We spread ourselves among a smaller coach and a people carrier for our final trip, so we could take the rougher roads up to the vineyards. An hour or so’s drive through the glorious countryside took us to Acqui Terme and then Strevi, where Marenco have their winery in the centre of the small village.
We were greeted by Gian Costa, husband of Michaela Marenco, one of three sisters who run the company. He handed over to son Andrea, who gave us a fabulous introduction to the village, the winery and Moscato DOC.
His great grandfather founded the business but it was his grandfather who built the winery in 1951, and moved from buying grapes to buying vineyards – they now own 80 hectares.
Beside the cement tanks used for the traditional Barbera and Dolcetto wines Andrea showed us the canvas bags used until the 1970s to filter the wine destined to become Moscato d’Asti, to remove the yeasts and stop or slow fermentation. Today this is controlled by a modern filter in stainless steel. The family has preserved a lot of the old equipment used in the winery and some of the parephenalia of living in the olden days – in the attic was a charming display of old hen coops, baby strollers, typewriters, bedwarmers and much more. Andrea explained his grandfather could not throw anything away!
Vinification of the Asti wines was fascinating. The Moscato grapes are pressed very gently to encourage extraction of flavours from the skins but avoid breaking the pips, and then allowed to settle overnight before the clean juice is drawn off and fermentation progresses at low temperatures in an ‘autoclave’ that maintains pressure and keeps the carbon dioxide produced dissolved in the wine. Sugar content is measured twice a day, and at 5% alcohol the wine is cooled further to stop fermentation and the yeast is removed by filtration. The wine is bottled under a gentle pressure which allows a normal cork to be used – the way to spot an Asti is its lack of a wire closure round a champagne style cork.
Then it was up to the vineyard high up in the hills. We all did a bit of a dance to avoid the clouds of mosquitos who had not read the textbook about not liking dry weather! Among the Moscato vines, which had been picked, was a huge bench, part of the Big Bench initiative across Piedmont where massive benches are placed (funded by private money) in places with beautiful views – so that by sitting on one, you can remember what it was like to be small!
We tasted some remaining Moscato grapes, and got a sense of how the passito process intensifies their sweetness as many of them were fairly dessicated.
Back down the hill but this time to the Marenco family home, with its glorious views out to the Ligurian coast, and the Appenines. Michaela welcomed us with open arms, thanking us profusely for visiting and proferring us with glasses of Cortese/Chardonnay spumante served by sister Doretta, and various other family members. The third sister, Patrizia, is the winemaker and was otherwise engaged! Gian manned the pizza oven, serving freshly cooked bread, and a variety of meats and other local delicacies. We also drank the Brachetto spumante, but then the Moscato D’Asti was opened and I particularly enjoyed its delightful lightness, delicacy and perfect sweetness with some blue cheese pizza.
We sat down for pasta and a trio of different ages of Roccaverano goats cheese, accompanied by their Barbera d’Asti, and another new wine – the Albarossa 2013. This is a cross between Barbera and Nebbiolo and had a fantastic perfumed nose, and a great palate.
Then it was back to the view, and more Asti and some Passito wine with a variety of puddings – hazelnut meringue, fresh peaches, chocolate cake were all lovely.
Fabulous weather, a lovely family (including the next generation as Andrea’s baby son made an appearance), wonderful wine, great food, perfect views – how easy can it be to enjoy yourself? Quite a few of us felt we might return as they run a couple of holiday apartments….
We sadly reboarded our transport and I don’t remember much of the view on the journey home. But I have some lovely memories of the day.
We regrouped and gathered round in the hotel at 7.30pm to focus on our final outing – a delicious three course dinner at Il Ventuno. Tim had chosen a lighter menu – soft egg on cheese fondu (which was a good match for the Gavi), followed by gurnard with vegetables (some switched to the Barbera for this) and finally a pannacotta with peach and chocolate sprinkles (perhaps straight from the Ferrero factory?).
A couple of speeches rounded off the evening, those who were slow to leave were rewarded with some limoncello, and we strolled back to the hotel, enjoying the spectacle of preparations for the following day’s festival of wine and truffles.