Drama hit Charles de Gaulle airport Saturday morning when Air France cancelled my Verona flight after making me wait 20 minutes to check-in only to tell me that finally, I was too late! No airline has ever had me jumping through so many hoops, had me pleading and tearing up and accusing and endearing and negotiating my way onto another (free) flight to land somewhere in Italy in the vicinity of the two tastings I had been planning for weeks.
Here’s the gem: charmingly wilful Luigia Zucchi and her Azienda Agricola Rugrà. Her wines are pure and subtle, feminine and delicate with a recognizable Piedmont backbone that usually combines beautiful acidity and a strong fine-grained tannic finale. There is a crystalline minerality to them where the alcohol doesn’t dominate.
Luigia officially set up the Azienda in 1997 after years of bee keeping and winemaking on her 4 ha farm of which 2 ha are vines farmed organically.
The Gavi district, where her Nebbiolo, Merlot and Cortese vines thrive, is mostly renowned for its white wines but indigenous varieties that were thought to be long lost may still stand a chance.
In what seems to be a crusade to bring back a ghost from the dead, Luigia is set on rescuing one of these varieties she believes is highly qualitative: the Nibiö grape. Quite similar to its neighbor Nebbiolo in aromatics, the Nibiö variety has actually been DNA-matched to another Piedmont widespread variety, Dolcetto. This indigenous varietal is believed to be the equivalent of Dolcetto save for its red stems that brightly distinguish it in the vineyard. Nibiö has been grown in that region for more than a thousand years and was even mentioned in the annals of the Republic of Genoa. (ref)
In fact, there exists a consortium of winemakers named Terra del Nibiö, who are determined to save this variety and it would appear they have succeeded.
It was however somewhat shadowed by the reds including a 100% Nebbiolo grown on the Monferrato Rosso DOC named “Scajeta” which offers an elegant and fine version of the usually austere youthful Nebbiolo. Her 2007 vintage was very warm and is quite generous in fruit and utterly mouth-watering.
Because Luigia values drinkability, she has planted Merlot and, since 2009, is making a “no added sulphites” cuvée named “Prunorosso” that evokes an Italian version of “Le vin des copains” or a “Vin de soif”.
My favourite was by far the Monferrato Rosso “Picula Rusa” 2007 which is the wine made from 100% Nibiö’d’Tasarö as it is dubbed locally. The smoothness, the supple tannins, juicy and fruity and dense at once, had me travelling between Sicily, Rhône and Burgundy with a brief pop-in in Barbera di Monferrato.
On top of making great quality/price wines, the passion, the open-mindedness and the versatility of this woman completely inspired me.
Plan on seeing these wines in Paris soon!