In the Caves at Coppo Winery and Talking About the Nizza DOCG

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Recounting my Moscato D’Asti intensive trip with the Consorzio Dell’Asti  and writing about my experiences with Luigi Coppo at Coppo winery, reinforces why I love the Italians and in particular, the Piedmontese. The hospitality, goodwill, authenticity and friendliness were not marketing ploys, they were real and the wines they are producing are delicious and you should take note of them. As per my specialty, eating and drinking, the local foods in season, paired with the wines, was a priceless experience for me. I hope you will visit Asti, visit wineries like Coppo and Ristorante San Marco (recounted below) and experience it for yourself!

The History and the Place

The first thing I learned about Coppo winery is that it’s cellars are part of a World Heritage site in Canelli because of its underground caves, that are considered underground cathedrals since they run under the town of Canelli and into the the hills.

So here is the gist: The commune of Canelli in the province of Asti, where Coppo is located is part of the Moscato D’Asti triangle. It historically has been the epicenter of Moscato D’Asti and considered the sweet wine capitol of Italy.  Piero Coppo in 1892 founded the Coppo Winery and since then it has been under direct family ownership and is one of the oldest family run wineries in Italy.  Back then, in the 1800’s, Coppo made Italian spumante with secondary bottle fermentation and called it Moscato Champagne. The Simplon tunnel between Switerland and Italy was being excavated at the time. The moscato  champagne business was booming and they needed constant temperature and more space to age the moscato champagne. Huge underground cellars were excavated under the city and into the hill of Canelli. These vaulted tunnels run under the town and are considered underground cathedrals.  The historical wine cellars of Coppo extend under the hill of Canelli for a total of 5 thousand square meters (16400 ft) and a depth that reaches 40 meters (130 ft). In 2014, they were elected a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the vineyards of the Langhe and the vineyards of Monferrato. 

In the 1950’s, Luigi, Pieri Coppo’s son, ventilated the tunnels to dry large numbers of labels which was an innovation at the time. Luigi had 4 sons, Piero, Gianno, Paolo, and Roberto.With the ambition to unequivocally demonstrate the elegance of Barbera, its character, and its capacity to age, the Coppo brothers were among the first in the early 1980s to establish a new production philosophy. This involved a stricter and more attentive management of the vineyards, including limiting yield; manual harvest of the grapes in small baskets, picked at the correct ripeness; and the innovative introduction of barriques during maturation. These were the deciding factors in the reacknowledgement of Barbera, and Coppo was at the forefront of this variety’s rebirth.

1984 marked the first harvest that was to become the symbol of the winery, a wine that is a reference point for its kind: the Barbera d’Asti Pomorosso. Later, it was joined with Barbera Camp du Rouss.

Today, the grandsons, Luigi and Max are at the forefront of the company. Luigi has to be one of the friendliest, most equinaminous people I have met.

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Paolo and Luigi Coppo

We sipped their Moscato D’Asti in this beautiful courtyard encompassed by the hill of Canelli.

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Canelli – The Epicenter of Moscato D’Asti

Of the 52 townships that may carry the denomination Moscato D’Asti  DOCG, only 22 are included in the prestigious subzone of “Canelli,”  where Moscato has been cultivated since the 13th century. Only grapes that are cultivated above the obligatory 165 meters a.s.l. can be made into Moscato d’Asti DOCG Canelli.

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Nizza DOCG – “Super Barbera”

From my visit to Coppo and my subsequent visit to Michele Chiarlo, I definitely sensed that the Nizza DOCG is “the DOCG for qualtiy Barbera”. This DOCG is making such ageable, substantial Barberas that they are completely in line for people who are Napa Cabernet folks, although, obviously this is not a Napa Cabernet or trying to be, it is a Nizza DOCG Barbera but it hits all the points, although again, in an Italian way, that Napa Cab people will love and collectors will love.

So what is so special about the Nizza DOCG? It is 100% Barbera, up from 90% that the Barbera d’Asti Superiore requires. More than half of the Nizza vineyards have vines that are more than 50 years old. The vineyards are at a lower elevation than Alba which gives the vines a chance to ripen more easily which for a high acid grape like barbera is a good thing. The soils are marine sediments, sand and clay. The wines coming from these vineyards are big, juicy, balanced wines with complexity. Nizza, DOCG, is considered the “super” barbera and rightly so. It is historically, the “classico” zone for barbera. From the next vintage onwards, the Coppo Pomorosso will be produced under the Nizza DOCG.

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Eating with the Seasons, A Harmonious Meal at Ristorante San Marco

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The food at Ristorante San Marco was in sync with the seasons. It had an old school, elegant feel that was comforting and inviting at the same time. Chef Marluccia Ferrero loves vegetables and it shows,  The zucchini and the mushrooms were divine. She had provided the food for our dinner at the Consorzio dell’ Asti the night before and it made me so happy to see fresh, local produce paired so well.

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Figs (which were abundant everywhere we looked on the trees) with incredible charcuterie (do not know the specific name)

What was priceless was the double magnum ( I think it was a double magnum?) of Pomorosso 2009. The wine name comes from a big red apple tree at the top of the vineyard but this wine was full of cherries, chocolate, vanilla, spice and expresso. It paired perfectly with the veal and the mushrooms before it. I had had my doubts lately about barbera but sipping the Coppo soon to be Nizza DOCG Pomorosso erased any doubts I had about the fineness of Barbera.

Grazie Mille to the Coppo’s and to Chef Marluccia Ferrero for an incredible afternoon and evening in Canelli, unforgettable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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