This experience was so much fun from beginning to end that I’m not sure where to begin telling the story. Should I start at the beginning, with a beautiful tasting and tour at Francone Winery in Neive? Or should I start at the end, in the famous Gallina vineyards drinking Francone’s award-winning Barbaresco with new friends on a clear day, the Alps visible in the distance? I think I shall start at the beginning, because it set the tone for the rest of the tour.
Fabrizio Francone greeted us that chilly morning wearing several of layers of plaid and an air of ease that I imagine must come with being part of an historical and successful winemaking family, grounded in the land and the culture. Welcoming us to his family’s cantina in Neive, his energy and enthusiasm made us feel right at home. Fabrizio is a natural ambassador for the Langhe, Roero, and Monferato wine regions of Piedmont, Italy.
The Francone family has been producing wine in Piedmont since the late 1800s. Originally the wines produced were for personal use, but later the family promoted their wines in the nearby city of Turin. In 1964, the cantina (wine tasting room or shop) was built, with the idea of creating a new business that would cater to the tourists beginning to discover the area.
Today, the vineyards and the village of Neive are part of a newly designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, bringing ever more tourism to the area. Neive is also part of the collection of the Borghi piu belli d’Italia, one of the most beautiful small villages in Italy. I think Fabrizio’s ancestors must have been psychic.
A visit to the fifty-plus year old cantina is a walk through the Francone family history. It’s like a museum, filled with relics and the tools of viticulture, art, and information about the terroir, all which tell the story of five generations of winemaking.
But Francone is also a forward thinking company, implementing sustainable methods and techniques in winemaking, like stainless steel tanks that are cooled by water flowing over the sides. The water is then reclaimed and recycled.
In these tanks, the fermentation of the Dolcetto and Arneis were already underway. Fabrizio gave us a taste of each straight from the tank. But the wine Francone is primarily known for is their Barbaresco, made from the nebbiolo grape, which is the most important red wine grape grown in the Langhe. I was looking forward to sampling the Barbaresco Riserva when we sat down for a proper tasting.
Francone produces about twenty different wines, but of course we did not taste them all. I’m including some tasting notes for three wines: the Arneis, because we also had a taste of this wine still in the fermentation stage; the Barbaresco Riserva, as noted earlier, Barbaresco is the most important wine Francone produces; and the Valsellera, because I like sparkling wine.
The Arneis DOCG had lovely citrus and floral notes both on the nose and palate, typical of this grape variety. Francone ages their Arneis on the lees for two months which helps give it a very creamy mouth feel. Or as Fabrizio says, “With every drop, you feel a little better.”
The Valsellera is a sparkling rose made in the metodo classico and aged on the lees about twenty-four months. It’s unique because it is made from nebbiolo grapes, the same grapes used to make the Barbaresco. But used in the rosé, the fruitiness of the nebbiolo can be coaxed from the grapes, making this a delightful and refreshing wine that pairs well with appetizers. It is simply a great wine for drinking, any time.
Our tasting was accompanied by bread sticks and some local salumi and cheeses.
Since it was only 10 am, I was happy for the food – it meant I could drink a little more of the sparkling wine and I didn’t have to spit out as much. Spitting out wine may sound like blasphemy, but when you have a full day of winery visits ahead of you, it is all about survival.
The Barbaresco Riserva 2010 DOCG expressed the characteristics of the terroir, and the grapes come from the oldest vines. Barbaresco has softer tannins than Barolo, also made from Nebbiolo grapes, and can be drunk within five years of bottling. Ripe fruit, leather, spice, and jam are some of the tasting notes on the palate. I’d like to have this wine with lamb chops.
Read more about the differences between Barolo and Barbaresco
If you enjoy reading tasting notes, and wine and food pairings are a mystery to you, the Francone site has food pairing suggestions for each of its wines. Follow this link for information on more wines and the tasting notes.
And now, to the vineyards!
Just a short distance from the Cantina, and a stone’s throw from Barbaresco, Fabrizio lead us on a tour of the historic Gallina vineyards (some of the most famous in the Langhe), which produce wines of distinction and great character.
In these vineyards, Francone grows nebbiolo for their delicious and award-winning Barbaresco wine, as well as Dolcetto, Moscato, and Chardonnay grapes. All of the wine produced from these vineyards is either DOC or DOCG (denominazione origine controllata or denominazione origine controllata garantita), the highest designation in Italy. The wines from the Gallina vineyards are recognizable by the label designation, Antichi Poderi dei Gallina.
From the Francone website:
In 1990, the Francone family decided that these vineyards merited a label of their own and created Antichi Poderi dei Gallina: complex, stylish wines with excellent aging potential, made unique by the terroir, Gallina in Neive. The grape varieties cultivated on these hills are:
Nebbiolo (Barbaresco ‘l Ciaciaret), Dolcetto ( Menturin), Moscato (Poderi Gallina), Chardonnay ( Le Rose), and soon, two new vineyards will be born here, with Pinot Nero and Nascetta.
The day we visited the vineyards, workers were busy with the harvest. Because of the steepness of the slopes, the grapes must be harvested by hand. Fabrizio showed us how to cut the grape clusters from the vines and allowed us to work until we had filled a few of the red plastic boxes, being careful not to fill them so full that the grapes were damaged.
After laboring away in the vineyards for a brief time (said with tongue in cheek), Fabrizio surprised us with a bottle of the Antichi Poderi Gallina Barbaresco DOCG. As we stood there toasting the beautiful day, the harvest, and of course Francone, I imagined what it might be like to own a vineyard in Italy’s famous Langhe area. I understood why Fabrizio is such a happy guy – he is surrounded by one of man and nature’s most stunning landscapes every single day.
A few notes about the special wine Fabrizio shared with us from the Francone website:
“The Barbaresco DOCG Gallina is crafted from the grapes of L’Ciaciaret vineyard in the Gallina cru, the most valuable cru of the Neive area, which is on Renato Ratti’s Map of Historic Barbaresco cru-vineyards. It was one of the first cru-mentions to feature in the local wine labels. Thanks to a south/south-west facing exposure of the slope, the vineyard produces nebbiolo grapes which can give intensive and extremely fine wines.”
To visit Cantina Francone in Neive,check the website for hours. Or contact Valerie at Girls Gotta Drink, who organized my tour of Francone and several other wineries in Piemonte.
Via Tanaro, 45 – 12052 Neive
You can also follow Francone Winery on Facebook.
Where to stay
Depending on if you like an experience more in the countryside or a small village I recommend staying in the charming village of Neive, one of Italy’s most beautiful small towns. We went to Neive to pick up another member of our group that day, and in just a few moments, I liked it enough to plan a visit there the following day. Aside from being quite picturesque, Neive has several excellent restaurants. I did not stay in Neive (next trip) but Valerie can make suggestions for accommodations.
Francone Winery also offers accommodations in the Gallina vineyards. The apartments are not far from Neive and Barbaresco. Could be a really cool experience staying in the vineyard.
I’ve included a couple of photos to pique your interest.
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