Over 100 years ago it was not Barolo or Barbaresco that dominated Piedmont but the villages higher up in Alto Piemonte. Now the slopes are brought back to life by Cristiano Garella and other pioneers.
Cristiano Garella was not like other teenagers in northern Italy. From the age 13 he devoured books about wine, snuck into trade tastings and was obsessed with tasting and buying wine. An interest that perhaps was a little easier to entertain for a child in Piedmont than in Sweden.
What did you mates say when they went to play football and you went to taste wine?
”I played football too but I was drunk, haha, no but seriously, it was unusual. It was not common in our area to have a son interested in wine. Now it is different,” says Garella during a visit to Stockholm to spread the word about his beloved home region, Alto Piemonte about 100km north-east of its more famous siblings Barolo and Barbaresco.
Without a doubt the early years of dedication has given him a very solid foundation, not many in the wine industry is 33 and have 20 years of experience. After school he studied to be a winemaker in Alba and then returned to Alto Piemonte. Garella was named director of the producer Sella at 21 and today he is partner in two producers, Le Pianelle and Colombera & Garella that started in 2009 and 2010, and he consults for a number of others.
Cristiano Garella and other pioneers like to point out the history of the region: At the end of the 19th century Alto Piemonte was famous and had 45,000 hectares under vine compared with 950 hectares today. The wine production was knocked out by the phylloxera and a severe frost in 1904, and never recovered. Brush and other crops like rice took over. Now the area is bouncing back.
”Over the last ten years there has been a renaissance with new interest in our wines, new investors and new producers, but also a bigger interest in the restaurant business for our wines, from all the appellations,” says Garella.
At a small tasting of wines from the small Alto Piemonte-appellations Fara, Ghemme, Lessona, Bramaterra, Gattinara and Carema, mostly from 2013, we gather that the wines in general are lighter and higher in acidity than the more famous Nebbiolo-siblings to the south, Barolo and Barbaresco. Savoury and juicy. Besides Nebbiolo which dominates, the varietals Croatina and Vespolina are also used.
”They are interesting wines for us as sommeliers because it is a new and interesting area, but also because they are easier to pair with food than the heavier and more alcoholic wines from Barolo and Barbaresco,” says Rubén Sanz Ramiro, sommelier at PM & Vänner and also the importer of two of Garella’s wines, Le Pianelle of Bramaterra and La Prevostorua of Ghemme, through the importer Terroir.
Garella himself recommends risotto as food pairing for his wines, the traditional combination of the region.
”Choose risotto after season, for example with Porcini, chestnut and Fontina. With cheese it is always good.”
Curious to try the wines yourself?
These are small production wineries and none of the above producers are currently in Systembolaget. However, several of them can be found at wine bars and restaurants in Sweden. Search in the search box above or click the below links to search for them.
Or search by some of the Alto Piemonte appellations: