Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

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Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Oswaldo Costa » Wed Nov 18, 2009 6:16 pm

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During the first week of November, Marcia and I made our first trip to Piedmont. Timed to coincide with white truffle season, the expedition had a more serious objective besides fraternizing with the natives, tasting and spitting wines, adding to our knowledge in kinesthetic ways, and eating and drinking to the brink of guilt. After reading for years about the so-called Barolo wars, I wanted to see for myself what traditional v. modern meant, and the shades lie in between. To this end, I prepared, with some trepidation, a questionnaire for all our victims and, as we shall see, this added greatly, and in unexpected ways, to the success of the trip (the answers have been consolidated and appear in the second post). With the help of Google translate and rudimentary Italian, I emailed, faxed or phoned to schedule visits to a range of producers, from the most conservative to the most technological. I didn’t try Gaja, known to be difficult for those not in the biz; Bruno Giacosa was the only one to say no (some didn’t even reply); Giuseppe Cappellano, possibly the winery I most wanted to visit because of the late Teobaldo Cappellano’s iconoclasm, as well as the uniqueness of his Pie Franco Barolo, made from ungrafted vines, was booked through connections which I thank, but will remain unnamed (but you know who you are!). We had a wonderful time, visiting 11 wineries and tasting some 90 wines (to avoid disrupting the flow, the tasting notes appear as endnotes in the third post).

We arrived in Alba late in the afternoon of Sunday, November 1st, and checked into the Savona Hotel, recommended by Tom Hyland (http://learnitalianwines.wordpress.com). We decided to stay in Alba because it is strategically located between Barolo and Barbaresco, and has enough good restaurants that we could have as much wine as we wanted without thought of driving. The Savona’s décor is a bit fusty, in garish red, pink and orange tones, implacably covering both walls and floors, but the room was comfortable and spacious, and the rates decent. The best thing about the Savona is the location, superbly central. The breakfast buffet is good, and there is a garage for €10 extra where you can keep your rental car safely. I had complaints about the intermittent Wi-Fi (the pleasant staff is incapable of fixing it when down); the racket of cleaning ladies gossiping vigorously in the morning (they woke Marcia twice before 8AM); and the thoughtlessly designed shower stall, so tight that, chasing the dribbles, one repeatedly strikes the protuberant handle, changing the temperature. Why do epicurean countries like France and Italy, with unparalleled esthetic design, stumble with functional design when modernizing their bathrooms? Must be something about the recentness of showers v. bathtubs. Despite these quibbles, I think it’s a good idea to stay at the Savona, especially for a first trip.

After depositing our bags we went for a pleasant stroll down the main pedestrian thoroughfare, the busy Via Vittorio Emanuele, and circled the Duomo, passing shops and stalls selling wine and, most conspicuously, truffles, packaged in multiple ways and, in their pure form, resembling malformed monkey brains of various sizes, displayed like gold nuggets and sold by the ounce1. For dinner, we went to the Enoclub, where we splurged on the excellent (but not extraordinary) tasting menu, including some dishes with truffle shavings. The wine list is eclectic and deep, but a bit short on seasoned (pre-1999) vintages, and on the expensive side. The underground dining rooms are Spartan and elegant, but I found the lack of any horizon a bit cavernous. Service was excellent. We had a white Arneis by the glass2 and downed most of a Barolo recommended by Otto Nieminen3, sharing a glass with an oenologically clueless but amorous couple of American dons at the neighboring table.

Monday, November 2
Our car didn’t have a GPS, so Marcia located our destination on her iPod Touch and came up with directions, a useful procedure that we would follow several times in the coming days. We drove through light rain and considerable mist to the main Ceretto winery in Monsordo Bernardina, an impressive property formerly belonging to Vittorio Emmanuele II. According to our amiable guide, Simonetta, who gave the tour in English, it was built to be a lodge for the king’s illegitimate children. We had signed up for a tasting called “The Cru,” given twice weekly, and were part of a group of twelve, including seven Swedes and three Italians. After a quick tour, we sat down at a long table with glorious views rendered inoperative by the mist, and tasted a few wines4. Before that, I pulled Simonetta aside and said I had a few questions about things like yeasts, vinification, vine yields and sulfites. She pleaded ignorance, so I requested an enologist, which she was kind enough to conjure. In stumbling Italian, I put my questionnaire to winemaker Mauro Daniele with respect to Ceretto’s top wine, the Bricco Rocche, and he was friendly and helpful, if a little bemused.

What I appreciated most about the Ceretto tasting was the way they paired a cru Barolo from La Morra with a cru Barolo from Serralunga. One of the things we learned while prepping for the trip was that the Barolos from Barolo and La Morra come from younger, more fertile Tortonian soil composed of calcareous marl while Barolos from Serralunga, Monforte and most of Castiglione Falletto come from older, less fertile Helvetian soil that is predominantly sandstone. As a result, Barolos from the former tend to be softer and are approachable earlier, while Barolos from the latter tend to be tougher and need more time. Ceretto turned out to be the only winery where we had to pay for tasting5. The architecture is clearly meant to impress, and it does, but in a rather soulless way. This was the only winery out of eleven where we saw no sign of the owners or their families. But the Ceretto industrial competence cannot be denied, and I have had splendid bottles of 1998 Bricco Rocche, so their wines become drinkable earlier that their more traditional cousins and the oak can eventually integrate.

After the tasting, we backed out of the rest of the tour, which involved visiting other facilities, and went back to the hotel where we ate delicious mortadella and cheese sandwiches, assembled from components purchased at a deli on Via Vittorio Emanuele 9 with the comprehensive sounding name of Ognibene. For a deli, it has an amazing variety of goods, with a basement full of wine, including Gajas and other expensive stuff, and is run by an assortment of apron-clad Italian Mamas that shout each other’s names depending on the specialty required by the customer.

After that, without much of a break, off we went to meet Mauro Mascarello at Giuseppe Mascarello & Sons in Castiglione Faletto, owners of the entire Monprivato vineyard, one of the most renowned in Barolo, and makers of several other excellent wines. After some difficulty in finding the unassuming winery, we were received by Maria Teresa Mascarello Mauro’s mother and the winery’s multitasker (sales, accounting and public relations), and no relation to Bartolo Mascarello’s homonymous daughter. Maria Teresa took us into a small office where a series of bottles were arraigned, each with a vacu-vin stopper and the date of opening written on the label. We tasted eleven wines6, in order of ascending stuffing, and they were all damn good, except for one that had little bugs running around because, Maria Teresa said with annoyance, “the guys” had left it open (malolactics had already begun and they attract these bugs). When I mentioned to Maria Teresa that I had opened a 1999 Monprivato a few months ago with a soaked cork that tasted oxidative, she grimaced and said that they spend a lot of money to get the best corks possible (fine corks cost more than twice the cost of a bottle), but their manufacturers say they cannot guarantee them 100%, and the failure rate can be as high as 5%.

Several bottles had been open for over a week and still tasted great, a tribute to these wines’ age-worthiness, but also to the stability that comes from never leaving the winery. But it did make it harder to asses how they might taste fresh out the bottle.

After the tasting, Maria Teresa brought the wolverine side burned Mauro in to answer my questions, and we had a nice exchange, despite my Italian. I began to relax about the questionnaire, beginning to suspect what the rest of the trip would confirm, that it would be taken as a sign of interest rather than an intrusion or home winemaker espionage.

Maria Teresa declared proudly that the winery only cultivates indigenous varietals and only uses its own grapes, neither buying nor selling. She taught us that Nebbiolo can only be grown on southern or south-western exposures, otherwise it can’t get enough sunlight to ripen. As a result, almost all Dolcetto and Barbera use slopes facing elsewhere. Mauro added that oak vanilla is not an indigenous flavor in Piedmont and doesn’t belong in its wines. Flavor-free older oak breathes less, so it just takes longer to micro-oxygenate the wine. When Mauro said that one of the interesting things about Nebbiolo is that it doesn’t do well anywhere else, I had the temerity to say that last year I tasted a Nebbiolo made by a Brazilian garagiste that was delicious. Good man, he just smiled politely. Asked about the heralded 2009 vintage, Mauro expects it to have the complexity of 2004 and the heady perfume of 2005. This winery is clearly not well set up for visitors, but we greatly enjoyed the wines and conversation. For such a traditional winery, I was surprised by the regular use of purchased yeasts.

That night we had dinner at Osteria dell’Arco near our hotel in Alba. I had read somewhere that it was a “known winemaker hangout.” Not sure if the syntax means that known winemakers hang out there or it’s known to be a hangout for winemakers, but I figured at least it would not be molecular. We splurged on truffle tasting menu, which was good, not great. Truffle shavings emit wonderfully seductive aromas which promise but don’t deliver in the mouth, where they taste like irregular communion wafers made of parchment. Tubor heaven is olfactory, not gustatory. Between the few old and many new wines on the list, I was torn between a 99 Mocagatta Barbaresco Basarin and a 98 Roagna Barolo La Rocca e La Pira, but afraid they might be closed or just too young. I asked the manager/sommelier which would be better. She replied that they were different. Duh! I tried another approach, and asked if the 98 Roagna might not be chiuso. I guess chiuso is not the word they use for what we call closed in a wine because she thought I was asking if the bottle had not been opened. Undeterred by such serial miscomprehension, I persevered until she got it. To my surprise, she said she had an open bottle of the Roagna and came back with a pour. It was chiuso as a doornail, so I opted for the Basarin7, which was more aperto, but not enough to make it a joy to drink.

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Tuesday, November 3
Tuesday was the most beautiful day of our stay, sunny and warm, with crystal clear horizons. We drove to our eagerly anticipated appointment with Maria Teresa Mascarello at Cantina Bartolo Mascarello in Barolo. The pretty facades of Maria Teresa’s house and the Mascarello winery lie on a small street that angles the road that runs around the city’s perimeter, right next to the municipal parking lot by the main entrance. Maria Teresa seemed very busy, but graciously showed us around the facilities. Commenting on the gorgeous weather, she said that on days like this she realized what a blessing it was to live in this place, where, on a clear day, you can see the snow on the mountain tops. Talking about the size of the facilities, she mentioned that they were small, but ideal for her to manage. Like her father, who didn’t travel and used to say that if people were interested, they would come to him, she doesn’t go to fairs and exhibitions. Until recently, she didn’t even have a phone, and has no computer. The atmosphere is domestic, tidy and warm, with lots of wood and earth tones. Everything seemed very clean, and Maria Teresa said they emphasize hygiene so that time can do its work undisturbed. Whenever new barrels are purchased, water and sea salt are used to extract the tannins. Malolactic fermentation happens whenever it feels like it and lasts as long as it wants. If it’s cold and malos don’t start before the end of the year, SO2 is used to protect the wine until temperatures warm up again in the spring. Grapes are picked according to several parameters, such as a Babo of around 20-21 (Brix 23.5-24.5) and the maturity of the seeds. They definitely want to avoid surmaturité. Agriculture is basically organic, without pesticides and herbicides, but common sense has to prevail and they are not certified. Mascarello resists the trend towards since vineyard “cru” Barolos, preferring the traditional practice of blending several crus for complexity. Their Barolo comes from Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rue, and Rocche, all in Barolo or La Morra, therefore younger, more fertile soil, yielding a softer, earlier maturing wine.

