Last weekend, I was lucky enough to visit Italy’s Piedmont region. Nestled in the northwest corner of the peninsula, Piedmont boasts the captivating city of Torino (Turin) and stunning natural beauty. It also offers some of Italy’s finest wines.
The wine, of course, was the focus of the three day visit.
On the way in, we stopped for lunch at the restaurant inside the Regional Enoteca of Cannelli. The dining room is downstairs, in a centuries-old wine cellar. Surrounded by hundreds of bottles of wine as we sampled exquisite treats, it was clear the weekend was off to an excellent start!
After a superb meal, accompanied by a bottle of 2009 Barbera d’Asti Superiore from Guido Berta (excellent, by the way), we drove on to our “agriturismo,” or farm accommodations just outside the village of Sinio. Cascina Sant’Eufemia is clean, comfortable, and pleasant; the breakfast is fabulous; and owners Paolo and Chiara are a friendly, helpful, interesting couple. We could have stayed and chatted all night with them, but there was wine to taste and meals to devour.
Our first winery stop was Matteo Correggia, in Canale. Owner Ornela Costa walked us through her winery, telling how her late husband had changed the focus of wine production back in the mid 1980’s, after he’d inherited the business from his father. She carries on his legacy today, putting out terrific wines. We sampled a 2013 Roero Arneis, a 2012 Barbera d’Alba, a 2013 Bracchetto, and a 2010 Roero Riserva called Roche D’ampsej, all of which were excellent. My favorite wine, though, was her Roero Val die Preti. It is made with nebbioloo grapes from vines that are 70 years old. It features a vivid red color, and has refreshing tones of cherries and berries to it.
Here is a quick sidebar. “Roero”, is a geographical area. A wine from Roero might be white (Roero Arneis is made with the Arneis grape) or red (Roero Val di Preti is made with Nebbiolo). Many wines are designated by their area of origin; think of Chianti or Burgundy as a designation on the label. Having that designation on the label confirms the grapes were grown there and the wine was made there. It really does not have anything to do with what kind of wine it is or whether or not you ‘ll like it.
OK, back to the wonderful weekend!
The next day our big meal was at one of my favorite places to eat in Italy. It is called l’Osteria al Vignaiolo (which translates to The Winemakers Tavern), and is just down the hill on the north east side of the village of La Morra. I have dined here at least 15 times, and have been pleased at every meal. The balance between excellent food, spot-on service, and a fair price is simply perfect. Since it is the season, I ate a simple pasta with wafer thin slices of White Truffle. The forceful, earthy aroma of the truffles was paired with an excellent bottle of 2007 Barbera d’Alba from Domenico Clerico. Yum.
Our second winery visit was next on the schedule, so we stopped at the estate of Elio Grasso. He is one of the most respected vintners in the area, and our tasting gave us ample opportunity to understand why that is the case. We enjoyed a 2013 Chardonnay he calls Educato (because he had to educate the Chardonnay grapes how to grow here!), a 2013 Langhe Nebbiolo called Gavarini, and a 2008 Barolo Runcot Riserva. It is hard to not simply love any Barolo from Elio Grasso, but my favorite of his wines is still the Barbera d”Alba Vigna Martina.
Lunch on our final day was at what some consider to be one of the finest restaurants in Italy, called Ristorante Trattoria della Posta, just outside of Monforte d”Alba. To be honest, the traditional distinction between a “ristorante” and a “trattoria” really no longer applies in Italy. There are hyper elegant trattorie and simple ristorante. But this one is a place to see. At one time the restaurant was inside a converted post office (hence the name) but a few years back they moved to an elegant house, lending a more distinguished atmosphere to the meal. They have been recognized (read that “starred”) in the Michelin Guide, which normally equates to stupid high prices, but not here. It’s not cheap, but you’ll walk away knowing you had a wonderful meal and paid a reasonable price for it. As expected, lunch was off the charts superb, but the sheer decadence of my three-chocolate cake was sublime.
The last winery on our schedule was back to the town of Canale, to visit Malvira’ and sample what we knew were some excellent wines. Brothers Roberto and Massimo Damonte run a mid-sized production at more than 350,000 bottles a year. We were met by Massimo, who took us on a short tour of the winery and then right to the tasting room. In Italy, since you are tasting wine with the people who actually made it, the tasting is often accompanied by lively conversation, then by more wine.
Two and half hours and a not small amount of wine later, we were ready to say our goodbyes. During the course of that tasting marathon, we sampled single-grape whites, white blends, and many, many reds made from Barbera, Bracchetto, and Nebbiolo grapes. The Damonte brothers are justifiably proud of local grape varietals so generally do not blend in more international grapes with their product. Everything was excellent, as is always the case with Malvira’ wine. But the very first time I ever sipped a glass of Roero Superiore Mombeltramo (a single-field Nebbiolo), I loved it. I still do.
That last sentiment is also true of Piedmont in general. The first time I visited here, more than ten years ago, I loved it. I still do.