I have fallen in love. His name is Ruchè (roo-KEH). He lives in the northwest of Italy, in the area known as Piemonte (Piedmont in English).
But before I divulge the details, let’s go first to the beginning of the day when it all happened, when I was awakened in the early morning by a crashing storm that brought loud thunder and pounding rain. I had thought I might arise early, and go for a walk to explore the little hilltop town of Castagnole Monferrato before breakfast. But the dark skies and the pouring rain helped me make the decision to stay in bed and sleep a little longer. Thunder gets my pulses going, but steady rain lulls me to sleep.
I awakened somewhat later, got dressed, and made my way downstairs for breakfast. After eating, I read for a while and enjoyed having a slower day. I had an appointment at eleven o’clock to meet with the winemaking cousin of a friend of mine; Valerie, my opera-singing friend, has Italian blood flowing in her veins, and much of her family still lives in Piemonte.
I arrived at Tommaso’s winery, Bosco, to see workers helping to build a new roof, and walked around the building to what appeared to be the entrance, finding Tommaso inside awaiting me.
There is that awkward moment, when two strangers meet, brought together by a tenuous bond. We had Valerie to connect us, and soon we had wine. Tommaso and I sat down at a table arrayed with the four wines that he produces. I asked a few questions and he told me about his wines.
Tommaso offers three reds and one white, and so we began with the white, Monferrato Bianco, which is the only blend he makes. Sipping the wine, I heard the beginning of his story. Tommaso’s family owns a furniture business that was started by ancestors in the 1800s. His parents still run this business, and Tommaso thought he would join them. He studied architecture, thinking that he could bring those skills to the furniture business. But he soon figured out that his heart was not fulfilled sitting at a drawing board, and he turned his attention to his family’s land, reviving his family’s abandoned vineyards, growing grapes and hazelnuts, and finding his heart in the fields and caves and bottles of his grandparents’ winery.
The first red wine to taste was the Grignolino, which completely coats the mouth with tannins carrying a rich taste of the earth these grapes are grown in. I have never tasted a wine that does this so thoroughly, and I began to wonder about which foods would pair well. Cheese, said Tommaso, reading my mind, and I thought immediately of the very dry aged chèvres that I adore. Tommaso began to tell me about the land, the soil, the varietals, and what makes the wines in this tiny region so unique.
Next we sipped the Barbera, perhaps the best-known wine from the area. This one is more full-bodied and nuanced, a perfect wine for rich pastas and meat dishes. I learned a tiny bit about Tommaso’s family, including the sweet tidbit that his grandparents still live on the property. I got to wave a “buongiorno” to them later when Tommaso showed off a landscape so beautiful that it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And then—cue the drumroll—I met Ruchè. He is strong, full-bodied, with complex layers of scent and flavor. He is all his own, defying attempts to place him in someone else’s niche. If ever a wine could be called macho, I think I have found him. It was love at first slurp. The perfume includes roses and violets, and the flavors sing with spicy hints of cherries, liquorice and black pepper. You can taste the earth that grew these grapes.
I had to have him, and thus, I drove my little French car, lacking air-conditioning, across France and back home, where most people spend the hot summer with a bottle of rosé. I have already figured out that my Ruchè does just fine in the heat, if he spends a little time in the refrigerator before serving; it is perhaps a bit undignified, but it works.
Tommaso told me that Ruchè had largely disappeared after World War II, because this particular plant is difficult to maintain, requiring three times the manual labor of other grape varietals. In the olden days, many families grew their own Ruchè, allotting two or three rows on the family plot, and then made their own wine, reserved for special occasions.
In 1970, the town welcomed a new priest, a man of the land who came from not far away. Don Giacomo Cauda rediscovered the Ruchè grapes, and with the help of the town’s mayor and older growers, he threw himself into reviving this historically and socially valuable grape and its wine.
Today, Ruchè is strictly regulated, produced on only 150 hectares of land (370 acres). He is comfortably at home with a range of dishes: spicy Asian food (unusual for a red), wintry dishes such as bagna càuda, daube, and cassoulet, and strong cheeses such as gorgonzola or roquefort. Really, he’s a perfect match for me!
You can visit Tommaso’s web site here: http://aziendaagricolabosco.it/
I’ve just returned from a trip to Italy and southeastern France, and this post comes from the middle portion of my travels. Before driving to Monferrato, I stopped in Pisa to climb the famous tower, something I’ve long wanted to do. Sure enough, my first steps were wobbly and unbalanced, and it took a few paces to overcome the disorientation I felt. The ancient tower is lovely, and the modern feats of engineering to keep it from toppling over are interesting, too. It was a suffocatingly hot day, so I decided to save the cathedral and baptistery for a future visit.
I didn’t make a lot of photographs of the tower, but the steps captured my imagination. Here’s one photograph, showing the effect of 800 years’ worth of feet wearing the marble into deep, smooth valleys.
Duxe the Dalmation says it’s the dog days of summer! This sweet, happy creature was one of the highlights of my stay in Castagnole Monferrato. He doesn’t sit still much, so I grabbed the chance for a photograph while he took a nap on a hot afternoon.
Keep your eyes open for more posts from my trip, including descriptions of the Palio of Siena and lavender country in France.