After the tour we sat and chatted for a while and tasted three wines8. As her father grew older and could no longer move around so easily, he turned to painting, and many of the bottles feature his work on their labels. Maria Teresa gave us a cute little booklet showing these. Besides the famously irreverent No Barrique No Berlusconi label from the late 1990s, there are other, more lyrical ones that show a love of Matisse’s cut outs and in a naïf but tasteful style. Asked about 2004, Maria Teresa said it was a classic vintage, and one should wait at least 10 years, ideally 12 or 15, to drink the Barolo. Commenting on the difficulty of finding sufficiently aged Barolos in restaurants, she said that her father used to say that restaurants sold, and people drank, young Barolos as if they were beer. Asked about 2009, she soberly said that weather conditions were very favorable but she didn’t want to jump on the forecasting bandwagon because it was simply too soon.

We said our goodbyes and, before lunch, walked around the very small town but were unable to visit the Castello di Barolo, under renovation. We visited the Enoteca Regionale del Barolo in the ground floor of the castle, basically a waste of time, with practically none of the better labels9. Prices in town are generally tourist-driven, and the only deals I found were at La Cantinetta di Schiappetto (Via Roma No. 33). At Osteria Barolando we had a simple lunch of local fare like vitello tonnato and braised veal in Barolo sauce, accompanied by a glass of the house Barbera10.

With a bit of time to kill, we drove around the beautiful countryside surrounding Monforte, marveling at how variegated vines become in the fall, like trees, taking on every conceivable shade of yellow and brown. When we got to the impressive Poderi Aldo Conterno property, smack in the middle of the renowned Bussia vineyard, we were received by the almost painfully shy Stefano Conterno, one of Aldo’s three sons, who said that his brother Giacomo would be there any moment to take care of us.

Giacomo arrived soon and, over the course of the next (almost) three hours, conducted one of the finest tastings of the trip (in excellent English, learned by taking classes in Alba). In contrast with the Giuseppe Mascarello tasting, Giacomo made a point of opening every bottle that we tasted (except one), and for each change of grape he performed the elegant ritual of baptizing our glasses with the new wine and swirling it before dumping and serving again. We talked a lot and slowly tasted six wines11, including the winery’s three top crus, Colonello, Cicala and Romirasco, all facing southwest in Bussia Soprana (but they no longer distinguish between Bussia Soprana and Sottana on their labels). Towards the end, Giacomo took us on a tour of the impressive property, stressing twice the oak was Slavonian, not Slovenian (boys and girls, take note). We talked about the affinities between Burgundy and Piedmont (basically farmer-driven, working fickle grapes, wines of lighter color) v. Bordeaux and Tuscany (basically estate-driven, working hardier grapes, wines of darker color), and Giacomo, blissfully unaware of the pain he might be inflicting, mentioned that he had just received that morning his annual allocation of Romanée Conti. One of the themes to which Giacomo kept returning was how everything about their operations was structured to allow them to do things without hurry. Wines are only released when they are ready (e.g., when they consider new wood to be well integrated), and the winery was able to afford the luxury of not releasing any 2002s (the poorest vintage in recent memory), selling it off as vino di tavola. In 2005, it rained copiously during the first eight days of October, by which time they had only picked half their Nebbiolo grapes. They found the second half, picked after the rain, to be clearly inferior, so they sold it off, producing Barolos only from the first batch (Giacomo said that rain destroys skin polyphenols responsible for tertiary flavors). Because they only want the ripest bunches picked at each pass, they avoid outside pickers and only use their own. Giacomo said they like money as much as anybody else, but want to make it in this particular way.

After resting briefly at the hotel, we went to dinner at Piazza Duomo (Michelin 1 Star), in a second floor dining room beautifully painted by Francesco Clemente. We again decided to splurge on the truffle menu, except this time something unexpected happened. A few minutes after we ordered it, and after several exquisite amuse bouches, our waiter arrived with a white truffle in a jar. I expected it to be what they would exfoliate over our food, but he placed it on a little electronic scale, and asked me to verify that the weight was 65 grams. He then said that he expected to use about 50 grams, and the cost was €6 per gram. I asked “wait a minute, is this in addition to the €90?” He said yes. Well, I said, we have to confer about this, and may have to choose a different tasting menu. He then asked “what do I tell the kitchen because they have already started?” I said “tell them to hang on, we may still choose this menu.” Which we did, since it was still the most attractive, even senza the wallet-busting tubor. And it turned out to be the most delicious food we had during the trip, everything superb, with several things doing that little magic trick of exceeding the sum of the parts. But Marcia was unnerved by the truffle weighing incident and just found the place overly affected (they have a menu just for waters), and the staff too solicitous and mannered. She agrees with me that it was the best food we had, but didn’t care for the overall experience. Even though the restaurant belongs to Ceretto, I found the wine list to be the most comprehensive of the trip, with the biggest selection of older vintages. But they also had the biggest selection of wines by the glass, so that’s what we chose, for the sake of variety12. Dessert was followed by so many petit fours that we nearly had to be carried out. Of course, we didn’t have to eat them, but then again, we did.

Wednesday, November 4
Wednesday saw a return to hazy weather that would remain in effect for the remainder. Our morning appointment was at Massolino, in Serralunga d’Alba. Franco Massolino’s able and personable assistant, Danila, gave us a tour of the winery (in English) and answered some of my questions (others were answered by Franco Massolino via email).

During the tour, we saw some old fashioned demijohns, and Danila said with a smile that they still have seven or eight old and old-fashioned customers who like to buy wine that way and pour it into bottles at home. Massolino is not certified organic, but they try to follow organic guidelines as much as possible. They only use their own grapes and cultivate 21 hectares. All Barolos are aged in bottis, except for the Parafada, with which they experimented for a while with barriques (1/3 new, 1/3 second use, 1/3 third use). Since the 2004 vintage, Parafada is aged mainly in 500-700 liter barrels and partially in 225 liter barriques for around 24 months. Before taking us to the tasting room, Danila asked us to wait a minute while she checked if it was free. She came back and took us there, but when we entered, Franco’s brother Roberto and sister Paola, who also work at the winery, were at the table and seemed flustered by our arrival and hurried off without a word of greeting. Danila was apologetic about not being able to offer us a taste of any of the three crus (Vigna Rionda, Parafada and Margheria) saying that stocks were low and the company has established a new policy to preserve inventory. I found this a little odd because there was an Enomatic machine in the room with the three crus staring right at our faces. Given the option, we would have been glad to pay to taste, but I decided not to press the issue to avoid putting Danila in an awkward situation. So, we sat down to taste five impressive wines13. For each change of grape, Danila performed the same elegant ritual of flushing and baptizing the glasses that Giacomo Conterno had performed the previous afternoon.

Massolino turned out to be the only winery where we were unable to taste the crus. Without that, it becomes difficult to make a more complete assessment. Perhaps things would have been different if Franco Massolino had been present, but I was left with the impression that the company is experiencing growing pains, and the owners are not handling that with grace.

Feeling a bit frustrated, we headed to Barbaresco for lunch, since our afternoon appointment was in nearby Castagnole Lanze. We went to what looked like the only restaurant in town, the Trattoria Antica Torre, across the street from Produttori, where the food was competent, and we shared a glass of 2008 Negro Langhe Dolcetto 13.0% (fresh and simple but juicy, balanced, and very enjoyable).

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Passing, with unrequited longing, by Bruno Giacosa’s winery in Neive, we headed towards our afternoon appointment at La Spinetta, where we were received (in English) by the charming Manuela Rivetti, Giorgio Rivetti’s niece. The facilities are modern and beautiful, sleek but not slick, minimalist but not cold, thanks to tasteful use of wood (I’m talking about the walls, not the wines). Manuela gave us a tour of the sparkling clean and highly technological facilities, including a wing with several rotofermenters, those notorious symbols of modernity. The rotofermenters are used only for reds, and autoclaves are used for Moscatos. Cellars are kept warm and humid to ensure that malolactic fermentations take place in the Fall, always in wood barrels. The Rivetti family consider themselves farmers first and winemakers second, and work “traditionally,” with no artificial fertilizers or pesticides, considering themselves “75% biodynamic.” Grapes are picked by hand, with only horse manure as a fertilizer. Copper and sulfur are used if needed. Manuela gave us the history of the winery, an undeniable commercial success, and I was interested to hear about how, in the mid-1990s, they were able to obtain permission from the DOCG authorities to vinify their Barbarescos in Castagnole Lanze, which lies just outside the Barbaresco zone. According to Manuela, that permission would be impossible to obtain today (at Roagna, a few days later, I realized that Luca Roagna’s grandfather had grandfathered an even more usual arrangement, obtaining permission in the 1940s to vinify their Barolo fruit in Barbaresco). Manuela opened for us a generous range of bottles14. I was struck by how the toughest wines, the Barolo and the Barbarescos, both had a sweet finish that tempered the tannins and the acidity, making me wonder if they pick their Nebbiolo later than other producers, taking advantage of the grape’s naturally high acidity to get away with a touch of surmaturité. Though new oak is prevalent, starting in 2006, the chardonnay no longer sees French barriques, and has been switched to Slavonian botti, a surprising change towards more traditional methods.

Manuela made the comment that, other things equal, Barberas are better from Asti than Alba since in the latter most of the best (south and southwest) exposures are used for Nebbiolo (apparently the same logic does not apply to Dolcetto; she didn’t know why).

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this visit, given my ideological preference for the traditionalists. Some of the credit for this must go to Manuela; her pride seemed entirely guileless and her touch humanized what could have otherwise appeared technological and cold. Marcia and I bonded with her and have very positive memories of the visit. As for the rotofermenters, it has been written that “Unlike the cement mixer image many of us have when considering rotofermenters, they are actually carefully controlled as per the number of rotations, speed and timing. They can be managed as delicately as other cap management techniques.15” Perhaps.

That evening we had dinner at Trattoria La Libera in Alba, a charming place with so-so service and, I thought, overrated cuisine (Marcia liked it better). The white truffle shaving ritual finally convinced me that fresh truffles are more about aroma than flavor. Derivatives like truffle oil and truffle butter deliver more actual truffle taste, though the aromas cannot compare to the enticing purity of the real thing. Here, as elsewhere, we followed the pattern of ordering more expensive wine when the restaurant was less expensive, and vice versa, a practice that ended up leveling the restaurant tabs. We splurged and ordered a bottle of Aldo Conterno Gran Bussia16, the only wine we hadn’t drank at the winery. This was such a huge disappointment that it nearly spoiled dinner for me, but Marcia kept my spirits up and reminded me that we were paying tribute to Giacomo Conterno’s hospitality. We took the bottle home, wrote a message on it for Giacomo, and dropped it off at the winery the following afternoon.

