PIEDMONT, Italia - Montferrat is in the northern Italian region of Piedmont. What you need to know about it is this: it is one of the most important wine districts in Italy. It’s also an agricultural area, which means in the spring when the fields are first planted, the soft hills become a living mosaic of beautiful colors.
The fact that it is stunningly beautiful is a plus, in fact it is so beautiful that in 2014, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site of Natural Beauty.
Montferrat has a strange history. The early rulers of the region were related to the Kings of France and the Holy Roman Emperors. They were also related to the royal familes of Jerusalem and the Imperial Byzantine Empire.
And then there was the time Montferrat was controlled by Spain – for about three years actually, and through some sort of hocus pocus it passed to the Gonzaga Dukes of Mantua. The Gonzaga hung on to it the best they could, but then they lost it to the Dukes of Savoy.
If you are thinking that Montferrat is rather strange for an Italian name, you are right. The stories about how it got its name is even more strange. It goes like this:
A very, very long time ago, the legendary founder of Montferrat, Aleramo, needed to shoe his horse. He looked and looked but he couldn’t find a hammer, so he used a brick- which, in local dialect was called a “mun”. And so the horse was shod – shod being the words “fra” in local dialect, which brings us to Munfra, and with a little magic fairy dust, it turns into Montferrat.
Actually there is another name story, not quite so fantastical and definitely more logical and it goes like this: Montferret comes from the Latin “Mons ferax”, which means fertile and rich hills. Now that makes sense.
The rich and fertile hills are by all accounts the most important thing about Montferrat. The rich land, along with hot, dry summers and cold winters, is perfect for growing grapes. Of the wines produced here, (DOC and DOCG), the most famous are Barbera d’Asti, Asti Spumante, Moscato d’Asti, Cortese, Malvasia and Grignolino.
Then there’s the other stuff about the famous writers, poets and artists who come from this area, but I figure as long as we’ve got the skinny on the wine, the rest can wait for another time.
Copyright © 2016 Phyllis Macchioni