by Luisana Suegart
Sweet melon balls wrapped in salty prosciutto di parma; melt-in-your-mouth capicola delicately stuffed with soft, homemade mozzarella; fresh bib lettuce lightly tossed in fruity extra virgin olive oil; six assorted cheeses, including the creamiest of Gorgonzolas; and bottomless baskets of crusty Italian bread. It’s all paired with crisp Itynera Prosecco. Dessert is a warm apple crostata with a scoop of vanilla gelato, the sweetness perfectly complemented by a glass of chilled Moscato d’Asti.
Italians call the above an “informal” lunch. At MGM Mondo del Vino winery in Priocca, a municipality in the Province of Cuneo in the Italian region of Piedmont, they pause midday to eat like this almost every day.
The winery is impressive for its magnitude, modern machinery, cleanliness, green practices and the barrique cellars that smell of oak and sweet fermentation, although its splendor is not in the amount of cases they ship each year. The real beauty is in the pasione that propels the entire process, starting with the growers who tend daily to their vineyards.
For 37-year-old Maurizio Marino, winemaking is in his blood. His vineyard, named Muraj, is located in Valdivilla, a municipality of Santo Stefano Belbo. It has been in his family for about 100 years. Its vines are spread on either sides of a hill, where the sunlight beams more on the southern side to produce juicy, sweet Moscato Bianco grapes, and less on the northern side where the same kind of grape renders bitterer. The end product is Ricossa’s Moscato d’Asti, a semi-sweet, lightly sparkling wine that is usually paired with dessert. Maurizio, however, is equally pleased to treat visitors to a chilled glass of the delightful drink on sight, a bearing of the small cooler in the back of his truck that is kept stocked with plenty of ice and half bottles of Moscato d’Asti. Discussing irrigation levels while enjoying the fruits of his harvest is all in a day’s work.
Owner Enzo Gerbi explains that the Barbera is one of the world’s most indigenous grapes, first picked on sight as long as three centuries ago. For almost a third of that amount of time, 91-year-old Emma Bianco, who was born in the big, charming villa that sits atop the hill, has been looking after the vineyard. Day after day, she walks the land, examining the canopies as they ripen, looking out for any irregularities that can be detected on the clusters and leaves. Otherwise, she keeps watch from her front porch. She is grateful for decades of rich harvests, and with the caring demeanor of a typical nonna, she invites visitors into her home for a glass of water and an amaretti cookie.
Direct agreements with producer cooperatives like Maurizio and Enzo who are honestly committed to their crop enable the possibility of consistently yielding a quality product that is not compromised for the sake of quantity. Without the first, there could not be the latter, showing that each glass of wine is only as good as the love that goes into the production of it.
Never mind that spontaneity calls for such prestigious wine to be consumed from plastic cups – the wine still pleads to be enjoyed, and this is just how the winemakers intended it. After all, in Piedmont, the livelihood that is winemaking is less defined by expensive and extravagant than it is by the subtle “ah” that is born from a sniff, swirl and swig. To the winemaker as much as to the consumer, wine is an experienced to be fully enjoyed, by everyone, and as often as possible, and that in itself is worth raising a glass to.
If said glass is raised over an exquisite meal, even better. Across vineyards, villages and picturesque towns, the cuisine of Piedmont is up to the interpretation of chefs, or “cookers.” In Italy, food is a language. Be it the aforementioned (and much underrated) informal lunch or a four-course meal cooked by one of the region’s top chefs (Piedmont is home to several Michelin star restaurants), Italians speak through their food. Meals are made to be enjoyed with great pleasure. And what is good food without good wine?
Stefano Pagano, Executive Chef at the Magliano Alfieri castle, serves raw Fassona, a top-quality variety of veal specific to the region, over homemade apricot puree. He tops the meat with seasonal fruit – blueberries, watermelon, and peaches. Dressed lightly with soy sauce and extra virgin olive oil, the dish pairs beautifully with Gavi, a white wine made from Cortese grapes.
Papa Giuseppe, founder of La Corte di Canobio, a nearly 50-year-old hazelnut confectionary in Cortemelia, puts his heart and soul into making Torta di Nocciola, Baci, Segreto della Dama, and Gelato di Nocciola. Moscato d’Asti and Malvasia Casorzo both elevate every sweet bite.
What can only be sweeter, perhaps, is the Italian tradition of wine in itself, and what the good vino represents. Whether rosso or bianco, sweet or dry, for the winemaker especially, a glass of wine symbolizes sweet livelihood achieved by an honest process and the opportunity to relish in its sweet victory in the perfect company of family and friends. This, and the optimism of eternal rich harvests, begs for the delightful clink of glasses and the cheerful sound of “Cin Cin!”