Thursday, November 5
I had some misgivings about our morning appointment at Luciano Sandrone because he is one of the founding fathers of more accessible Barolo. But, again, as with La Spinetta, I came away with the conclusion that things aren’t so black and white. Barbara Sandrone’s assistant Sara met us and gave us a tour of the winery in English. Along came a nice but entirely clueless couple from Arizona who had been sent by (oddly enough) the Barbaresco tourist office. Then again, perhaps not so surprising, since Sandrone exports 80% of their production and the US is their biggest market. Ten people work at the new winery, inaugurated in 1999, right next to the famed Cannubi vineyard. For the sake of gravity, the winery has three levels: crushing and destemming takes place on the second floor, vinification on the first (ground) floor, and cellaring in the basement. Luciano is in charge of cellar, his brother Luca handles the vineyards, and Luciano’s daughter Barbara handles clients. The winery farms 25 hectares and produces 90,000 bottles annually. The Dolcetto comes from 11 different parcels and the Barbera from 6. Each parcel is vinified separately. Blending of approved lots takes place in the Spring. Fruit all hand picked, manually sorted and destemmed by machine. Fruit is lightly broken to initiate fermentation, not crushed. All malolactics take place in wood, except for Dolcetto (steel). Rooms are heated so that malos happen in December. An interesting detail: their French oak casks are never toasted (should have put this in my questionnaire). All wines bottled in vacuum.

When we returned, we were met by Barbara, who manages the trick of saying what she must have said a million times before with warmth and freshness. Professionalism at its best. Their marketing materials are informative, with details other wineries assume you don’t want to know, like chemical characteristics and a description of the growing season. Sandrone is impressive, among other things, for the clarity of its product line: five wines only, all red, one for each of the three main varietals, plus a single vineyard cru Barolo (in the name of modernity) and a four vineyard cru Barolo (in the name of tradition). The four crus in the blended Barolo are two from younger Tortonian soil in Barolo proper and two from older Helvetian soil in Monforte, in contrast to Bartolo Mascarello’s four blended crus, all of which are from Tortonian soil. We tasted the five wines from half bottles made for this purpose, and I was generally much more impressed than I expected to be17.

When I asked Barbara is she would answer some questions, she said she would fetch someone to answer them and came back with, wow, her father. I was, of course, thrilled. We switched to Italian and had an animated conversation, apologizing to the couple from Arizona, who let their eyes glaze over instead of trying to decipher the body language. Luciano was very receptive, and his eyes sparkled with enthusiasm as he talked about things like tighter vine spacing in Valmaggiore because of the steeper incline and the shadows cast by the leaves. He really seemed to enjoy being drawn out. At one point he said “malolactic yeasts” and, before I could check myself, I corrected him - a man who knows more about winemaking that I will ever know - and he carried on without skipping a beat or showing annoyance. I found both he and Barbara winsome in their complete lack of affectation.

At lunch time we visited the Castello Grinzane Cavour, where there is a museum dedicated to old winemaking implements and the history of Cavour, who was instrumental in the transformation of Barolo into a dry wine and, less importantly, in the unification of Italy. The Castello has the only good Enoteca Regionale that we visited, and we had lunch at a small trattoria by the castle, whose name is lost in the sands of time because I paid cash. With our €10 pix fixe, along came a carafe of red wine, sourced from a humble bag-in-box, but surprisingly quaffable18.

Passing by the forbidding black door of the Gaja winery, where a notice says No visitors (if you are in the business, call for an appointment) next to a radioactive sign (just kidding), we rang the bell for our afternoon visit to Produttori di Barbaresco, known as a guardian of the traditional style of Barbaresco. We were shown around (in English) by Luca Cravanzola, scion of one of the cooperative’s member families. At the end, Luca gave us a book commemorating the Produttori’s 50th harvest, showing pictures of his father and grandfather, the coop’s first president. Produttori was started by a priest who organized 19 families in 1958, when bulk wine prices were falling. Currently there are 54 member families and a long waiting list of farmers wanting to join. Families sell 100% of their production to the coop and payment is based on a formula that takes into account the sugar, color and acidity levels of a crushed sample. They make a Langhe Nebbiolo, a regular Barbaresco and, starting in 1967, nine single vineyard Barbaresco Riservas. All vineyards face south or southwest. Malos take place in steel (Barbarescos) or cement (Langhe Nebbiolo), with temperature control. After the malos, cellar doors are opened for a month to let in the cold air (for tartaric stability). After the tour, we sat down to taste the Produttori’s three types of Nebbiolo19 while Luca patiently answered my questions.

Before our second afternoon appointment, we drove from Castagnito, where there is a good wine and truffle store called Mille Vigne, and then to Serralunga, where the unassuming headquarters of G. Cappellano sits facing the huge Fontanafredda property. Call it a fetish, but I am interested in wines made from ungrafted vines, and Cappellano makes the only ungrafted Barolo that I am aware of. But I didn’t know what to expect from Augusto Cappellano, whose larger-than-life father Teobaldo recently passed away. I thought perhaps he’d still be grieving, or might be one of those meek children whose parents have such strong personalities that they can never come out from under. All unjustified, as we proceeded to have the most delightful visit. Augusto is tall and slim, a beanpole with dark curly hair. He has a gentle air, animated by an impish sense of humor that seems almost childish in its unguardedness. Not five minutes had passed before he started imitating the many gurgling sounds that wine makes while fermenting. We laughed continuously, my spaghetti Italian contributing inadvertently to the surrealism of the exchanges. Augusto immediately nixed any idea of slavish continuity by saying that he was experimenting with submerged cap. He asked if we wanted to taste the difference between his floating and submerged cap 2009’s. Duh, many times duh! First he gave us a barrel sample of the 2009 G. Cappellano Barolo Rupestris from a floating cap barrel and it was hard to believe that this had only fermented a couple of weeks before; it was delicious, complex and aromatic, far more accessible than the barrel samples we tasted in Burgundy. Then he gave us a barrel sample of the 2009 G. Cappellano Barolo Rupestris from a submerged cap barrel and it was, as expected, darker and more extracted, but also surprisingly fruitier. Augusto beamed with pride, and smiled saying that submerged cap also makes more noise, and started to imitate the gurgling sounds again. Both wines were amazing, and I was blown away at starting our visit like this, without tours, without preliminaries, without ascending scales of seriousness. While tasting a sequence of absolutely amazing wines20, we kept chatting and making silly jokes. Augusto confirmed that bunches from ungrafted vines are roughly half the size of bunches from grafted vines, with higher skin/seed to liquid ratios, so they developed a technique for deseeding them during fermentation, otherwise the resulting wine would be excessively tannic. He was not aware of Luis Pato’s experiments in Bairrada and became interested in looking up the photo in Pato’s website showing how an ungrafted Baga bunch is also half the size of a grafted one. At Cappellano, malolactics take place whenever they want, with sulfur used to protect the wine if malos decide to wait until spring. I was remarking on how fresh and vibrant the wines tasted out of the botti, and Augusto said that it was the environment in which they seemed happiest, frolicking freely, before being forced into a bottle. Visions of wine gaily prancing in the meadow before the shock of an arranged marriage. I suggested that bag-in-box might be a solution to bottle shock, and Augusto said “good idea, maybe we can develop a bag-in-box that will fit in a bottle!”

Marta and Augusto Cappellano.jpg
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After tasting several Barolos, Augusto suddenly slapped his forehead and said “Oh my God, I have only been giving you Barolos; we never even started off with Barbera or Dolcetto!” But it was so refreshing, for once, to skip the preliminaries and go straight to the heart of things. After more banter and playing around with the winery’s public relations, Augusto’s spotlessly white cat Marta, who has one eye blue and the other green, we said goodbye. This was a memorable visit on every front, and we got the impression that Teobaldo’s legacy is in excellent hands. Cappellano should continue to provide fabulous wines that, as now, will remain invisible to those who buy based on points.

After a short rest at the hotel we drove to our only dinner outside Alba, at all’Enoteca, Davide Palluda’s Michelin starred restaurant in Canale. I have to thank Birger Vejrum for insisting that we go there after I had given up on them because they wouldn’t answer my emails. When we arrived, Davide happened to be passing by, and greeted us with raffish charm, becoming even warmer when I mentioned the Birger connection. Later, in the dining room, his sister Ivana also took good care of us. Food was excellent, just shy of Piazza Duomo in quality and inventiveness for me, but the luxury dining experience as a whole was the best of the trip. The wine list was very good but, like all of them, there seems to be a bit of a hole where others have cherry picked before, in the 1996 area. There was a 2000 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco that was my first choice, but the sommelier said it was too young because vinified traditionally. I also wanted to try a La Spinetta Starderi, which he said was readier to drink because it is made in a more modern style, because I have a weakness for the incorrectly drawn Dürer rhino and Manuela Rivetti had been so nice to us. There was a 1999 on the list, but the sommelier said that the 2000 would be more open at this point, so that’s what we drank21. Again, we took the bottle, wrote a thank you note for Manuela on the label, and dropped it off at La Spinetta the following afternoon.

Friday, November 6
Our final day south of Turin, and I’m marveling at what a trooper Marcia is, withstanding this geek onslaught of a trip with enthusiasm and unwavering support. Our morning appointment was at Braida in Rochetta Tanari, west of Asti and a little further north than everyone else we visited. Giacomo Bologna almost single-handedly raised the status of the Barbera grape in the 1980s. I’ve liked their top wine, the Ai Suma, since the late 1990s. Our visit was ably hosted by Nadine Weihgold, who is German but speaks excellent English and Italian. Nadine gave us a tour of the different parts of the winery while giving us some background history. Giacomo Bologna, a bon vivant and tireless promoter of Barbera, died prematurely in 1981, when his son and daughter were still in college. The first few years after that were difficult, but the children rose to the challenge and prospered. Nadine told us the story of how Ai Suma was created by chance, when Bologna kept waiting to harvest a certain plot so that a certain group of visitors could pick it, but they kept postponing their arrival. By the time they showed up, the grapes had shriveled, but they harvested them anyway, and the resulting wine was a revelation.

All vinification takes place in temperature controlled tanks, the top wines in autofermenters, which don’t rotate but have built-in mechanisms for gently pumping over and punching down. Malolactics happen whenever they want but, like everyone else, they sulfite the must if it doesn’t happen by December. Our tour ended in the impressive, glass encased first floor aging room, where row after row of sparkling barriques lay like a Chinese emperor’s army, branded with the names of superstar coopers like the nearby Gamba and François Frères, and French oak forests like Allier, Limousin, and Tronçais. At the end, we sat down to taste a cross-section of the company’s 12 wines22.

