While they boast incredible wine producers, Piedmont’s hidden gem is truly northern DOC Lessona. This region has serious history of winemaking and used to dish out some of Italy’s most elegant wines.
In the late 1800s with more than forty thousand hectares of vines, Northern Piedmont was a thriving wine region in Italy. But after a particularly difficult season that wreaked havoc in the vines, most winemakers turned to the budding textile industry settled in nearby Milan and Turin.
Twelve hectares survived in Lessona.
Indeed, cultivating vines in Lessona is a tenuous undertaking: the soil is composed of marine sands where the vine’s roots can explore deeply and absorb minerals in high quantity. Due to the sandy nature of the soil, it needs to be operated in terraces to fight erosion.
The weather is arid and very cold with hail during winter and extreme heat in summer. The capricious Nebbiolo (called “spanna” here) translates minerality and finesse from the sandy ground it subsists in.
In 1999, Lessona’s revival was set when renowned Tuscan-based winemakers Paolo De Marchi and his son Luca decided to resuscitate their old family vineyards: a total of 7 hectares to work with named Proprietà Sperino. Paolo, originally from Piedmont, is responsible for supertuscan Cepparello from the Tuscan estate Isole e Olena he purchased in the 1950s.
Luca De Marchi is a red-faced, constantly smiling brilliant and exciting young winemaker who laughs from the soul and works from the heart. He may be one of the most interesting and knowledgeable winemakers I have met during my travels in the vines. His curiosity and intelligence are as bright and subtle as his wines.
Because of his perseverance and motivation, Lessona will certainly regain the prestige that was once bestowed upon it a very long time ago.
The soil is free of chemicals and herbicides. Copper and sulphate treatments are done manually.
The castle’s historic cellars have been restored to work by gravity exactly as they used to hundreds of years ago. Vinification and fermenting is done in large open wooden vats while the maturing is in small and large older oak. The wine is then bottled and aged further before commercialisation.
Among the wines that Luca makes, my personal favorite is his Lessona DOC (95-100% of Nebbiolo with a little Vespolina). For Burgundy lovers, this wine is the perfect way to start enjoying Nebbiolo. The soft silky tannins, the controlled acidity, juicy dark ripe fruit middle mouth and smoky finish are absolutely mesmerizing.
Luca once said to me, smiling mischievously: “Nebbiolo is like a drug. When you first start drinking it, it can sometimes be harsh and austere. But then you realize how layered and complex it can be depending on where it is grown. Many Italians actually think there is a chemical that creates a dependency in Nebbiolo. Once you start drinking it, you just want more and more.”
Even though I could argue that I am similarly addicted to Pinot Noir, I think that Nebbiolo is definitely my first choice in Italy and Lessona is where I get the best high.