The Wine: Sancho Panza 2017
Named after the eponymous character from Don Chisciotte, Sancho Panza represents Guido Zampaglione’s crazy dream and unrelenting vision of planting the Fiano variety at almost 900 mt of altitude in Southern Italy’s Irpinia area of Campania. Born from a ruggedly beautiful and sparsely populated land, Sancho Panza is a natural wine (orange wine) made from 100% Fiano that ferments spontaneously and sees about 60 days of skin contact and extended aging in steel, imbuing it with unparalleled character and brilliance. It tastes like unexplored peaks, distant suns, dried tarragon, ripe yellow plums, turmeric, and lavender.
The Producer: Guido Zampaglione • Cascina Grillo (Piedmont) & Il Tufiello (Campania)
Like many of the portfolio's first Italian producer partners, Guido and his wife Igiea were introduced to me by Giulio Armani. Guido worked with Giulio for several vintages at La Stoppa in the '90s after his studies in enology at the Ag University in Piacenza. His time with Giulio completely shaped his thought and intentions with wine and, ultimately, changed his entire life.
Guido purchased a property in Piemonte (Monferrato) while working with Giulio. Tenuta Grillo was born in the early 2000s. The 32-hectare estate has 17 hectares planted in vines on extremely sandy, loamy soils on a flat plain about 250 meters above sea level (whopping 25k bottle production from this massive farm- some grapes are sold). Vines range from Barbera, Dolcetto, and Freisa to Cortese, Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.
At Tenuta Grillo, the goal from the beginning to take the approach of Giulio in Emilia and apply it to the rough, rugged, blue-collar zone of Piemonte – the valley floor shit, not the manicured rolling hills, Cru bs – and produce the structured wines of past that will age a lifetime. Each wine they make at Tenuta Grillo is aged as long as it needs to be. Period. Macerations range from 40-90 days. The current release for their Barbera - named IGIEA after his wife and his favorite varietal on the farm – is a 2007. The current release for the Baccabianca - made from the 60-year-old vines of Cortese lining the right side of his driveway – is 2011. The Dolcetto – 2006. You get the shtick.
My first visit to Guido, Igiea, and Tenuta Grillo was in 2015. It was brief. We stood around the woodblock island in his old kitchen. We ate bread and 1/2 inch cubes of room temp raw beef from the neighbor along with his olive. We tasted through 10 wines. My teeth were lathered tannins that somehow never escaped the 12 years already in bottle. I told him, "you make wines that will erase one's youth." It's true.
These are forever wines and they are, for certain, a dying breed in the vin nature culture. They are wines to be drunk in caves underneath the streets of Parma - not on the beach, not in Dolores park. :) (source: Brett Pallesen, Soil Expedition)
The Region: Piedmont
Piedmont (or Piemonte in Italian), described by many wine lovers as the “Burgundy of Italy”, is without a doubt one of the most revered wine-producing regions in the world.
Piedmont, which literally means “at the foot of the mountain”, is located in the northwestern part of Italy. It borders with France (west), Valle d’Aosta (north-west), Lombardy (east), Liguria (south). The capital of Piedmont is Turin, its biggest city, and the main industrial center.
In this very similar to Veneto, Piedmont's wine landscape is defined by the presence of several indigenous grape varietals, which give a wide array of incredibly unique wines. Piedmont’s traditional winemaking has one main characteristic: grape varietals, native or non-native, are almost never blended.
The association with Burgundy comes from three essential facts:
- Great focus on the quality of production over quantity: wineries in Piedmont tend to be very small, mostly family-owned, and are integrated with the environment.
- Terroir-driven approach to viticulture and winemaking: vineyards are carefully subdivided in cru (zonazione in Italian), which give unique wines with a specific character.
- Nebbiolo, one of the most famous red grape varietals in the world, is vinified following a similar approach to Pinot Noir in Burgundy – for example, it’s never blended.
The Red Wines of Piedmont
Nebbiolo is for Piedmont what Pinot Noir is for Burgundy. There are several Nebbiolo-based DOCGs - Barolo, Barbaresco, Ghemme, Gattinara - and it's safe to say that Nebbiolo is the most representative red grape varietal of Piedmont.
Other notable red grapes are Barbera, in all its incarnations - Barbera d'Asti, Barbera d'Alba, Barbera del Monferrato - Dolcetto - Dolcetto di Diano d'Alba, Dolcetto di Ovada, Dolcetto di Dogliani - and Brachetto d'Aqui.
Less common but very interesting, especially after being rediscovered by a handful of excellent producers, varietals such as Pelaverga, Freisa, and Grignolino, have found a new place in Piedmont's winemaking landscape.
The White Wines of Piedmont
Piedmont is very often, and mistakenly so, identified as a land of red wine – most notably Barolo and Barbaresco. However, among Piedmont’s most exciting wines, there are several whites. Erbaluce di Caluso, Gavi, Arneis are all native grape varietals vinified superbly into exciting white wines.
Moscato d’Asti is another one of Piedmont’s mainstays, famous in its Asti Spumante iteration, the ubiquitous sweet, white, sparkling wine.