Nadine was an excellent host, and seemed happy and relaxed to be talking to people equally passionate about wine (for a change, apparently). After the visit, we went looking for Cascina Cornale (http://www.cornale.it), an organic agricultural cooperative intriguingly described by Alice Feiring in The Battle for Wine and Love. The owner, Elena, who “has been called the Alice Waters of Italy,” wasn’t around, but the upbeat Simonetta, who seamlessly accumulated behind-the-counter and waitressing duties, took brilliant care of us. Wearing what looked like a civil war cap and striding back and forth between kitchen and dining room, she just started bringing things out. First a terrific plate of charcuteries with assorted breads. Then some terrific marinated beets. Then this, then that, until we had to start repressive action, generating disappointment and maternal disapproval. She cajoled us into closing with two or three cheeses, and out came a plate with twelve, all terrific, with flavored jams and honeys. We each had a glass of the lovely house Dolcetto, bottled just a few weeks earlier (September, 2009) and made from organic grapes (2008 Torelli Dolcetto d’Asti Bricco Rocchetto DOC 13.5%).

Not only was this the most satisfying meal we had in Piedmont, but the bill – €15 each – made a bit of a mockery of our high fallutin’ evening incursions into the world of haute cuisine. We bought souvenirs for our families and as we were leaving, feeling deeply satisfied, Antonella came charging after us with some apples for the road. Lovely. Pointing the car towards Barbaresco, we drove to the last appointment of the trip, with the uncompromising Luca Roagna.

Roagna is situated in an unassuming and rundown pair of houses in the village of Barbaresco. Luca greeted us warmly in good English, and took us to the edge of the Pajé vineyard, immediately adjoining his property, to show us ground zero, the soil. Here he began to tell us about the Roagna philosophy, and thus began the most eye-opening and instructive of our visits. I will try to convey what he said with some semblance of order, not an easy task. Luca is finishing his doctorate in oenology, “basically useless, but it’s good to know what others are thinking.” The family farms 15 hectares, half in Barbaresco and half in Serralunga. Roagna have been bottling their Barolos in Barbaresco for a long time, with a permit dating from Luca’s grandfather, but they are about to start vinifying their Barolos in Serralunga. No herbicides or pesticides are used, only sulfate and copper. No fertilizers of any kind are used, to promote maximum vine stress (Luca says most animal manure is bad for the vines). They allow grass to grow between the rows, so decomposing grass is the only fertilizer. Vines under 20 years old are used to make Langhe Nebbiolo. Vines between 20 and 50 years old are used for regular Barolo and Barbaresco. Vines older than 50 years are used for the top wines. Rainwater is used to clean barrels because tap water contains chlorine, which can leave a bad taste. All Roagna yeasts are cultivated, but native to the vineyard from which the specific wine comes. A Pajé will only see Pajé yeast, and so on; according to Luca, this is one of the ways in which they differentiate themselves. Luca’s belief in the longevity of yeast impact is absolute; some think it only makes a difference in the short term, others think it affects the primaries, but not so much the secondaries. Luca thinks indigenous yeast makes wine better throughout its life, period. As far as oak, the moment it enters the picture, he says, wine is made by the winemaker, not the vineyard. He sees the trend towards riper wines as having less to do with global warming than with altered preferences. Acidity, in wine, is all about tartaric; old vines have almost no malic acid, so wine made from old vines sometimes doesn’t even undergo malolactic fermentation. It’s the tartaric that will carry it through. Vines over 50 years old also don’t need green harvesting. Babo/Brix sugar levels are an unreliable gauge of when to pick; the only criterion is maturity of seeds. For instance, in 2003, there was more heat than light – sugar levels respond more to heat while seed maturity depends more on light – so those who picked based on sugar levels made bad wines because the seeds and tannins were still green. Luca explained, with eloquence, the advantage of submerged cap over floating cap. Floating cap is much less work, and has to be relatively short, generating less extraction, because the wine can oxidize and extraneous things like flies can fall into it. Submerged cap, on the other hand, takes place in a covered, airtight environment, so can last much longer without danger of oxidation (the cap can only be submerged after fermentation is finished, otherwise the barrel will explode!). Longer macerations, allowed by submerged cap, are desirable because, while color extraction peaks after 3-4 days and tannin extraction peaks at around 30 days, carotene, responsible for tertiary flavors, only peaks at around 80 days. Long macerations are among the ways Roagna differentiates itself as a winery. According to Luca, people say that long macerations give wine too much tannin, but that depends on what kind of tannins, since Nebbiolo tannins are not as harsh as wood tannins. SO2 is not used during harvest, only after malolactics, because it causes problems for yeasts and bacteria. Small amounts (5 mg) are used when racking but, in general, SO2 use should be kept at a minimum; tannins should be enough to protect wine. No SO2 is used at bottling (just 5 mg, exceptionally, if there is botrytis23. Luca often referred to the alcohol level in his Barolos and Barbarescos as being around 13.5%, suggesting than levels much above that are undesirable and unnatural.

First we tasted a barrel sample in the fermentation floor, followed by some barrel samples in the aging room in a different house, followed by some bottles in the underground of the first house24. As we talked and tasted, Luca provided most of my answers.

When the time came to leave, a magical moment: as we opened the cellar door, all three of us froze because a hare was standing perfectly still in the middle of the courtyard. After a few seconds, it moved away, and we were able to continue moving. As we drove up the road leading from the winery, another (or maybe the same) hare ran by the side of the road, ahead of our car, like a good omen. Luca was a wonderful host, and established a paradigm of radicalism – almost a super-ego –, that could be useful in discussing the meaning of authenticity.

After Roagna, we drove sedately to Turin, where we would spend two nights and a day. After visiting eleven well-known producers, I was looking forward to completing our experience by making a final visit to a completely unknown one, who makes wine in a small town about an hour northeast of the city. While the Langhe and Roero regions around Alba and Asti get the lion’s share of attention, there are several lesser known Piemontese appellations north of Turin, such as Lessona, Gattinara and Ghemme. Further below the radar screen are producers like this one, who works with Vespolina, Croatina (Bonarda), Uva Rara and Nebbiolo. Agostino Berti has written eloquently about this man’s wines, painting an appealing picture of peasant purity and honest winemaking.

Saturday, November 7
After breakfast we drove around the beautiful streets of the center of Turin, famous for its cafe culture and covered gallerias, where flaneurs can window shop for miles without fear of the elements. These gallerias seem to take the example of Paris’s Galerie des Panoramas, the 19th Century precursor of the shopping mall, and extend it to a city-wide scale. Next we drove to the excellent contemporary art museum housed in the nearby Castello di Rivoli. Turin is the birthplace of Arte Povera, one of the most interesting movements in contemporary art, and the Castello houses works by its best know artists like Pistoletto, Alighiero Boetti and Gilberto Zorio (the first two had impressive selections on display) and, as well as other well-known artists like Sol Lewitt, Claes Oldenburg, Bill Viola, and Lothar Baumgarten. Particularly spectacular was a light installation by the Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, who filled a huge room covered by a beautiful vaulted brick ceiling with slowly moving arcs of colored light, alone worth the visit. Before entering the Castello, I left a message on the winemaker’s answering machine saying we’d be there around 4PM. After leaving the exhibition, I called again, just to make sure, and was dumbfounded to hear from his wife that he would not be able to see us because he had made “other plans.” The appointment had been made through Agostino six weeks before, so how could he have made other plans? If it was just disorganization, he should have rearranged things to accommodate the prior appointment. Most of all, I was angry that he didn’t let me know earlier so that we could make other plans, or perhaps not even come to Turin. I had no choice but to stew in my own juices during the ensuing lunch at Combal.Zero, a Michelin 2 Star restaurant conveniently located in the Castello itself.

Combal.Zero is run by Davide Scabin, described by Food & Wine as being not only on the same inventive level as Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal but the most “provocative” among them. The long and sleek dining room is lined with glass on both sides, vaguely reminiscent of Philip Johnson’s Glass House. The two tasting menus, at €140 and €100, were a bit much for lunchtime, so we decided to go a la carte, a move met with well-disguised disappointment at expensive restaurants. You may ask, if it is well disguised, how do I know? All I can say is that it is subliminal, reflected in a minute loss of zing, a post effusive-initial-welcome depression when it becomes clear that you are not that day’s meal ticket. Service continues to be excellent, just no longer sparkling. Speaking of sparkling, as with Piazza Duomo, the meal at Combal.Zero begins with the offer of an aperitif from a wheeled cart containing assorted bubblies on ice, followed by a framed glass menu listing “national and international still and sparkling waters.” The wine list was chunky but disappointing, filled with a hit parade of usual suspect modernists. The waiter said that the sommelier, a hearty man with the look of experience, could suggest wines by the glass to accompany our choices, so I decided to see what he could do. For our first course, he offered us an Italian Viognier. With misgivings, I sniffed and found a very floral nose, with some forest floor, which I found interesting because less common in whites. But it was fat and oaky and I sent it back, to Marcia’s chagrin, and asked for something truly local, like Erbaluce. The sommelier arched his eyebrows, saying that the Viognier was a crowd pleaser. Precisely the problem, my man! In deference to Marcia’s sensibilities, I explained that we had just spent five days tasting young Barolos and Barbarescos and were ready to drink battery acid. He went back and fished us an Erbaluce25 that was quite acceptable and, to accompany our second course, he opened a Cavalotto Barbera26 that should have been tastier but, at least, was in the ballpark. The food was, well, inventive and pretty, without molecular excess, but hardly provocative. Certainly more intriguing than satisfying. Marcia had a dessert called a “kit,” a trio of different creams served in baby food jars, texturally monotonous but flavorally delicious. When the time came for coffee, I said we wanted two, but life isn’t so simple. We were brought a menu of eight different coffees. Marcia went for Jamaica Blue Mountain, the Rolls Royce of coffees, while I did her one better by deciding to drink shit. Well, almost. They were offering, for the princely sum of €15 (as much as our favorite meal of the entire trip, at Cascina Cornale), a cup of Kopi Luwack Indonesia, the rarest coffee in the world (annual production: 250 Kg), made from beans that have gone through the digestive tract of the marsupial Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus (a natural eunuch, to boot). The inner bean of the berry is not digested, but enzymes in the stomach add to the coffee's flavor by breaking down the proteins that make it bitter. They pick the ripest and sweetest fruit, so there’s natural selection at work behind the bean selection. It tasted fine, but was more for the record books than anything else.

