I’M A KEEN history buff. There’s nothing I like better than political coups, hard won battles and ancient religious festivals. And no matter how tenuous the connection, I can always find a reason to wax lyrical about wine!
Take for example, the wonderful Piemonte wines from the province of Piedmont in the north western corner of Italy, beneath the Alps. In 1744, the battle of Madonna dell’Olmo took place, also known as the Battle of Cuneo, which was an important Piedmont-Sardinian garrison. These days, Cuneo is an important town at the heart of the Piemonte wine growing region – so you can see that I’m forced to talk about history and wine together.
France’s aim in the battle of Madonna dell’Olmo was to humble Piedmont-Sardinia and make her drop out of the war of the Austrian Succession. The town of Cuneo under siege, Charles Emmanuel, the King of Sardinia forged a brilliant plan to save the garrison and distract his enemies, whilst waiting for winter to draw in and cut off them off, literally at the pass (the Alps).
To cut a long story short, the French won, but the King of Sardinia saved his garrison and made life awkward for the French, who finally retreated on 19 November to escape the dreaded Alpine snows, notorious for causing heavy casualties.
The very next day after the French retreat, it began to snow. I like to think of Charles Emmanuel enjoying a glass or two of local wine, surveying the wintry scene and thinking with satisfaction of his enemies struggling through freezing blizzards and across blocked mountain passes. In the days before TV, that must have been great entertainment.
Great wine, great cuisine
Did Charles Emmanuel select a Barola or a Barbaresco wine? Both are world famous red wines, taking their names from local villages, produced from the Nebbiolo grape. For a white wine, in my opinion, he could do no better than the Timorasso, the best of the Piemontese white wines. These days, produced in very small quantities by a handful of producers it’s beautifully balanced, crisp and non acidic. I’m also a big fan of Gavi di Gavi a dry crisp white. If he’d won the battle, he would surely have cracked open a bottle of Asti Spumanti from Asti in the heart of this region.
Of course, great wine needs great cuisine and luckily Piedmont is also home to wonderful food. There are a number of Piemontese delicacies that are on my list of culinary delights to try before I die. Number one is the Alba white truffle (reputedly the best in the world), plus the region’s artisanal cheeses and cured meats. I’m also reliably assured that no chef should miss the chance to try Piedmontese herbs.
Piemonte dessert wines are a perfect match for the typical dessert of fresh seasonal fruits. Brachetto d’Acqui is the local dessert wine of Acqui Terme and you simply pour it cold over the fruits. I tried it with peaches and strawberries – truly delicious.
If you’d like to visit Piedmont, October to December is the best time to enjoy truffles and the wine harvest. If you do happen to find yourself there, please try a glass of Moscato served with the local Robiola di Roccaverano goat cheese which is a sensational combination.
I’d like to finish with a toast to Charles Emmanuel, King of Sardinia, who was a splendid tactician (even though he did lose).