Nadia Verrua, la padronina of Cascina 'Tavijn, works in a long forgotten area in the Asti province of Piemonte. Fortunately it is a region blessed with unique varieties brimming with personality.
Despite the small size of the property (approximately seven hectares including new plantations not yet in production), Nadia is quite ambitious and experimental, producing an increasingly diverse amount of wines each year in accordance to her harvests. The three main grapes of the area of are Barbera, Grignolino and Ruché, the latter two being native indigenous varietals of the area that have seen a small, cultish rise in popularity in recent years.
Grignolino is a grape that makes a pale, light red of garnet color and, when finely made, shows the characteristic bitter cherry, or amarena, flavor that goes well with lighter first courses of dried sausages and hard cheeses, like well-aged asiago. Ruché, on the other hand, produces a wine of saturated purple with plum notes and rose petal aromas. It is made to be drunk young and, again is a perfect wine for salumi, dried meats like bresaola or dried cacciorini and hard, aged cheeses. Barbera, while found throughout Piemonte, is common here and offers a more rustic counterpoint to the wines of the region.
At the helm of the estate for well over a decade, Nadia is still aided by her parents Ottavio and Teresa. In her early years, she produced wines under the region's DOC and DOCG labels, but has progressively abandoned these designations to free herself of their limitations. The three core wines still remain each year, albeit with new identities. The Grignolino has now been dubbed Ottavio after her father, the Ruché is called Teresa after her mother and La Bandita is the estate's Barbera (and also self referential to Nadia, who is depicted on the label wearing a Zorro mask.)
Nadia has also started making wines from Cortese, Moscato, Slarina and Freisa. Some are purchased fruit from friends, some are from inherited or purchased parcels and others still are from young vines she has planted herself. Special bottlings of Grignolino, Ruché and Barbera are now increasingly common, including a ripasso, one-off bottlings highlighting soil differences or even the same grapes vinified differently in the same vintage. All these ideas are colorfully brought to life by the label designs of Gianluca Cannizzo, the tongue in cheek designer behind My Poster Sucks.
The grapes are hand harvested and for the most part vinified in large casks or botti of slavonian oak, though stainless steel and fiberglass tanks are also used in plentiful vintages and for nascent experiments. Over the last decade, Nadia has increasingly pushed herself to limit or eschew the use of SO2. Today her philosophy is to to not use any if possible. If need be, she will add a small amount after malolactic fermentation, a critical moment in her winery where over-active yeasts occasionally continue eating elements of the wines.
This visit to Cascina Tavijn' took place in November, 2012.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Jake Halper and Josefa Concannon.
Blame it on the Louis/Dressner obsession with rare, quirky varieties if you want, but I've always loved the Cascina Tavijn wines. The Grignolino and Ruché grapes are always so vibrant and fun in their youth, but are still capable of developing complexity with a few years of aging. The estate is also part of our Italian "Gang of Four" (don't sue us Kermit!), the first group of Italian growers we started importing (along with Vittorio Bera, Cascina Degli Ulivi and La Biancara).
Cascina Tavijn is headed by Nadia Verrua.
The first independently bottled vintage was in 2001. Nadia took over the estate from her father, who had always sold the grapes to the cave cooperative; at first she only handled the cellar work, but has progressively become completely hands on in the vines. The estate is of modest size, with 6h of vines and 4h of hazelnut trees planted at the bottom of hill.
We arrived in the early afternoon, and immediately set out to the vines. After a much steeper uphill climb than any of us expected, the damn paparazzi started trying to take pictures of us.
The fall colors were once again in full swing.
The first parcel we visited was Southwest facing Ruché planted in 2001, followed by Grignolino. Some of this land has been replanted in massale since 2001, which has proven to be a challenge since very few growers still have have old vines of these almost extinct varieties.
Young vine Grignolino was planted 2.5 years ago in massale.
Walking downhill was a lot easier, and our tasting was accompanied by a large basket of recently harvested hazelnuts (which I ate a lot of). Every year, Nadia does two bottlings of each cuvée, and we tried the second of Grignolino, Ruché and Barbera. All were showing well. We also got to check out the cellar.
We finished with the sulfur free bottlings of each grape. Nadia bottles these on a tiny scale, and it all ends up at her husband Pietro's restaurant Consorzio. If you're ever in Torino for any reason whatsoever, you have no excuse not eating there. The food is incredible, and the wine list is an impressive who's who of great Italian and French natural wines. Plus it's the only place to drink sulfur free Grignolino by the glass!
We ate there on election night, and Pietro pulled out the big guns with this:
Drawn by a friend and local artist, this poster is a direct reference to Mauro Vergano's Americano.