Lunch over, I tried to salvage the afternoon by calling the Ferrando Wine Farm in Ivrea, a little under an hour’s drive from Rivoli. To my surprise, Luigi Ferrando himself picked up the phone. I apologized for calling at such short notice to try and schedule a visit, but I had read Neal Rosenthal’s book, had loved the descriptions of Ferrando and his wines, and had greatly enjoyed the unoaked (white label) version of Ferrando’s Carema just a few weeks prior. Ferrando was warm and enthusiastic, and I could sense his frustration at not being able to receive us because his son Roberto was out and he was by himself. If only you had called as late as this morning, we could have arranged it... I thanked him and asked if there was anywhere in Turin where I might find his late harvest Erbaluce, a rare bottling. He said he’d look into it and called me within minutes with the name of La Petite Cave (Corso A. De Gasperi, 2/B, Tel. 011 595208). Ferrando said they were expecting our visit, and apologized again for not being able to receive us. He said much more, at high speed, which my Italian had difficulty following. We drove straight to the store and the proprietor, to my surprise, proceeded to open bottles of both the dry and late harvest Ferrando Erbaluces for us to taste27. Though our suitcases were already overloaded from Barolo and Barbaresco, I could not resist harvesting this late, but when I went to the register to pay, the proprietor said she could not charge us because we were guests of Ferrando. On top of the preceding kindnesses, that was just too much, and I called Ferrando to say thanks and “complain” that there were limits to being a gentleman. He had gone extraordinarily over, with a classiness that was hard to forget. The contrast with the small producer’s cavalier rudeness could not have been greater; now I intend to drink Ferrando’s Caremas to perpetuity, and hope the other maintains the obscurity that his manners deserve.

Minor mishaps aside, it is hard to overstate how much we enjoyed this trip. In addition to the human element, always enriching, and the wonderful and not so wonderful wines, we learned much about vinification and other technical aspects of winemaking. What did I learn from my questionnaire? I had visions of traditional producers throwing whole clusters into vats, but everyone I asked destems 100%, or tries to. Unlike, say, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo doesn’t need any extra tannin. But Nebbiolo clusters are three pronged and difficult to destem, and older machines do an incomplete job. Everyone uses a level of SO2 somewhere between 50 and 100 mg/l. Most use floating cap, and the argument for submerged cap depends on longevity, a difficult test to conduct objectively and in controlled way. Answers about fining and filtering were all over the place. With massale v. clonale, I could tell there was some gentle spinning going on. Perhaps the most valuable lesson was that there are many different ways to make good wine and that labels and classifications can be misleading. Who would have guessed that staunch traditionalists like Produttori di Barbaresco and Giuseppe Mascarello use purchased yeasts, while modernists like La Spinetta and Luciano Sandrone use ambient/indigenous yeasts? As always, one may have ideological preferences (as I do) for so-called natural wine, but the only test, ultimately, is where the rubber meets the road (or, for Nebbiolo, where the tar meets the tongue). One can have faith that unoaked, unfined, unfiltered wine from privileged terroirs made with low sulfur and ambient yeasts will taste best, but this trip, perhaps sadly, suggests that the evidence remains inconclusive.
"I went on a rigorous diet that eliminated alcohol, fat and sugar. In two weeks, I lost 14 days." Tim Maia, Brazilian singer-songwriter.
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Oswaldo Costa » Wed Nov 18, 2009 6:18 pm

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"I went on a rigorous diet that eliminated alcohol, fat and sugar. In two weeks, I lost 14 days." Tim Maia, Brazilian singer-songwriter.
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Oswaldo Costa
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Oswaldo Costa » Wed Nov 18, 2009 6:24 pm

1 There are several wine stores in Alba and the surrounding countryside, but I would say the best are Enoteca Millevigne, Via Alba No. 15, in Castagnito, Enoteca Le Torri, Via Cavour No. 5A, Alba, Enoteca Ognibene, Via Vittorio Emanuele No. 9, Alba. Perhaps best of all, certainly in prices, is one whose name I didn’t record, but if you stand in front of Le Torri with your back facing the store and walk straight ahead, down the alley that starts more or less in front of it, it will be on your left after about 100 yards.

2 2008 Giacomo Viro Roero Arneis 13.0%
Very pale straw. Gorgeous aromas of white flowers (Marcia says magnolia, I say jasmine) laced with chalky minerality. Substantial mouth weight, slightly more sweet than acid, lightly bitter finish. We liked.

3 2001 Massolino Vigna Rionda Riserva 14.0%
From the older (Helvetian) and tougher soils of Serralunga d’Alba. Ethereal and tremendously winsome aromas of crushed rose petals, vanilla (more crème brulée than oak), ripe cherry and a touch of thyme. Tannic, but not overly so, with vibrant acidity, fruit to match, and very pleasing mouth weight. Still a bit hot, needs time to integrate the alcohol. I also found it a bit too oaky as the night wore on and the food buffered some of the acids and tannins. Very young, with primaries still firing all cylinders – I wonder if this will close down at some point. Half way through the bottle, Marcia, my portable sulfite detector, started sneezing, so I know there’s a bit too much SO2, hardly necessary given the tannins and acidity (not surprisingly, the label says “contains sulfites” in no fewer than eight languages). Minor quibbles aside, this was an ultimately very satisfying young Barolo that should become quite a swan in a decade or so.

4 2008 Ceretto Blangé Langhe Arneis 12.5%
Ceretto’s biggest seller (600,000 bottles anually). A small fraction of the vines are not in Roero, so designated as Langhe Arneis. Simonetta claimed that the Ceretto brothers had basically resuscitated this varietal. Cold maceration for 24 hours and a deliberate touch of CO2 to compensate for Arneis’s potential acid deficiency. White flowers and minerals. Pleasant mouthfeel, good acid/sweet balance. Detected no CO2 and found the acid acceptable. Ceretto’s most technological wine and not bad at all, considering.
2005 Ceretto Barbaresco Bricco Asili Bernardot 14.0%
Dark cherry, rose petals, cloves, bergamot, light oak, lovely and delicate perfume. Tannins not excessive. Good acidity, good balance, excellent structure. At this point in their evolution, this was my favorite of the Ceretto wines we tasted.
2004 Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche Brunate (La Morra) 14.5%
Crushed rose petals, cherry, some funk and animal fat. Burly tannins, strident acidity, excellent structure, thankfully not overoaked or excessively alcoholic. Needs much time.
2004 Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche Prapó (Serralunga d’Alba) 14.5%
Muted nose, showing oak, rose petals and cherry. Burly tannins, strident acidity, excellent structure,tough and lean at this point, offering no pleasure. Needs even more time.
2004 Ceretto Moscato Passito Santo Stefano Belbo 13.0%
Peach, apricot and honey. Good weight but more sweet than acid, a bit too flabby.
N.V. Ceretto Barolo Chinato 17.0%
Herb infused, mainly quinine or its essential oil. Again more sweet than acid, maybe it’s supposed to be this way, but too syrupy for me, though interesting.

5 Massolino and La Spinetta normally charge too, but were kind enough to waive their fees.

6 2006 Giuseppe Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba Santo Stefano di Perno (Monforte d’Alba) 14.0%
Rich red fruit, earth, iron, violets. Stainless steel only, from clay soils with western exposures. Fruity, acid, good balance, yummy.
2007 Giuseppe Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba Bricco (Castiglione Falletto) 13.5%
Open 7 days. From half clay, half chalk soils. Complex fruity nose, with lots of guava. Excellent structure and acid/sweet balance, delicious.
2005 Giuseppe Mascarello Barbera d’Alba Scudetto (Monforte d’Alba) 14.0%
Open 7 days. 20 year old vines, from a shield shaped vineyard, hence the name Scudetto. Clay soils. Rich, and complex aromas of red fruit and violets. Good acidity, but kirsch taste suggests this is declining.
2006 Giuseppe Mascarello Barbera d’Alba Santo Stefano di Perno (Monforte d’Alba) 14.5%
Open 9 days. 40 year old vines. Red berries, violets, guava, and forest floor. Wonderful. Great acid/sweet balance, rich, lively.
2006 Giuseppe Mascarello Barbera d’Alba Codana (Castiglione Falletto) 13-14.0%
Open 9 days. 100 year old vines, southern exposure, continuation of Monprivato, only 1,000 bottles made. Elegant nose, eerily reminiscent of Vosne Romanée. Extremely fine, delicious, exquisite balance.
2007 Giuseppe Mascarello Langhe Nebbiolo (Perno & Castiglione Falletto) 14.0%
Open 8 days. Made from grapes from Perno and all Castiglinoe Falletto vineyards. Two years bottle age. A mini Barolo made from same grapes as Barolo, but less perfect. Crushed petals and eucalyptus. Kirsch, excellent body, good acid/sweet balance.
2004 Giuseppe Mascarello Langhe Freisa Toetto (Castiglione Falletto) 13.0%
Complex and pungent aromas, with red fruits, guava and tar. Chunky tannins, less acid thanothers, but juicy and chewy.
2001 Giuseppe Mascarello Langhe Rosso Status (Perno & Castiglione Falletto) 13.5%
A blend of 70% Nebbiolo, 25% Barbera and 5% Freisa created by Mauro Mascarello. Muted nose, with red berries, Attractive mouth feel, balanced, gastronomic acidity, not too tannic.
2003 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato (Castiglione Falletto) 14.5%
Open 3 days. Calcareous soils. Guava, rich and jammy, fruity. Rich mouth feel, silky and elegant. Sufficient acid (just barely), mouth puckering tannins, but tasted a little dilute.
2004 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Villero 13.5% (Castiglione Falletto)
Had bugs in bottle.
2004 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato (Castiglione Falletto) 13.5%
Freshly opened. Calcareous soils. Wonderful aromas of tar, roses, violets and bacon. Lively, tannic, tastes noble and elegant.

7 1999 Moccagatta Barbaresco Basarin 14.0%
Heady aromas of red fruits and roses, with some toast. Tastes serious, with substantial mouth weight, good acid/sweet balance, and strong tannins that are, at best, beginning to soften. Still primary, but promising.

8 2007 Bartolo Mascarello Freisa Nebbiolata Vigna Monrobiolo 13.5%
Single vineyard. Nebbiolata because wine stays in contact with Nebbiolo musts for approx. 12 hours. Robust cherry and animal aromas. Very flavorful, with some secondary fermentation carbonation, desirable in this wine according to Maria Teresa. Liveliness masks considerable substance.
2007 Bartolo Mascarello Barbera d’Alba San Lorenzo 14.0%
Single vineyard, spends two years in botti, and was just bottled in August. Muted nose of cherry and truffles. Lovely, etheral, light yet substantial, with great acidity and balance. A beauty.
2005 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 14.0%
Four vineyards. Ethereal aromas of violets, red fruit, roses, meat. Vibrant tannins, good structure, mouth puckering, feels very pure but still hard. Maria Teresa says this needs another 6 years, but will be better in 8, 10 or 12 years.

