Let’s go back in time when thick rivers of hot lava and magmatic mutterings descended unrolling from a crater, capable of erupting monstrous fireworks and throw luminous fountains of lapilli in the dark, opening puffy clouds framed by small lightning bolts that light up here and there in a sky of dust and luminous stripes.
About 300 million years ago, in the heart of the western Alps, a volcano exploded, releasing an energy similar to what would emit the explosion of 250 atomic bombs.
“The Supervolcano of the Valsesia” is the name of this giant that long ago had rebelled and that today shows us its deepest parts, we can even see its feeding system: a unique case in the world.
However, everyone knows that the hottest lava eventually cools down and becomes a mountain, and that mountain becomes land. A land recognized by UNESCO and on which today are rooted the vines from which are born some of the wonderful wines of Alto Piemonte. Those wines forged by fire and by the Supervolcano. Wines characterized by elegance, kindness, and longevity, wines that reach the high peaks of a freshness that only the volcanic porphyries can give to these nectars, whose main character is the Nebbiolo, here called Spanna.
One of these volcanic wines is Boca DOC, renowned since ancient times. The chronicles give us a curious tale linked to this wine, which is so good that it is considered the “Wine of the Popes”. It dates back to 1900 the visit of the Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto, accompanied by the Bishop of Novara, Monsignor Eduardo Pulciano. During the pilgrimage, they were offered by the young priest of Boca, the local wine that was so appreciated as to make Monsignor Pulciano say: “Eminence, this is just the wine for the Cardinals”. But the Cardinal replied: “Excellency, forgive me, but I am not of his opinion, this is not a wine for the Cardinals, but a wine for the Popes”, and this answer was as joking as it was prophetic because on 4 August 1903 he was named Pope with the name of Pius X. Here the Nebbiolo is combined with Vespolina and the Rara Grape and its color is intense, a dark garnet red. The aromas turn from fresh floral notes of pink and violet to notes of small berries, reds and blacks and medicinal herbs. Typical spicy notes of white and green pepper where Vespolina is used even in small quantities and the sip is usually roaring, with a very pleasant tannin. The two most famous producers of Boca DOC are Azienda Agricola Le Piane and Podere ai Valloni.
“A sip of Gattinara. As long as true, I mean, I do not ask for nothing else! “ Mario Soldati wrote in one of his short stories dedicated to the Piedmontese places dear to him. We now meet the explosive Gattinara DOCG: a wine rich in history, whose vineyards were planted by the Romans in the 2nd century BC. A noble wine that in 1518 reached the court of the King of Spain to be appreciated in all its power and finesse. Here Nebbiolo takes the part of the main actor and in the glass, its color takes on tones with a never too intense garnet but only with time, it will acquire brown and orange nuances. A nose sculpted by balsamicity, at times haematic, is characterized by scents of undergrowth and spices. The Gattinara is elegant, warm, intense in the sip, punctuated by smidges of freshness and saltiness.
Produced in the territory of seven villages in the hilly area above the Baragge Nature Reserve is the Bramaterra DOC, a wine that can be considered forged by fire but also a wine generated by the sea. In this area, there is, in fact, a progressive passage from volcanic rocks to marine sands, but most of the vineyards extend over volcanic soils. Here the percentage of Nebbiolo decreases to give way to Croatina, Rara and Vespolina grapes. Garnet red with orange reflections is its color, the scent is intense and slightly reminiscent of enamels and varnishes, with hints of liquorice and spicy accent. The sip is fresh and expressive, velvety and pleasant with a thin and refined skeleton.
So we conclude our journey through the wines of the volcano without forgetting the Coste della Sesia DOC, a wine that lies in the middle between the hell of the volcano and the waters of the sea from which those wines of Alto Piemonte, born on marine deposits come to life but that’s a story for another time…
cover photo by Mirella Giovinazzo