The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

n the be­gin­ning the con­ver­sa­tion with my fa­ther was a lit­tle scary,” says Luca De Marchi. Luca is the son of an em­i­nent Tus­can wine­maker but we were stand­ing among the holly bushes at another fam­ily prop­erty, at the base of the Ital­ian Alps – neb­bi­olo coun­try – where Luca has had the au­dac­ity to make a rosé.

“There was a five-minute si­lence when I told him,” says Luca. “Then he called my mother, ‘Bring the in­her­i­tance pa­pers. I need to erase a name.’”

I was ex­cited to meet Luca, whose fam­ily own the Isole e Olena es­tate in Chi­anti Clas­sico coun­try, be­cause I’d drunk one of his wines – a red, not a pink, made from the haunt­ingly named neb­bi­olo, ve­spolino and croat­ina – in a restau­rant, gone on to buy a case, and trea­sured ev­ery sin­gle bot­tle. What I hadn’t re­alised, un­til look­ing at a map be­fore go­ing there, was that while this northerly De Marchi fam­ily win­ery is in Piemonte, it’s not the Piemonte most wine lovers know. Pro­pri­etá Sperino is in Les­sona, about 50 miles north of Barolo, where the snowy moun­tains gleam crys­talline and the soil is “too acidic for any­thing ex­cept vines and porcini”, ac­cord­ing to Luca.

Back in the 19th cen­tury this area, be­tween Turin and Mi­lan, was cov­ered in thou­sands of hectares of vines, but the vine­yards were aban­doned as lo­cals went off to work in more prof­itable fac­to­ries, un­til at one point it was down to just two hectares.

Neb­bi­olo here doesn’t have the power you find in barolo or bar­baresco. But what it lacks in force it makes up for in fi­nesse, the feel­ing of bal­anc­ing along a nar­row ridge at high al­ti­tude.

Luca wouldn’t take any credit for the del­i­cate taste, com­par­ing his job to Michelan­gelo’s un­fin­ished “Pris­on­ers”, heroic male fig­ures still half-trapped inside the mar­ble: “It’s a wine­maker’s work to bring out what is there.”

And just as writ­ers re­fer to a lit­er­ary canon stretch­ing down the cen­turies – you feel it hum­ming and re­ver­ber­at­ing even through an orig­i­nal voice – so it is with wine.

A wine­maker has slen­der op­por­tu­nity to prac­tise his (or her) art: around 50 vin­tages, in one place in one lifetime. “The con­se­quence is we never learn how to do wine­mak­ing,” says Luca. The in­flu­ence of oth­ers is great and you can taste it some­times in the wines.

The re­nais­sance at Pro­pri­eta Sperino is just a decade old. The first mod­ern vin­tage was made in 2004, five years after Paolo De Marchi, Luca’s fa­ther, de­cided to re­vive the win­ery, but you feel the past in the old cel­lar with its beau­ti­ful cir­cu­lar brick­work and wrought-iron win­dows.

“We imag­ine tra­di­tion as a pic­ture of the past,” says Luca. “That’s com­pletely wrong. I grad­u­ated in philol­ogy and ‘tra­di­tion’ comes from the Latin ‘tradere’ – to pass some­thing on. In Barolo you have wine­mak­ers fight­ing about whether to use big or small bar­rels: if you use a bar­rique you’re just a stupid guy, that sort of thing. But that’s not it at all, it’s so much more than that – some­times you pass on mis­takes.”

Casimiro Sperino, the orig­i­nal Sperino, was a founder of the Ital­ian Royal Academy of Medicine, and a mil­i­tary doc­tor who served dur­ing the cholera epi­demic of 1835. His son was a viti­cul­tur­al­ist who wrote nu­mer­ous pa­pers doc­u­ment­ing lost Piemon­tese va­ri­eties. But those early Speri­nos didn’t get ev­ery­thing right as, not­ing on a trip to Bordeaux that there they de-stem the grapes be­fore turn­ing them into wine, they started to do that too. “And that was a mis­take,” says his de­scen­dant.

There is not much mis­taken about Luca’s wines to­day. The 2010 vin­tage of Uvag­gio – the wine that took me to Pro­pri­eta Sperino – is a par­tic­u­lar favourite, pale and per­fumed. The soils here are sandier than fur­ther south in Barolo, and the wine is lighter. It’s not a crowd­pleaser, but give it a pizza and it’s happy. I wish I could drink it again, as we did that cold, sunny day in Novem­ber, with rab­bit stew and risotto.

“The name of the grape ve­spolina comes from vespa [wasp] not ve­spri [ves­pers],” says Luca. “It’s ear­lier-ripen­ing than neb­bi­olo…” So the sugar at­tracts the wasps? “Yes.” As old as the hills: Les­sona, home of Pro­pri­etá Sperino

We tasted the rosé too. Yes, it does ex­ist. “My fa­ther called back the next day and said, ‘So you make a rosé,’” says Luca, be­fore be­ing dis­tracted on a dis­course about the Ro­mans and wine. “They were bar­bar­ians, those who came after… Viti­cul­ture was aban­doned, un­like in France.”

It’s all of that that you taste when you sip a wine like Pro­pri­eta Sperino. You don’t have to think about it but it’s there, qui­etly in­form­ing the wine. In a good way.

Uvag­gio Sperino 2010 is im­ported by Lib­erty Wines and is avail­able from the Wine So­ci­ety (£19.50), slurp.co.uk (£21.50), Eclec­tic Tastes (£22.50), He­do­nism (£24.50) and AG Wines (£21.50).

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