9 We also found the Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco to be similarly useless. The only good Enoteca that we visited was the one in the Castello di Grinzane Cavour. The one in Canale, belonging to chef Davide Palluda, is supposed to be good too, but it was already closed when we went to the restaurant for dinner.

10 2007 Borgogno Barbera d’Alba
Muted nose, slightly more acid than sweet, pleasant bitterness, definitely gastronomic, worked acceptably with food, would have been glad to have this by the glass anywhere but in Barolo.

11 2006 Aldo Conterno Chardonnay Bussiador Langhe 14.98%
Aldo Conterno was one of the first to plant Chardonnay in Piedmont, beginning in the 1970s, so that their vines are now over 30 years old. Bussiador means “gold of Bussia.” Aged in 228 liter Allier/Vosges barriques, all new wood, light toast. Grapes picked later than usual, almost late harvest. Aroma shows minerality and a bit too much oak for my taste. Structure is good, high alcohol is well integrated, there is nice mineraility freshness, but it is a little more sweet than acid.
2006 Aldo Conterno Barbera d’Alba Conca Tre Pile 14.0%
Single vineyard. 2006 is the current vintage. Spends 14 months in new 228 liter Allier/Vosges barriques. Shows red fruit, chalk, and red grapefruit. Acidity vibrant but not excessive, light bitter finish, good wine.
2005 Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia 14.5%
Their basic Barolo. Delicate and elegant red fruit aroma. Refined mouth feel, good structure, powerful but not overwhelming tannins.
2005 Aldo Conterno Barolo Colonnello Bussia 14.5%
Delicate and floral nose, creamy chocolate. Silky, delicate, velvety, quite acid and tannic, lovely.
2005 Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala Bussia 14.5%
Cicala is more typical of Bussia than Colonello because of the different soil. Red fruit, animal and meat flavors. Lovely mouth feel, dense structure, ideal acidity and tannins. Wonderful, and Marcia’s favorite of the crus.
2004 Aldo Conterno Barolo Romirasco Bussia 14.5%
Conterno’s most important cru and 70% of their Gran Bussia, only released in exceptional vintages (the 2004 Gran Bussia won’t be released for some time). Red fruit, spice, tar, tobacco, leather. Perfect sweet/acid balance, vibrant tannins, delicious fruit, with a hedonistic sweet finish. Awesome.

12 2008 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis 12.5%
Minerals and white flowers. Lovely and delicate mouth feel, good acid/sweet balance, light bitterness at the end. Good stuff.
2008 Paolo Scavino Langhe Bianco 13.5%
Also minerals and white flowers, except more intense, with a touch of anis. Pleasing mouth feel and good balance. Quite pleasing.
2007 Gillardi Dolcetto di Dogliani 13.5%
Muted nose, with some cherry. Low tannins for a Dolcetto but tastes somewhat powerful, with good acidity and balance.
2006 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Cipressi della Court 13.5%
Red fruit, iron and meat aromas. Lovely mouth feel. Good weight, acidity and balance. Quite good.
2004 Ceretto Barolo Brunate 14.5%
Sour cherry, vanilla, cocoa and cloves. Alcohol not obtrusive, good acid/sweet balance, light and pleasant bitter finish. Should be quite nice in five years or so, when the vanilla is better absorbed.
2004 Gaja Barbaresco 14.0%
Muted nose, with some cherry (rather like the Gillardi Dolcetto). But mouth feel is something else: elegant, silky, with pleasing body and good acidity. Good now, should become excellent with a few more years bottle age.

13 2008 Massolino Langhe Chadonnay Serralunga d’Alba 14.5%
From foot of Vigna Rionda and other vineyards. From 20 year old vines (average). Spends six months on lees in barriques and six months in bottle. White flowers and mineral aromas. Fresh, vibrant, delicious. Wood is judicious and appears fully integrated. Has the stuffing to age well. Prefer this to the Bussiador.
2008 Massolino Dolcetto d’Alba Serralunga d’Alba 13.5%
No barrel aging, only bottle. Dark cherry and forest floor. Light bodied, graceful, balanced, pleasant tannins, good acidity.
2006 Massolino Langhe Nebbiolo Serralunga d’Alba 14.0%
One year in bottis and two in bottle. Expressive and delicious aromas of heady red fruit. Good weight, excellent balance. At this point, tannins and acid too mouth puckering, needs 2/3 more years to show at its best.
2007 Massolino Barbera d’Alba Serralunga d’Alba Gisep 15.0%
From older Vigna Rionda vines. 18 months in barriques and 6-9 months in bottle. Lovely and ripe red fruit aromas. Great acidity grip, lovely balance, high alcohol fully integrated. Great density, serious stuff.
2005 Massolino Barolo Serralunga d’Alba 13.5%
Delicate and ethereal red fruit aromas, but with slight jamminess. Grippy tannins, good structure, good acid/sweet balance. Still very tight, needs many years, but should age very well.

14 2006 La Spinetta Lidia Chardonnay Reserved Selection 13.5%
Named after Manuela’s grandmother. Exotic and sophisticated, with mineral and white flowers, hint of banana. Good structure, good balance. Spends one year in botti and one year in bottle.
2007 La Spinetta Ca di Pian Barbera d’Asti 14.0%
Their biggest selling red wine, annual production 100,000 bottles. Made from young vines, 15-25 years old. Fruity, cherry aroma. Good structure, acidity, tannins, everything in balance. Simple, but delicious.
2007 La Spinetta Barbera d’Alba Gallina 14.5%
From 35-45 year old vines. Sees new oak for 18/18 months, the one year of bottle age. Strong and dark red fruit aromas with leather and spices. Deep and concentrated, quite acidic and tannic. Inscrutable at this point, needs a few more years.
2007 La Spinetta Langhe Nebbiolo 14.0%
From a newly purchased plot in Starderi where the vines were unkempt and needed to be replanted. Vines less than 10 years old. Could be legally called Starderi and mixed, but they didn’t want to bring down the quality of the Barbaresco Starderi, whose vines are 40 years old. Jammy red fruit nose. Intense, tannic, acid. Very tight, but has the structure to age well. Just not sure about the jamminess.
2004 La Spinetta Monferrato Rosso Pin 14.0%
A blend of 65% Nebbiolo from Barbaresco vineyards and 35% old vine Barbera d’Asti Superiore from Bionzo. Jammy plum and red fruit aromas. Lovely and elegant mouth feel, already drinking well.
2006 La Spinetta Barbaresco Gallina 14.5%
According to Manuela, this is the most approachable of the three crus, due to soil and microclimate. Nose shows intense red fruit with light oak. Mouth shows intense, tannic, solid structure, but oak is judicious. 22 months in barriques and one year in bottle.
2005 La Spinetta Barolo Verzu Vigneto Campé 14.5%
From an 8 hectare plot with 40 year old vines in the lower portion and 60 year old vines in the upper. Very forward aromas of red fruits and spices. Very tannic and acid, very mouth-puckering, but exhuberantly fruity, with a sweet finish.
2009 La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti Biancospino 4.5%
This is the original La Spinetta wine that allowed the company to establish itself. Fruity aromas or peaches and pineapples. Good acidity, delicious.
2004 La Spinetta Oro Moscato Passito 11.0%
This bottle had been open for a week and was beginning to maderize below the sweet apricot aroma. Good structure, but cloying, needs more acidity.

15 Extraction, article by Rebecca Chapa in Wine Business Monthly, September 10, 2002.

16 1997 Aldo Conterno Barolo Gran Bussia Riserva 14.0%
Totally closed. Shows good acidity, resolved tannins, integrated alcohol, but the red fruit is surly, with some balsamic notes. Rather than open with air, it just remained unhappy to be released from the bottle, like some neurasthenic genie, and began to wither after an hour or so. Very strange, as there was no obvious defect.

17 2008 Luciano Sandrone Dolcetto d’Alba 13.2%
Stainless steel only. Lovely ripe cherry fruit aroma. Fresh, good balance, light but grippy tannins, elegant.
2007 Luciano Sandrone Barbera d’Alba 13.6%
Spends 10-14 months in oak (30-35% new) plus one year in bottle. Rich, dark red fruit aromas. Good balance. Lighter tannins, mouth puckering acidity.
2007 Luciano Sandrone Nebbiolo d’Alba Valmaggiore 13.5%
From a steep vineyard in Roero, with sandy soil and warmer climate. Spends months in 500 liter French oak barrels (20-25% new) plus 9 months in bottle. Muted nose, with tar, red fruit, mainly cherry. Impressive structure, good acidity, strong tannins, very mouth puckering, needs time.
2005 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne 14.0%
Awesome aromas, rich, complex, elegant red fruit. Tough but clearly superb structure, with powerful but pleasant tannins. Should one day be great.
2005 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi 14.05%
Muted and delicate cherry aromas. More mellow, less structured, but still powerful tannins and acidity. Shows less fruit than the Le Vigne at this point. In the case of both 2005 Barolos, fruit was used from before and after the 8 days of rain in October.

18 N.V. Cantina Terre del Barolo Le Terre Vio de Tavola Rosso 12.5%
Pleasant red fruit aroma, decent structure and acidity, nice sweet fruit, no difficulty at all in drinking.

19 2008 Produttori di Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 14.0%From young vines, up to 15 years old. Lovely aromas of spice, cinnamon, red fruit, violets and a hint of pepper. Leafy taste, good acidity, nice soft tannins (due to shorter vinification), alcohol well integrated.
2006 Produttori di Barbaresco Barbaresco 14.0%
Darker, with cherry and cloves. Lovely mouth weight, strong but not aggressive tannins, good acidity. Should age well.
2005 Produttori di Barbaresco Barbaresco 14.0%
All grapes picked before the October rains. Ripe cherry, vanilla, and eucalyptus. Much more tannic than 06. Awesome mouth feel, with vibrant acids and great structure.
2004 Produttori di Barbaresco Barbaresco Pora 14.0%
Muted nose, leafy. Shut down, but some leather, good acidity and tannins, some saltiness, sweet finish. Comes off as elegant, and should be excellent when it awakes.
1999 Produttori di Barbaresco Barbaresco Pajé 13.5%
Sensing the keenness of our interest, Luca kindly threw this into the mix. Cherry, funk and vanilla. Lovely mouth feel, silky, still quite tannic, good acid/sweet balance. Still a pre-teen.

