1859. Famous ski resorts and the wild Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso draw visitors to the majestic mountains in the north, while in the south, vine covered hills around Barolo and vast fields of grain and rice in the Po valley continue a rich agricultural tradition. Torino, the region’s capital, is a crowded industrial city and home to the Fiat car company, but it also offers splendid Baroque civic buildings, palazzi, and museums, one of which is world renowned for its Egyptian collection gathered during the Napoleonic Wars.
The ancient Liguri tribes who dominated the region probably first cultivated the wild vines of the Apennines, but they learned wine making from the Greeks about 600 BC. The Celtic Taurini, who gave their name to Torino, also grew vines in the region. Although the Romans planted vines, they didn’t favor the wines. Finally in the 19th Century, the wines of Piemonte gained distinction when the Savoy and others began to use French methods.
Piemonte has 57 DOC and DOCG zones, more than any other region. Most vineyards are located in two major areas, in the Laghe and Monferrato hills, which are connected to the Apennines in the southeast and in the foothills of the Alps to the north between Lake Maggiore and Valle d’Aosta. In the Langhe hills above the town of Alba are the vineyards of Barolo, one of Italy’s most prestigious wines, “the king of wines and the wine of kings,” although some think that Barbaresco is its equal. The noble Nebbiolo vine produces both wines as well as Gattinara. Barbera and Dolcetto are popular full-flavored reds, while Freisa, Grignolino, and Brachetto are popular pale, fruity varieties often made as bubbly wines.
Whites are equally prominent, the first being Asti Spumante from Moscato d’Asti, the nation’s second DOCG in volume after Chianti and the world’s second sparkling wine after Champagne. Among still whites, Gavi from the Cortese grape has emerged as one of Italy’s most coveted wines, and Arneis is attracting increasing attention.