Monferrato and its underground treasures

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Since 22nd June 2014 together with Langhe and Roero, Monferrato has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The plate of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognizes six components that are part of the site: the Langhe of Barolo, the Castle of Grinzane Cavour, the Hills of Barbaresco, Nizza Monferrato and the Barbera ones (including the municipalities of Montegrosso, Mombercelli, Agliano, Castelnuovo Calcea, Vinchio, Vaglio Serra, Nizza Monferrato), Canelli and Asti Spumante (with the municipalities of Santo Stefano Belbo, Calosso, Canelli) and Monferrato degli Infernot (with the municipalities of Cella Monte, Ozzano Monferrato, Sala Monferrato, Rosignano Monferrato, Ottiglio, Olivola, Frassinello Monferrato, Camagna Monferrato, Vignale Monferrato).

Canelli and the underground cathedrals

This territory is unmistakable thanks to the landscape that surrounds it and the expanses of vineyards treated and shaped over the years by the work of the farmers. It is here that, thanks to a continuous improvement of the cultivation and processing techniques of the white muscat grape, the history of the great Italian sparkling wines has been started. In the whole area there are about 1236 ha of vineyards mainly cultivated with white muscat and 238 wineries specialized in the production of sparkling wine.

It was in 1895, that the Piedmontese oenologist professor Federico Martinotti applied, for the first time, the new method of vilification from which this wine is obtained. It was a first important step towards the start of the Piedmontese sparkling wine production which was followed by a continuous refinement of the techniques, among which we recall the contribution of the French oenologist Charmat, which led to obtaining of the current precious product.

The city of Canelli is taken as the cornerstone of this component for the fundamental role played in the Canelli is a medieval town, it consists of a portion called Villanova (new village), built around the ancient fortified structure and of the village, formed by successive stratifications around the ancient medieval castle. The architecture of the Canelli area is a testament to the ability to adapt the places to the transformations and needs of the wine production cycle. Just inside the Municipality, in the second half of the nineteenth century, the search for Martinotti started: within spaces commonly called “Underground Cathedrals“, the first sparkling wine productions of the area started up. These are large underground spaces, characterized by rooms turned with exposed bricks, which owe their shape and distribution of space to the processes of making sparkling wine.

Within the site “Canelli and Asti Spumante” there is another small village,  that represents a singular example of vernacular architecture closely linked to the wine culture. This is the small village of Calosso, a high ground town that has preserved its medieval layout intact, and its particular ‘crutin‘, cellars dug out of the tuff and turned into bricks, used both for the domestic preservation of bottles and foodstuffs and like cisterns or iceboxes. Their diffusion in the village of Calosso is quite extensive, so much so that almost every house in the historic centre have one. These are very variable environments whose construction, witnessed by a handwriting on the walls, dates back to a period between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Calosso

The Monferrato of the Infernot

The area in question includes eight urban centres whose characteristic is the widespread use of the “Pietra da Cantoni“, a sandstone found only in this portion of the territory, in the hilly basin of Langhe, Roero and Monferrato. These cellars, located below the common dwellings and used for the conservation of the bottles, constitute true works of art born from the peasant tradition and from the expertise of menders master.

The site “Il Monferrato e gli Infernot” also includes within it the Eco museum dedicated to the processing of “Pietra da Cantoni” and the two major quarries, by now inactive for several years, from which the source material was originally extracted.

Ecomuseo dedicated to the “Pietra da Cantoni”

The main grape of this territory is still Barbera, vinified mainly as Barbera del Monferrato different from Barbera d’Asti due to the different wine-making techniques used to obtain the two red wines. There are a total of 104 producers in Vignale Monferrato, where, inside an eighteenth-century palace, there is the Enoteca del Monferrato recognised as one of the first regional wine shops in Piedmont.

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