20 2007 G. Cappellano Barolo Rupestris barrel sample
Half way through barrel aging. Wonderful, fresh, balanced, perfect acidity, lovely tannins.
2007 G. Cappellano Barolo Pie Franco – Michet 14.0% barrel sample
Violets, cherries. Delicate, with superb balance. More tannic than the Rupestris.
2006 G. Cappellano Barolo Rupestris 14.0% barrel sample
About to be bottled. Will stay one year in bottle. Awesome. Floral, violets, great acid and sweetness, balanced, lovely tannins, perfect wine.
2006 G. Cappellano Barolo Pie Franco – Michet 14.0% barrel sample
Fantastic aromas of leather, sweat, violets, bergamot... Marvelous mouth feel, though still slightly reductive (Augusto says he is about to rack it), young wine doesn’t get better than this.
2005 G. Cappellano Barolo Rupestris 14.0%
Only bottled 20 days before. Incredibly dark. Expressive nose of cherry, kirsch, violets. Fabulous in every way, but slightly greener tannins than others.
2004 G. Cappellano Barolo Rupestris 14.0%
Violets, meat, tar, red fruit, herbs... Again, fabulous, tannins just right. This is really wine heaven.
2004 G. Cappellano Barbera d’Alba Gabutti 14.0%
Dark red fruit, animal, funk and herbal aromas. Intense acid, almost no tannin. Powerful.
N.V. G. Cappellano Barolo Chinato 18.0%
The real Chinato McCoy, Invented by Augusto’s grandfather, who was a pharmacist. Uses real quinine for infusion, not essential oils, like many. This version uses Nebbiolo from 2004. Quite lovely and exotic, sweet, but with matching acidity and an agreeable, chalky mouthfeel.

21 2000 La Spinetta Barbaresco Starderi 14.5%
Slightly jammy aromas of mature cherry and tomato with some funk. Decent acid, resolved tannins, alcohol well integrated. Peppery, with the sweet finish that I found in several La Spinetta wines, and that makes them taste friendlier than their more traditional brethren.

22 2008 Braida Barbera d’Asti Montebruna 14.5%
A traditional Barbera, aged 12 months in Slavonian oak botti. Refined red fruit aroma, a bit hot on the nose. Intense acidity, good mouth weight. Should be quite nice in two or three years.
2007 Braida Bacialé Monferrato Rosso 14.0%
A curious mix of 60% Barbera, 20% Pinot Nero, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot, geared towards the international market. Nadine says they haven’t experimented with a 100% Pinot Nero, perhaps because they are so identified with Barbera. This has aromas of red berries and chocolate. Velvety mouth feel, good acidity, quite likeable.
2005 Braida Barbera d’Asti Bricco della Bigotta 14.5%
Complex and elegant aromas of cherry, animale and coffee. Solid structure, good acidity, good acid/sweet balance.
2006 Braida Barbera d’Asti Bricco dell Uccellone 14.5%
Delicate and exotic, with spicy red fruit. Satisfying weight, excellent balance, and good acidity.
2006 Braida Barbera d’Asti Ai Suma 15.5%
Not single vineyard, made from late harvest (but not botrytised) grapes. Intense, musky red fruit. Lovely density, good tannins, terrific. The naturally high acidity of Barbera makes this interesting anomaly possible, a late harvest red with sufficient acidity.

23 Cellar hygiene is even more important when using little SO2, and we saw signs that it could be improved.

24 2009 Roagna Barolo La Rocca e La Pira barrel sample (still fermenting)
Sorry, my notes only say “reductive.”
2005 Roagna Barbera la Rocca e la Pira barrel sample
From S/SE exposures in la Rocca e la Pira vineyard. Muted red fruit. Great structure, nice tannins for a Barbera, good acidity.
2006 Roagna Barbaresco Crichët Pajé 13.5% barrel sample
Depending on how this turns out, it will become Crichët Pajé or regular Pajé. From top of parcel. Lovely nose of red fruit and violets. Lovely mouth feel, dark, tannic, acidic.
2005 Roagna Barolo Vigna Rionda 13.8% barrel sample
From a parcel made from 55/65 year old vines. Muted, with violets, roses and some benzene. Great balance, tannins tempered by sweet finish. Luca says that Vigna Riondas taste like no other Barolo.
2008 Roagna Dolcetto d’Alba 12.5% (bottled in October)
Nose is muted because wine is too cold. But tastes lovely: fruity, grainy tannins, balanced.
2004 Roagna Barbaresco Asili 13.6% (bottled in August)
Musky aroma, red fruit, roses and violets. Lovely mouthfeel, with elegant tannins, good balance, and a touch of sweetness.
2004 Roagna Barbaresco Montefico 13.5%
Muted. More delicate, less tannic, good balance, sweet finish.
2003 Roagna Barolo La Rocca e la Pira 13.8%

Muted, with delicate red fruits and violet. Delicious, good balance, rounder tannins. Already quite drinkable.
2005 Roagna Solea 12.5%
An unusual blend of 75-80% Chardonnay and 20-25% Nebbiolo. The Chardonnay macerated for 2 weeks, then Nebbiolo grapes are pressed and added (grapes are fermented together, not blended). Color is almost Sauternes. Lovely aroma, with some banana, and substantial weight, but needs more acid.
2000 Roagna Barbaresco Crichët Pajé 13.5%
Roagna’s top wine. Ethereal and complex aromas of red fruit and funk. Exceptional structure, perfect acid/sweet balance. Just lovely.

25 2007 Tenuta Roletto Muliné Erbaluce di Caluso 13.0%
Honey, minerals and white flowers. Crisp, light bodied but satisfying, with good acidity (though could use more) and an avoidably sweet finish. But miles ahead of the preceding.

26 2004 Cavalotto Barbera d’Alba
Cherry, vanilla and herbs. Good acid/sweet balance, assertive fruit, almost no tannin. OK, but should have been more.

27 2007 Luigi Ferrando Erbaluce di Calluso Cariola 13.5%
Beautiful golden yellow. Lively floral and mineral aromas, very fresh, elegant and expressive. Good density, with a pleasantly bitter finish, but a bit too sweet for my palate. Would be a stunner with more acidity.
2004 Luigi Ferrando Solativo Late Harvest Erbaluce di Cariola 15.0%
A rare late harvest Erbaluce. Rich and dense aromas of nuts, apricots. Lovely mouth feel, better acid/sweet balance that the Cariola but could still use more acidity. Should be lovely when the acidity and fruit come into better balance.
"I went on a rigorous diet that eliminated alcohol, fat and sugar. In two weeks, I lost 14 days." Tim Maia, Brazilian singer-songwriter.
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Rahsaan » Wed Nov 18, 2009 6:32 pm

Sounds and looks like a great trip. Lots to digest (both for you on the trip and now for us readers!).

The social scientist in me particularly likes the idea of your survey. Nice way to get systematic information on important topics!

But no food/truffle photos?!? :P
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Oswaldo Costa » Wed Nov 18, 2009 6:39 pm

Rahsaan wrote:But no food/truffle photos?!? :P


Truffle stalls on Via Vittorio Emanuele.jpg
Truffle stalls on Via Vittorio Emanuele.jpg (137.53 KiB) Viewed 4858 times
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby R Cabrera » Wed Nov 18, 2009 10:32 pm

Whew! This will be my subway-ride-home-from-work reading for a few days, instead of my usual work-related crap. Yep, the guy next to me will finally be impressed to see that there are other subjects that I look at, other than numbers, charts and graphs.
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Birger Vejrum » Thu Nov 19, 2009 3:26 am

:shock: :shock: Hi Oswaldo,

Madonna mia, this must be thread of the year, what an amazing report. Thanks a lot for sharing this.

Great to see you had a great visit at Davide :wink:

Ciao
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Bob Parsons Alberta » Thu Nov 19, 2009 4:48 am

Birger Vejrum wrote::shock: :shock: Hi Oswaldo,

Madonna mia, this must be thread of the year, what an amazing report. Thanks a lot for sharing this.

Great to see you had a great visit at Davide :wink:

Ciao
Birger


Thread of the year, one vote from me!! Congrats Oswaldo, I will have to spend more time here tomorrow. My fave quote is here.....>

Truffle shavings emit wonderfully seductive aromas which promise but don’t deliver in the mouth, where they taste like irregular communion wafers made of parchment.

Birger, lucky you. Meeting Nicos soon!
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Birger Vejrum » Thu Nov 19, 2009 7:50 am

Bob Parsons Alberta. wrote:
Birger Vejrum wrote::shock: :shock: Hi Oswaldo,

Madonna mia, this must be thread of the year, what an amazing report. Thanks a lot for sharing this.

Great to see you had a great visit at Davide :wink:

Ciao
Birger


Thread of the year, one vote from me!! Congrats Oswaldo, I will have to spend more time here tomorrow. My fave quote is here.....>

Truffle shavings emit wonderfully seductive aromas which promise but don’t deliver in the mouth, where they taste like irregular communion wafers made of parchment.

Birger, lucky you. Meeting Nicos soon!


Hi Bob,

Yes amazing thread. Great work of Oswaldo.

I will be with Nicos Saturday at http://www.theledbury.com/ in London. :wink:

Ciao
Birger
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Michael K » Thu Nov 19, 2009 12:52 pm

What a great post! I would love to look at doing bits and pieces of this trip. A couple of questions

(1) the winery visits were nicely (not aggressivedly) schedule. Is this mandatory or can you do more than two wineries typically a day
(2) did you buy any wines from the winery and ship them back. What is the typical "appropriate" transaction if there is one
(3) What were they typical fees to taste?

Many thanks for such a great post that you obviously spent much time on!
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Dale Williams » Thu Nov 19, 2009 1:04 pm

great posts, will have to digest when I have more time than for a quick scan!
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Mark S » Thu Nov 19, 2009 1:37 pm

Wow, wow, and triple wow!

I'm going to have to print this to prevent eyestrain.
A call for best writeup of 2009 nomination!

Of course, this also makes me :mrgreen: envious...
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Oswaldo Costa » Thu Nov 19, 2009 1:51 pm

Thanks for the enthusiasm! If anyone wants to print out, probably better to use this pdf, with some extra pictures.

Piedmont Trip Report.pdf
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Ian Sutton » Thu Nov 19, 2009 5:39 pm

WOW!
What an incredible write-up (and I'm only at the end of your 1st post). Some thoughts that came to mind:

- Great to taste modernist vs. traditionalist, which we did in a lower key way in La Morra / Annunziata a couple of years ago. It seems we have similar results, in that there can be plenty to enjoy from modernists and that the distinctions are not as big as we might imply. However at the end of the day, I reckon I get a little more enjoyment (for my money) from a good traditionalist vs. a good modernist.

- Italian hospitality. When you encounter Italian hospitality it can blow you away. It can seem shocking, as it can go well beyond a simple good deed or kind action to something where unless you've encountered it before, it might seem uncomfortable. On our last trip to Emilia-Romagna we were befriended by two elderly gentlemen, who took great pride in showing us their town and treating us to a meal (paying the bill before we could argue, and when we tried to argue, making it 100% clear there was to be no argument). I'm sure I offended them by later, when we had coffee & gelati elsewhere, that I exacted a small revenge by sneaking to the bar to pay for them. Later in the trip, in Reggio-Emilia we visited a coffee/tea/sweet shop and got chatting with the lady who ran it. She was bemoaning that she had no English biscuits to go with the tea she sold. For her English tea & biscuits was such an obvious combination, so she was unhappy she didn't have any. She asked if we could suggest some good ones, from 'artiginale' producers (literally "not like Mulino Bianco - indiustrial"!). I promised I would email some ideas to her, of producers she might look to source. However, back at home and reflecting on the earlier hospitality, I figured it would be more appropriate to buy a selection of these biscuits (and some Yorkshire Parkin cake which is wonderful with tea) and send this parcel off to her, so she could taste for herself. A small gesture perhaps, but for us it honoured the attitudes we'd seen earlier. Finally though, I have to say that the more tourists a region, city, restaurant gets, the less likely it seems you are to encounter such hospitality. Indeed the example of the subtle drop in sparkle of the service was not a surprise. Not everyone sees hospitality in the same way.

- Cappellano sounds very interesting, a potential maverick (in a good way) winemaker, who's prepared to risk falling flat on his face, but never to risk wondering 'what if'.

- White truffles. Yes the aroma is perhaps the big thing (arguably the autumn black truffle is more interesting texturally - or maybe it's because you get more of it!). However Eggs Coquette in Cuneo was one of the most amazing food experiences I've had. A simple enough dish transformed in combination with white truffle. When we ate in that place (both restaurant and wine shop) I had the Eggs coquette with white truffle as a starter and the brains of the operation was semi mocking me, that it was sure to be overrated and hers sounded much better. She took a little convincing, even to taste mine, but she was so taken that we agreed to revisit later in the week (normally we try not to revisit the same restaurant on the same trip, so exceptions to this unwritten rule speak loudly). Of the dishes I've had white truffle with, eggs stand out as the clear winning combination. "Simples" :wink: as they say on the TV advert over here.

- Offering wines based on their perception of your status. Yes, we also saw that - notably at Renato Ratti, where the Barolo SV Bottles were laid out next to the lesser wines we were offered. In a way I was surprised. They gave us a wonderful tour and I'm sure I showed enough interest (and I suppose informed interest - without I'm sure diverting via geeky). Various stylish prints were offered freely. Odd then, that when people visit, who buy more Barolo than they do Barbera d'Alba and Nebbiolo d'Alba, that we never tasted the wines most likely to interest us. Still, no criticism offered, as they did all they did for free and it was a memorable tour.

- Speaking Italian. From your write-up, it's clear that you're modest about it, but I can tell you're more advanced than I am with Italian. Time for me to brush up on it I think.

- Closed. Yes I could see that misunderstanding. Perhaps 'Stretto/a' (tight/narrow) may work better - a word learnt through trying on tight-fitting Italian shoes! Stretto seems to have a few related meanings in Italian, so might work in this context. Interestingly 'Corked' is 'Che sa di tappo' (lit. that tastes of cork?) which is perhaps almost as misleading to people as 'corked' is for English speakers. n.b. I only know that as one day I decided to add some wine-related vocabulary to my collection :oops: Learning can be boring unless you spice it up :wink:

Anyway, many thanks again and I'll digest the tasting notes and have a look at the questionnaire later.

regards

Ian
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Oswaldo Costa » Thu Nov 19, 2009 5:44 pm

Michael K wrote:(1) the winery visits were nicely (not aggressivedly) schedule. Is this mandatory or can you do more than two wineries typically a day
(2) did you buy any wines from the winery and ship them back. What is the typical "appropriate" transaction if there is one
(3) What were they typical fees to taste?


1) Yes, while I scheduled one for every morning and one for every afternoon, you could probably do two every afternoon if traveling alone or in a hurry to lose your significant other.
2) I did buy some, but not much, as prices are not so much less than in the US. I didn't ship anything and don't know if any of the more commercially agile wineries (the most respected ones aren't) would do that because it is, as far as I know, illegal to ship wine into the US, unless you declare it as olive oil. I brought back about 15 bottles in our suitcases, 12 in two styrofoam lined sixpacks that I took with me, the other three wrapped in clothes.
3) Ceretto has several different seminars and they list the fees on their website. Massolino was 10 Euro per person and La Spinetta 50 Euro per person but La Spinetta will credit that to any purchase you make at the winery.
"I went on a rigorous diet that eliminated alcohol, fat and sugar. In two weeks, I lost 14 days." Tim Maia, Brazilian singer-songwriter.
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby John S » Thu Nov 19, 2009 5:54 pm

Wow indeed! Thanks for taking all that time and energy to write up all your impressions and notes. A real labour of love!

Piedmont is amazing, isn't it? Such a beautiful region, very nice people, and the food is wonderful. I enjoyed your story about the cheapest restaurant providing one of the best experiences. I tend to seek out the most rustic, familty-run places rather than the one or two star restaurants in Piedmost (and most other regions), as I have found your experince to be true quite often. Some of my most memorable meals have been in the most 'rustic' of eateries, when you are made to feel like family. Of course, I'm a cheap bastard at heart as well (too long living as a student), so that might have something to do with it as well.. :oops: :wink:

I find the most frustarting thing about Piedmont is the fact that you are surrounded by world class wine, but it is so hard to drink well. Going to winery tastings are great life experiences, but the top Barolo and Barbaresco wines are so young they provide little pleasure; and the restaurants don't have many older vintages available either. I tend to stick to Barbera or Dolcetto wines, as they are best with the food when young. A shame, but one wine region is never 'perfect'. One of the best tastings I had there was at the enotech in Barbaresco this summer, when they happened to have a tasting of 12-15 1999 Barbarescos from a range of good-great producers: finally, a tasting that didn't strip enamel from my teeth!

Thanks again for your amazing trip report!
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Tim York » Thu Nov 19, 2009 6:56 pm

This looks a brilliant report, Oswaldo. I'll get to grips with it over the weekend.
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Ian Sutton » Thu Nov 19, 2009 7:34 pm

Mark S wrote:A call for best writeup of 2009 nomination!

It's a shoe-in for the title and the engravers have already got the Oswal etched onto the trophy :wink:
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Victorwine » Thu Nov 19, 2009 11:39 pm

Hi Oswaldo,
Good to hear you had a great trip and thanks so much for posting the report, excellent job! The BRL yeast, if it’s the same as Lalvin BRL 97 (which I have tried with both Zin and Barbera grown in California with very good results) is an isolated and selected yeast strain from the Barolo area in Italy. According to the Lallemand’s website; after a four year study of 600 isolated fermentations of Nebbiolo grapes from 31 wineries from the Barolo area, this strain was selected and isolated.

Salute
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Oswaldo Costa » Fri Nov 20, 2009 9:20 am

Ian, glad to hear my experiences resonated with yours. Like tasting notes, one never knows how universal our subjectivities are. Experiences may not need to be transferable in order to be mildly entertaining, but they probably do in order to be useful.

Mark, your point about the difficulty of drinking well in Piedmont was on my mind too. By the middle of the trip, I was composing a rant about a sort of structural difficulty, experienced last year in Burgundy as well: at wineries, the top wines are, as you say, too young to be enjoyable; at restaurants, the top wines are either too young or too expensive or duds, the sweet spots on the list having already been cherry picked. But then I had the terrific experience at Cappellano and my rant just melted away... I kept thinking that I had to order Barbera or Dolcetto, but just couldn't let go of the idea that this was a golden opportunity to drink older Barolo at restaurants.

Tim, after reading your report, I kept bracing for fast cars and murderous lorries, but luckily we drove from Nice (our port of entry) to and from Piedmont on Sundays, so the highways were not so full. Our treatment at La Spinetta contrasted greatly with yours in Brussels.

Victor, thanks for the info. I imagine the name BRL just stands for Barolo, rather than some amino acid abbreviation. This yeast raised three questions for me, one practical, two rhetorical: is it what people call neutral, or does it have a flavor dimension (if so, obviously one connected to Piedmont)? If it's neutral, then what would be the point? But if it imparts a Piemontese Barolo flavor, wouldn't it be "dishonest" (from a natural wine point of view, however one defines that) to use it anywhere else? People in Piedmont can probably get away with using it without being accused of being unnatural, but someone like Roagna would frown on even that practice, since his whole differentiation gambit (and it may, or may not, be more than that) is based on only using yeasts from vineyard X to make wine from vineyard X. Not to mention that the use of this strain raises the same issues as clonale selection, a kind of eugenics that makes wines more homogeneous and less truly indigenous.
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Nov 20, 2009 9:34 am

Great set of posts Oswaldo (and I love the shot of the guy with his cat!).

One thing on very quick review that does surprise me is your very positive take on most of the La Spinetta wines. I would have expected you to spit them out in horror. :twisted:
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Oswaldo Costa » Fri Nov 20, 2009 9:49 am

David M. Bueker wrote:Great set of posts Oswaldo (and I love the shot of the guy with his cat!).

One thing on very quick review that does surprise me is your very positive take on most of the La Spinetta wines. I would have expected you to spit them out in horror. :twisted:


Me too! :lol: I keep wondering if Manuela Rivetti's guileless, unaffected personality, so contrary to the wines' reputation, colored my perception by making me want to like them.
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby David M. Bueker » Fri Nov 20, 2009 9:56 am

On a business trip to Torino I was served a La Spinetta Barbera by my local hosts. They thought it was the best Barbera available, except for one guy who wanted to get the Conterno. I really liked the wine and have subsequently purhcased the La Spinetta Barberas here at home. They are good value for wine that is a lot of fun. I don't purchase their Barolo or Barbaresco, as it's more than I want to spend.
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Re: Piedmont Trip Report - long as hell but worth it!

Postby Michael K » Fri Nov 20, 2009 1:15 pm

Oswaldo Costa wrote:
Michael K wrote:(1) the winery visits were nicely (not aggressivedly) schedule. Is this mandatory or can you do more than two wineries typically a day
(2) did you buy any wines from the winery and ship them back. What is the typical "appropriate" transaction if there is one
(3) What were they typical fees to taste?


1) Yes, while I scheduled one for every morning and one for every afternoon, you could probably do two every afternoon if traveling alone or in a hurry to lose your significant other.
2) I did buy some, but not much, as prices are not so much less than in the US. I didn't ship anything and don't know if any of the more commercially agile wineries (the most respected ones aren't) would do that because it is, as far as I know, illegal to ship wine into the US, unless you declare it as olive oil. I brought back about 15 bottles in our suitcases, 12 in two styrofoam lined sixpacks that I took with me, the other three wrapped in clothes.
3) Ceretto has several different seminars and they list the fees on their website. Massolino was 10 Euro per person and La Spinetta 50 Euro per person but La Spinetta will credit that to any purchase you make at the winery.



Many thanks for the information!
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